Just a Stop at the Store

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Edgemont Publishing


Jerry Tristan liked to take the scenic route home from work. Unfortunately, his wife would often command him to stop at the store for something. Today was one of those days. It's "just a stop at
the store" for Jerry Tristan. But, it didn't stop there.

Submitted: June 06, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 06, 2018

A A A

A A A


Just a Stop at the Store

 

By Jeff Macharyas


 

Chapter I

A Bag of Sugar

 

“Just a bag of sugar,” the voice squeaked through through the phone.

 

“How much?”

 

“A bag! How difficult is that!”

 

Sheesh, here we go again.

 

Jeremiah Tristan shoved the phone back into his jacket pocket. Passing a Rockford’s Store on his way home from work at the local community college was not a convenience for him. Jane would have one errand after another just about every day. The more scenic route, the one Jerry preferred, would take him past some farms, old barns and maybe even some turkey sightings. But, no, the only things he would see are farmers, stretch pants and teenagers with deer-in-the-headlights looks. Great.

 

Jerry dreaded these all-too-often stops at the the store. In his youth, Jerry would look forward to a stop at the hardware store or the electronics shop. He would go in there and soak up the essence of years of products, old manuals and forgotten gadgets and widgets stuck in the back of the shelf.

 

A stop at the store now consisted of circling the parking lot, trying to avoid giant trucks with door-smashing side mirrors, or cars parked at jaunty angles in their little yellow corrals. Finding a parking space usually came with one of his fellow shoppers giving him the one-finger wave through their grimy windshields.

 

Getting inside has gotten harder than boarding a commercial airliner. Jerry would have to fight his way through the crowd, past the displays, walk on well-trodden sticky stuff that always seemed to accumulate near the row of DVD dispensers and motorized shopping carts.

 

He’d make this a quick trip. A surgical strike, targets identified and a well-deserved “Mission Accomplished” once he was back on the parking lot’s tarmac.

 

-----

 

“Sugar. I guess she’s making a cake. Of course, we probably ran out of flour so that will be tomorrow’s mission. Then eggs. And, finally, once all the ingredients are procured, they will have met their expiration date and the only one eating a cake will be the disposal,” Jerry muttered to himself as he started his Toyota and pulled out onto the highway to the left. He looked longingly at County Route 2, his preferred route that passed him by farms and barns and a bucolic sense of what America should be. He gave one quick look in the rearview as the blue-and-gold county sign disappeared behind a large for sale sign. “13 acres! Call Jim! Today!!”

 

Jerry jabbed a finger onto the radio switch. So much for pre-tuning, it always defaulted to the Static Station. All static all the time. The best hits of the electromagnetic spectrum in the quad-county area. Jerry twisted the dial slowly, keeping one eye on the road and the other on the LED read-out. Country. Hip-Hop. Religion. French. Spanish. Religion. Right-Wing Loonies. Religion. Country.

 

Another jab at the switch and the radio fell silent. The Silent Channel! The best tunes of never spun by your DJ: Mr. Nobody! Perfect.

 

Jerry drove in silence down State Highway 86-E, drawing ever closer to Rockford’s just over the county line.

 

Rockford’s owned the world. At least, that’s what Jerry thought, as did many others. Once there were Best Buys, Targets, Safeways, even Wal-Marts, now just about everything has been consolidated into Rockford’s. Appearing almost overnight, Rockford’s acquired just about every retail operation in sight. An unchecked monopoly of Soviet proportions. Capitalism run amok.

 

Jerry steered his Toyota into the massive parking lot and found a space only a few miles from the front doors. No encounters with his fellow shoppers and all cars lined up perfectly within their assigned yellow boxes. So far, so good. This ain’t no thing, Jerry thought. Throwing the car into park, he unfastened his safety belt and stepped out into the parking lot, clicking the button on his key fob twice. “Bweep bweep.”

 

The rain began to fall as he marched toward the doors of Rockford’s. By the time he reached the crosswalk, the rain was coming down in buckets. “Maybe I should buy an umbrella while I’m here.”

 

The entrance was blocked by a train of dozens of shopping carts, some filled with Rockford flyers, others just filled with rain. A few still had their toddler passengers. Maybe their parents would retrieve them, he thought. Oh well, sugar must be procured!

 

Jerry made his way through a gap in the cart-train and approached the giant glass doors marked with a sign that read “Exit. No Entrance! Salida. No entrada!” The door opened anyway, but not as quickly as he had anticipated. Pushing his way through, he scraped his tan blazer across the gritty edge of the door, tattooing his sleeve with what looked like an oily primeval dragon.

 

“Welcome to Rockford’s,” the not-so-friendly associated dressed in the bright red Rockford’s vest shouted to Jerry as he stamped the rain off his shoes on the gritty red astro-turf rug.

 

“Hey,” Jerry muttered in reply. The associate shoved a folded-up flyer in Jerry’s face.

 

“Produce, 20% off today. Women’s clothes, 30%. You don’t want to miss out on these big, big savings Rockford’s is offering its best customers!” The associate rattled off the specials mechanically with glazed-over eyes.

 

“Thanks. If I decide to become a drag queen vegetarian, I’ll check it out.”

 

Jerry grabbed the flyer and promptly tossed it into an empty shopping cart with a pile of others just like it.


 

Chapter II.

Chicken Alfredo


 

“Chicken Alfredo?”

 

Someone seemed to be asking Jerry if his name was Chicken Alfredo.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Chicken Alfredo. It’s on special today. Buy two, get one free. It’s a meal you and your family can enjoy in five minutes.”

 

“Oh. No thanks.” Jerry started walking past the woman in the faux Italianesque kiosk. She reminded him of Lucy from the comic strip, selling psychiatric care for five cents.

 

The woman leaned out of box and sneered at Jerry.

 

“Chicken! Alfredo?”

 

“I need to go. No thanks.”

 

“You don’t seem to understand, sir. This is Chicken Alfredo. It’s on special. You really should try some. Once you do, you’ll be taking it home by the basketful.”

 

“I don’t like chicken.”

 

“Sir. Do I need to call others to persuade you to try it?” The woman shook a fork as she spoke, like some bonnet-wearing orchestra conductor.

 

“Sheesh. Alright already. Chicken Alfredo. I would love to sample your five-minute meal.”

 

Jerry felt humiliated that he buckled under the pressure from this chicken hawker in a plastic cap, but it might get him on his way and out of here.

 

The woman scooped the chicken goop into a small specimen cup and jabbed a plastic spork into it like someone killing a vampire.

 

“Here you go. I know you’ll enjoy this.”

 

Jerry tried to scoop some chicken onto the little spork but it was not cooperating. A gooey chunk of chicken plopped to the floor. Jerry stared at it. He knew this would raise the ire of the woman.

 

“Maintenance to front lobby, Chicken Alfredo kiosk. We have a six-eleven, over.” The woman squawked into a microphone she apparently pulled out of thin air.

 

“Roger that, Chicken Alfredo. Team has been dispatched. Six-eleven in progress. Over,” came the crackly voice over the loudspeaker.

 

“Sir. You’ll have to wait here until this six-eleven has been resolved. In the meantime, we’ll try again.” She repeated the procedure of filling the specimen cup with gooey chicken and gleefully jabbed another spork into it and handed it to Jerry.

 

“I, uh, I, will try to be more careful this time,” Jerry stammered as he carefully maneuvered some chicken onto the spork and guided it to his mouth.

 

Phew! Success! Jerry felt a wave of relief as he consumed the chicken alfredo. It actually was not too bad and for a brief moment he considered taking a few boxes home to Jane.

 

The crew arrived to resolve the six-eleven. Three guys riding what looked like a Zamboni wended their way through the crowd of shoppers at what must have been 40 miles per hour. Mad Max of the retail world.

 

The three guys hopped off the Zamboni and placed several orange cones around the kiosk. From each cone they affixed a ribbon of red police tape with “Caution! Hazard!” Repeating itself in white letters over and over, until the kiosk, the Zamboni, the three guys, the woman, the sporks and Jerry were all corralled within the safety zone.

 

“OK, men, let’s do this!” I guess this how the ghostbusters retired, Jerry thought.

 

They wheeled the Zamboni near the spilled Chicken Alfredo and extended some sort of vacuum cleaner attachment. The mess was sucked up into the Zamboni in less than a second.

 

The lead ghostbuster grabbed the walkie-talkie from his belt. “Maintenance Crew Alpha. Six-eleven resolved. Returning to base. Over.”

 

“Confirmed, Alpha, you are go to return to base. Over.”

 

The crew gathered up the police tape, the cones and mounted their Zamboni and made their way back through the crowd disappearing from sight down aisle five.

 

“You shall be more careful, sir, won’t you? Rockford’s offers its customers discounts on food, clothing and furnishings, but you must respect our offerings and be respectable with your acceptance. Dropping Chicken Alfredo on the floor is, well, quite a violation of our trust.”

 

“I, uh, I’m sorry. It just slipped. Really. I didn’t mean to offend anyone and I do appreciate the offerings that Rockford’s has bestowed upon the people.” Jerry was almost sincere in his apology.

 

“Well, now that we have that taken care of, can I offer you three boxes of Chicken Alfredo? I’ll even through in a coupon for one dollar off on your next visit to Rockford’s, which, of course, will probably be tomorrow!”

 

“Alright. OK. Let’s get this over with.” Jerry handed her a ten dollar bill to cover the cost of the boxes.

 

“Sir. We don’t take cash at the Chicken Alfredo kiosk. Do you think I have bags of coins in here to make change! You must pay with your CLAP: Rockford’s Customer Loyalty and Appreciation Program Card. You know that.” The woman offered a condescending smile.

 

“Yeah, right. Silly me.” Jerry dug the bright red Rockford’s card from his wallet and stuck it into the chip reader at the end of the kiosk.

 

“Bweep bweep.”

 

Card Declined.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Your card expired, sir.”

 

“Expired? It’s a lifetime card.”

 

“Lifetimes expire, sir.”

 

“Now what?” Jerry was starting to panic.

 

“Go to customer service and have them renew your card. It will only take a minute. Then come on back here and we can complete the transaction and you’ll be on your way home to your wife and children with a wonderful new dinner entree they will all enjoy!”

 

“I don’t have children.”

 

“Then get some.” The woman demanded. Seriously? Jerry wasn’t sure.


 

Chapter III.

Customer Service

 

Jerry checked his watch. 5:45. He’d been here for 45 minutes already. Jane was sure the starting calling any minute checking up on him. He made his way over to customer service, nearly a half-mile walk through the throngs of people and the thongs of the lingerie department, through sporting goods, past cosmetics, electronics, kitchen gadgets and Christmas trees. August is never too early to start selling Christmas trees.

 

Great. Customer service had two associates manning the desk and two lines of mothers with toddlers, geezers, millennials, and two people wearing fur coats and fuzzy pink slippers. A typical Rockford’s crowd. Jerry grabbed a number from the paper number-ticket contraption at the end of the rope line. Number 774. Jerry looked up at the digital display to see how many were ahead of number 774. The big red numbers flashed 703.

 

6:15.

 

“What’d you do, drive off a cliff?” Jane sneered through the phone.

 

“Just a little trouble at Rockford’s. Should only be a couple of minutes.”

 

“Did you get the sugar?”

 

“I haven’t made it that far.”

 

“Jesus, Jerry. You only needed to get some sugar. Really. How hard is that? You’ve been gone for hours and I’m sitting here waiting thinking you ended up dead or something. Can you hurry it along, please and stay out of electronics. I know how you get looking at all the new phones and shit. And trash goes out tonight, don’t forget.”

 

The phone went dead before Jerry could reply.

 

Jerry took his place in line behind the fur coat-wearing couple. The smell of alcohol emanating from them was overpowering. Must’ve been a late night for those two, Jerry thought. Bet they weren’t making a cake.

 

Jerry passed the time by checking his email, getting the latest scores from his favorite baseball teams, and comparing the news between Fox and Huffington Post, trying to decide what was fake and what was not. All of it, probably.

 

Jerry had to pee.

 

A trip to the bathroom would be quick, it was right next to the customer service alcove, but he might miss his number. They were all the way to 750 now. The more he thought about it the more he had to go. Distracting himself with his phone didn’t help and doing that little dance he does didn’t work either. It was like those times on I-95, just passing a rest area and suddenly having a raging urge to pee with no bathrooms for 70 miles.

 

Jerry couldn’t take it. He planned his route to the bathroom, getting himself ready and thinking about how much he will enjoy the alluring scent of urinal cake. OK, go! Jerry waddled himself to the tunnel marked “Men. Changing tables available.” I might need one, Jerry thought.

 

Every urinal was occupied. He checked the “number two” stalls. Feet in each one. A heated conversation was coming from the end unit.

 

“I don’t gives a fuck what you think, Allison, I gotta do what I gotta do and I ain’t gonna let no bitch of mine tell me otherwise. You hear me, Allison?” Plop, spray, plop.

 

Come on, Jerry thought. He thought an appeal to God might help. Please God, help that old bastard on the end get it going so I can get out before I pee my pants.

 

Finally!

 

Grandpa struggled with his zipper and turned around sheepishly. Jerry nearly body-checked him into the next urinal on his way to relief. Ahhh! His prayers were answered. Jerry felt like he just completed a marathon. He’d get a ribbon for this, for sure!

 

After zipping up, and a quick pass under the faucet, then the wind machine, Jerry was ready to take on customer service. That’s right, folks, Jerry is urine-free and on his way to getting that sugar. And that Chicken Alfredo shit. Right.

 

Jerry strutted back to customer service and checked the current number.

775.

 

What?

 

How could they have gotten that far that fast? How could he miss it by one?

 

Fortunately, the crowd had subsided. Only three people in line now and they all look like they might even be human.

 

802.

 

The big red digital display was set on an even 800.

 

OK, I can do this, I got this, Jerry thought. He had to do what he had to do. Take that, Allison, you bitch!

 

“Thank you for shopping at Rockford’s, where every customer is treated like family and we are your family. How may I help you this fine day, sir?”

 

“My lifetime membership card expired.”

 

“Oh, that’s too bad. It must be very troubling when your lifetime expires. Don’t worry, sir, we will be able to resurrect you in no time. You shall rise again and continue to shop at Rockford’s, where every customer is treated like family and we don’t want our family to expire, do we?”

 

“I guess not.”

 

“Can I see your card, sir?”

Jerry handed over his card to the perky associate.

 

“Ah, I see. It expired.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Well, we can issue you a new card easily. I’ll need two forms of picture ID, your current address, the make, model and license plate number of your card and any other family members who will be on the account, including pets. Then, we’ll simply take a new photograph, in which we’ll be sure to make you look fabulous!”

 

Jerry dug through his wallet and found his driver’s license with a picture and nothing else.

 

“My expired Rockford’s Customer Loyalty and Appreciation Program card has my picture on it.”

 

“Sorry, that card is expired so therefore that no longer proves your existence. I’ll need to see another form of picture ID to confirm your existence.”

 

“Ah, I have this,” Jerry found his community college employee ID badge, hanging on the black and gold lanyard in his jacket pocket.

 

“Very well done, sir. You did it!”

 

Jerry felt a rush of pride that he was able to produce the required documentation and prove that he existed to this 18-year-old, pierced and tattooed associate.

 

“If you will just fill out this application form, we’ll conduct a credit check, background check and scan of your social media accounts and have you on your way in no time!”

 

Jerry reached for the pen, attached to the counter with a chain. Of course, it was on his right. Being left-handed, Jerry turned himself sideways, with the form half hanging over the counter, and began to fill in the boxes. Make. Model. License plate. Next of kin. Employment history. Education. Political affiliation. Criminal record. Honors and awards. Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.

 

“Here you go.”

 

“Thank you, sir!” The associate beamed. “I’ll get this process right away. At Rockford’s, we don’t want our customers to be kept waiting when there are so many bargains ripe for the picking! Did you know that produce is on sale today!”

 

“Yes, I got the memo.”

 

The associate disappeared behind a cubicle wall and Jerry could hear her giggling with someone. After a few minutes, she reemerged.

 

“Everything checks out, sir. You’re not a criminal! But, what’s a Libertarian? Do you work at a library?”

 

“Yes, I work at a library.”

 

“Cool, that’s so retro.”

 

Jerry was motioned to the photo booth and the stool that sat in front of the pale yellow backdrop.

 

“OK, sir, just sit on the stool and look at the big red Rockford’s dot on the camera and give us a big, happy-to-save-bundles smile!”

 

Jerry looked at the dot and the associate clicked the camera.

 

“Ohh, your eyes were closed. You looked terrible. Let’s try again!”

 

“No, that’s….”

 

“Sir, a Rockford’s CLAP card is your ticket to value. You must look your best. Now, sit in that chair and we’ll try again.”

 

Jerry sat upright on the stool and glared into the red dot above the camera, making sure he didn’t blink, didn’t move, didn’t even breathe, while the associate assessed her model like she was Georgia O'Keeffe.

 

“There. That didn’t hurt a bit did it?” She said.

 

“No.”

 

“OK, sir, your picture looks good and I’ll start processing your new CLAP card now. Just have a seat in the customer retention pen and I’ll bring it right out to you. Just be a sec.”

 

Jerry slouched into the hard plastic chair leaning against the display of cold medication and travel-size shampoo bottles.

 

“Here you are! A brand-new CLAP card, starring: you! This card is guaranteed for your lifetime and you can use it to shop at any of the 9,000 Rockford’s locations across the continental United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, select locations in Canada and Mexico, and our newest location in Croatia!”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Jerry tucked the new card, still warm from the printer, into his wallet and gave the associate a sarcastic salute and walked out of customer service in the direction of baking supplies, forgetting all about the chicken alfredo, the Zamboni, the spork and the insistent woman in the kiosk.

 

7:20.

 

Chapter IV.

Garlic Salt.

 

Jerry made it to the baking supplies section, as far from customer service as it could be, past diapers, beer, coffee, and discount produce.

 

The sugar was piled high on a palette in the middle of the aisle and Jerry reached for the white and yellow bag of sweetness on top.

 

“You need to put that back.”

 

“Me?”

 

“Yes, you. That sugar has not been shelved yet, you need to put it back and take a bag from the shelf.”

 

“But, it’s right here and I can take it and go.”

 

“The shelf, please.”

 

Jerry scanned the shelf and saw a big, gaping space with a tag below that read “sugar.”

 

“Excuse me, there’s no sugar on the shelf.”

 

“That’s because I haven’t stocked it, yet,” the portly associate replied.

 

“So, how do I get the sugar, I need to get going?”

 

Jerry began to sweat under his jacket. He felt ready to scream or even to take a swing at this guy, but he outweighed him three-to-one and would kick Jerry’s ass in a second flat.

 

“I’m stocking the shelf now, so once I have done so, you can buy your sugar. Have some patience, willya, it’ll just be a sec,” the rotund man said rolling his eyes in that condescending look  Jerry has grown accustomed to here at Rockford’s.

 

The associate grabbed a beefy armful of sugar bags and threw them into the space on the shelf.

 

Finally!

 

“Hang on, let me finish this row, Mr. Grabby.”

 

The man moved on to the next opening and Jerry pounced onto the sugar bag. Mine! All mine! Jerry thought like a cartoon villain with sack full of gold.

 

Now, he could finally take his prize to the check out and be on his way.

 

“Bweep, bweep.”

 

Jerry’s phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. He had one guess who would be calling.

 

“Yes?”

 

“My god, Jerry, are you still at Rockford’s? Are they having a sale on dumbass you just had to get or are you grazing through all the food samples? Your cholesterol is over a thousand and your blood pressure is through the roof and that’s all you can think about is getting your fill of chicken wings and pizza rolls? Can you hurry it up already? And, since you are still there, can you swing by and get some garlic salt? In the 6 oz. bottle, but make sure it’s on sale. Don’t buy the name brand, don’t buy the value pack, just one bottle of garlic salt. Can you handle that, ya think?”

 

Jerry pocketed the phone, knowing that there would be nobody on the other end any more.

 

Jerry slumped along, looking for the spice section. Past the coffee, past the pet supplies, past paper goods. You’d think sugar and spice would go together like snips and snails and puppy dog tails. No. This is Rockford’s, where convenience was invested by some psychopath. Aisle 21: Spices and Ethnic Delights. Delightful.

 

“Mr. Tristan? Is that you?”

 

The young girl with earbuds said to him, with a toddler in tow.

 

“Uh, yes?”

 

“It’s me, Qortni Champagne. From the college. I came to your office this week to go over my financial aid.”

 

“Oh, right. Hi.”

 

“I’ve never seen any school administrators or teachers outside of the college so that is really cool.”

 

The toddler pulled on Qortni’s hand and started to bawl.

 

“Shut the hell, up, Axelrose, I’m busy!” She snapped at the little girl with some orange goo dripping from the corners of her mouth.

 

“Hey, Mr. Tristan! How bout a selfie!”

 

“Uhhh, ummm. Yeah, sure, why not.”

 

Qortni pulled her gigantic smartphone out of her back pocket with the earbuds still jammed into her pierced ears. She put one arm around Jerry’s waist and held the phone up high and grinned like a tattooed jack-o-lantern. Axelrose dropped to the floor, making what looked like snow angels in the dust and spilled Cheerios. Jerry tried to smile but was only able to pull off a sneer.

 

“There! Thanks, Mr. Tristan. Gotta go,” Qortni said and turned to Axelrose, lying supine on the dirty floor, “What the fuck ya doin’ there, child? Get the hell up now, dammit!” She pulled Axelrose up by one arm and the child started screaming again as they took off down Aisle 21, apparently forgetting the Ethnic Delights they came for.

 

Jerry spotted the garlic salt. Not on sale. McCormick’s. 8 ounce bottle. Three strikes and he’s outta there. Jerry didn’t care. It was better to get the wrong things and face Jane’s wrath than to spend anymore time in this warehouse of retail nirvana. He hoped not to meet anymore of locals who make feeble attempts at betting themselves at his third-rate community college. North Sinclair County Community College. Home of the Devil Bats. Indeed!

 

Jerry’s quest was nearing its end. He had the sugar. He had the garlic salt. Sugar and spice and everything nice. He started walking toward the rows of check-out lanes. One through 50 and every one of them filled with the detritus of North Sinclair County’s finest.

 

Chapter V.

The Check Out.

 

Jerry noticed that the self-check-out lanes were free of riff-raff. He rushed over knowing that as soon as he got close a horde of flannel-wearing overweight backwoodsmen and their women would descend from out of nowhere just to impede his progress.

 

Not this time! Jerry had the self-check-out to himself. When does that ever happen? He dragged the sugar over the scanner. No beep. He dragged the garlic salt next. Still no beep. He jabbed his finger at the touchscreen expecting it to come alive and issue its instructions in his choice of English, Spanish, French or Creole. The machine maintained radio silence.

 

“Ohh, come on, dammit. Just work so I can get the hell outta here.”

Pleading with the machine did no good. He’d try it in Creole if he knew the language.

 

There were five self-check-out kiosks in the corral and not an attendant in sight. From across the rack of expired magazines, gum and Pokemon cards, he could see the Chicken Alfredo-wielding woman in her make-believe Italian kiosk. He had almost forgotten about here, it seemed so long ago.

 

Jerry tried each self-check-out machine in order. One through five. The results were the same. It must be a conspiracy. The machines have risen up! Jerry walked around to the other side of the magazine rack that worked as a barrier to the corral of machines. There he spotted a yellow Post-It note, upon which, written in loopy black Sharpie were the words: “Out Of Ordar!” Punctuated with a smiley face and its very own exclamation mark.

 

“Sheesh.” Jerry knew what he had to do. Pick a lane. Experience told him that the shorter the line, the slower it goes. He walked past lanes one to 25. Too short. Ah, lane 34. Just the right number of people, just the right mix of geriatrics, single parents and other assorted creepers from over the hills. Jerry positioned himself behind a couple who looked to be nearing their 120th year.

 

“I got you da fish,” the ancient woman yelled at her companion.

 

“What? I don’t get you?” The old man yelled back, seemingly addressing the candy bar rack instead of the old woman.

 

“I said, I got you fish. You like fish!”

 

“What dish?”

 

“Fish!”

 

“I don’t have the list, you have it.”

 

Jerry closed his eyes, thinking if he did so, maybe his ears would close with them.

 

“It’s haddock!”

 

“No I took some aspirin.”

 

Jerry mentally counted back from 100. This sometimes helped him take his concentration off of what was going on around him. He might have done so when Qortni Champagne came into his office the other day. He frequently employed this technique during one-sided conversations with Jane.

 

57… 56… 55… 54…

 

The old couple suddenly lurched ahead. Finally. One down, three to go. Ahead of these two, a balding man in a NY Giants sweatshirt two sizes too small for him placed several jumbo packs of toilet paper on the conveyor belt. Must be taco night, Jerry chuckled to himself.

 

Ahead of him, a woman with a toddler in the seat of the cart and three others orbiting around it, clanked her purchase of root beer, 7-Up, Pepsi, Cheetos, Fruit Roll-Ups and Busch Lite onto the belt. She might need something stronger than Busch Light, Jerry thought.

 

The Giants fan waddled away with his abundant supply of toilet paper, glancing left and right as though the FBI had surveillance on him. Jerry watched him squeeze through the automatic doors and he disappeared into the night.

The woman with the rambunctious kids was up. Jerry was now in the on-deck circle and freedom was near.

 

The toddler grabbed the box of Cheerios with one chubby hand and it was swiftly taken by one of the other kids under the cart. Jerry hadn’t even seen this one. The box got caught on the corner of the cart and the space at the end of the aisle filled with golden Os.

 

“You’re still gonna hafta pay for that, ya know,” the cashier clucked at the mom.

 

Jerry watched as the three children stamped their feet on the spilled cereal, making snapping sounds as they danced around.

 

“Crunchy, mommy!” One of them wailed with glee.

 

“Shut up, let’s go, you’re in big trouble,” the mom snapped at the child.

 

She pushed her cart through the fallen cereal with three of the children shuffling their feet, trying to drag as many Cheerios as far as they could go. Jerry thought that that 12-pack of Busch Lite would be a few can short by the time she got home.

 

The old fish couple were up. Once they passed “Go” he could collect his $200 and win the game! If only it was that easy.

 

The old woman pulled the haddock out of the carry basket and plopped it on the conveyor belt.

 

“Dear, what’s the expiration date on this fish, I can’t read it?” She asked the cashier with an accusatory tone.

 

“September 25th.”

 

“The 25th! That was, let’s see, um, two days ago. This fish is expired,” the old woman exclaimed.

 

“Ma’am, you gonna buy the fish or what, let’s go,” the cashier snapped.

 

“I can’t buy expired fish, Sammy and I will get boccolism or something, you want us to die from your rotten fish, is that it?” she asked.

 

“Ma’am, I’m just the cashier, I don’t stock the shelves and I really don’t care what you and your fish do, OK?” the cashier replied with an exasperated tone.

 

“Well, we can’t buy this. We came all the way over here from the Park and we need our dinner. Sammy? Go back to the seafood department and bring this rotten fish to the man and tell him to give us something from this century,” the old woman demanded of her husband, who was squinting at the tabloid magazines in the rack.

 

“Heh?”

 

“Sammy, take this fish to the fish man and get a new one, it’s spoiled!”

 

“Oh, right, OK, I’ll be right back.”

 

The old man took the proffered rotten fish and squeezed past Jerry and the growing line of customers behind him at what looked like negative speed.

 

Sheesh, Jerry thought, at that rate his new fish will be expired by the time he got back.

 

Jerry pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the weather. Rain and 70 tomorrow. That’s OK. Baseball scores. Nationals beat the Cubs in 11 innings. That’s good; looks like they’ll make the playoffs. Stock market. Dow up 2%, oil up 45 cents. Hmmm, gas prices will be above $3 soon. Email. Staff meeting changed to Friday at two. Make mental note, adjust spreadsheet. OK. Political news. The president tweeted some more nastiness at the press. Whatever. Jerry saw he had two app updates, so he ran those.

 

With all his online entertainment exhausted, Jerry started to fidget. He had to pee again. Oh, sheesh. The more he thought about it the worse he got. Where was that goddam geezer and his fish! Jerry grabbed a tabloid magazine from the rack. Lose ten inches off his abdomen! How to meet that hot guy in the office! Uh, maybe this wasn’t the magazine for him. He grabbed the special Time magazine with a black-and-white portrait of Elvis Presley on the cover. Elvis! As We Never Knew Him! Well, I never knew him, Jerry thought. He started to leaf through the pages, seeing Elvis transition from a rock-and-roll god to an drugged-out slob. That took his mind off of the urge to pee for a little while.

 

Jerry looked back at the growing queue behind him. To his amazement, the geezer was on his way back. How did he do that, Jerry thought.

 

The old man squeezed his way back through the line to meet up with his old wife.

 

“How did you get back so fast, Sammy, did you take some extra of those pills of yours?” she asked incredulously.

 

“No, I got a ride on a Zamboni. I think they were cleaning the ice in the back. I don’t know. They took me to seafood and waited and then we came back to where they sell those calculator gizmos,” Sammy replied with a shrug.

 

“Well, whatever it was, you’re back with the haddock.”

 

“Haddock? You said salmon. I got the value pack of the salmon, like you said.”

 

Jerry rolled his eyes and grabbed Elvis back off of the shelf. This will never end, he thought.

 

“Sammy, you don’t like Salmon, it gives you gas, remember?”

 

“No, salmon is my favorite,” he replied but not quite sure of his answer.

 

“How much was this value pack of gassy fish you decided to get?”

 

The old woman grabbed the package and thrust it at the cashier.

 

“How much is this thing?” she demanded.

 

“$45.55.”

 

“Sammy! This is our weekly food budget on fish you don’t even like! What were you thinking?”

 

Apparently Sammy was thinking about losing ten inches off his abdomen as he was now engrossed in the tabloid magazine Jerry rejected.

 

“Oh! Just ring this up so we can get going, you’ve kept us here way too long,” the old woman snapped at the cashier.

 

“Ma’am, I didn’t, I, well, oh, whatever. $45.55. Cash, check, debit, credit, Bitcoin, PayPal, Ethereum, Rockford’s account, how you paying?”

 

“Huh? What did you say?”

 

“Ma’am, how are you paying for the fish?”

 

“With money. You do take money, don’t you? It’s made at the mint where they keep the gold. I assume that is good enough for you, isn’t it?”

 

“Ma’am, I don’t care, I don’t get to keep it.”

 

Cash, Jerry thought, now she’s going to take out a change purse and dump coins all over the conveyor belt. He’s seen this routine before so he knows exactly how it will play out.

 

“How much did you say, dear?”

 

“Forty. Five. Fifty. Five.”

 

The woman peeled some bills from a stack in her purse. She must be carrying around a thousand dollars, Jerry thought.

 

A five. Another five. A ten. A twenty. She flipped through the stack of bills like a poker player examining his hand. She’s at forty, come on, lady, only another five. You got this!

 

A one. Another one. Another one. And another. That’s forty-four. The old woman stared at her poker hand of greenbacks. What now? She’s out of ones, Jerry realized? She took out a change purse that must have been filled with gold and silver doubloons from an ancient shipwreck. The purse hit the conveyor with a metallic clank.

 

“Let’s see, I think I have a dollar in here.” The old woman opened the clasp and started digging though the coins.

 

“Ah, here you go, dear.” She handed the cashier a gigantic coin. What the hell was that, Confederate coinage?

 

“Ma’am, this coin isn’t American, I can’t accept it.”

 

“What? Oh, my. I must have saved that when Sammy and I came back from Europe after the war. Sammy and I went all over, we were in Belgium, France, Denmark, even Switzerland. You know, we…”

 

“Ma’am, please. That’s very interesting but we have other customers to serve.”

 

Sammy was examining the tabloid. Looks like Sammy is going to try to get that hot guy in the workplace, Jerry thought.

 

The old woman dug through the treasure chest of coins. “Here you are, dear, is this better? It says United States of America. Liberty!”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Well, what else do you want?” the old woman asked impatiently.

 

“Fifty-five cents.”

 

Jerry snapped the Elvis magazine closed and started reading over Sammy’s shoulder. Organize his shoe closet in five minutes. That’s a good idea, Jerry thought.

 

The old woman reached back into the bag of coins.

 

“Here’s a dime. Another dime. Two nickels—this one has a buffalo on it. That’s um, thirty cents.”

 

Just pull a quarter out of your ass woman and we’re done. But, that’s not what she did. Instead, out of the bag poured a pile of coppery colored coins.

 

“Thirty-one, thirty-two…” Jerry could feel his blood pressure rise as the woman counted out twenty-five pennies, stopping to comment on the 1974 Lincoln cent.

 

“Seventy-four. I remember watching that Nixon resign on the television set in seventy-four. Remember that, Sammy? Seventy-four, when Nixon resigned?”

 

Sammy slowly turned to the old woman and gave her a quizzical look.

 

“Nixon? He’s dead,” Sammy replied.

 

“Oh, never mind,” she spat back and turned to the cashier with smug look of accomplishment.

 

“Is the amount correct now, dear?” she demanded of the cashier.

 

“Yes, ma’am, it is.”

 

The cashier pressed some buttons on the register and the door sprung out with the chiming of a bell. She dealt the bills into their respective slots and dumped the coins in the coin bucket. She stopped for a moment trying to figure out what to do with the dollar coin. She had never seen one before and decided to put it in with the quarters.

 

The cashier pressed a series of buttons on the register like he’s seen co-pilots do as he’s walked onto airplanes.

 

“Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen, this is Rockford Airlines 666 to Helltown…” Jerry imagined.

 

With a final jab at the machine, the cashier started pulling receipts, coupons, survey cards, some sort of instant-win lottery tickets and an appeal for a charity.

 

Jerry watched as Sammy and Mrs. Sammy pushed their cart out of the cashier lane and into heavy traffic on the main shopping thoroughfare past the haircut place, the arcade place, the bathrooms, the eyeglass place, the nail place, the job fair place and a display of soda cans that reached to the ceiling and seemed to spell out a giant “R” defying gravity. Jerry noted to himself to keep clear on the way out so he wouldn’t end up under a pile of cherry fizz. Still needing to pee, Jerry calculated the time it would take to get to the bathrooms once he’s made it through the cashier lane.

 

His turn has finally come. Jerry plunked down the bag of sugar and the garlic salt. Mission accomplished! He grinned at the cashier who returned with downcast eyes.

 

The big, illuminated “34” sign above the cashier’s station went dark.

 

“Sorry, sir,” she said to Jerry, “it’s my break time. Another cashier will be right up to help you.”

 

Jerry was seething. He has gotten to the finish line only to have the finish line moved away and locked up. There was no chance of retreat as a new line of Rockford misfits have queued up behind him, stretching all the way to novelty t-shirts.

 

Jerry could see a gathering of red-vested Rockford associates yakking it up near the tobacco rack. As Number 34 walked toward them, pulling her cigarettes out of her back pocket, several gave him a sideways glance and went back to their deep conversation.

 

Jerry really needed to pee now. Why won’t someone come and take over the command post here at Gate 34?

 

“Hey, come on, already, we don’t got all day!” a loud, toothless voice came from down the queue.

 

“You, up front. What the F is the hold up, this isn’t your personal checkout lane, ya know!”

 

Jerry contemplated pushing his way back through the throng to find the voice and ram his bag of sugar down his cigarette-caked throat. But, no, he couldn’t, he’d lose his coveted place at the head of this parade. Jerry stared at the ceiling and began is backward countdown.

 

One of the members of conferencing associates started to make his way towards the command center at 34. The kid, with flaming red hair and blue-framed glasses slouched his way toward Jerry in slow-motion. What was this kid, like 10, Jerry thought?

 

“Good evening, sir,” the kid addressed Jerry. His name tag spelled out his name in upper-case red block letters: SPARK P.

 

Don’t tell me your last name is Plug, Jerry thought.

 

“I just gotta wait for the assistant manager to open the register,” Spark said distractedly.

 

After what seemed like a decade, the largest woman Jerry had ever seen rolled toward 34 with a set of keys that would make a prison warden jealous.

 

“Hi, Spark, I’ll get this going for you,” the woman huffed as she jangled her keys looking for just the right one. She found the one marked “34” and turned it in the lock on the top of the register.

 

“There ya go, hon,” she said as she hooked the keys onto her belt.

 

“Thanks Mom,” Spark replied to her.

 

Of course, Jerry thought, he’s been in here so long the natives have been breeding.

 

“OK, sir, I’m ready to get you on your way with big, big, savings!”

 

“Move yer ass, buddy, or I’ll kick it for you!” that voice bellowed from somewhere down the line near the box of $1 DVDs.

 

Spark dragged the sugar over the electronic eye and it beeped.

“$2.55,” he declared.

 

He grabbed the garlic salt and repeated the process. No beep. He tried it again. No beep.

 

What now, Jerry thought.

 

“This isn’t scanning. I’ll have to key in the code,” Spark reported as he squinted at the numbers along the barcode and typed them in one number at a time on the register’s keypad.

 

Still nothing.

 

“Hmmm, this doesn’t usually happen.”

 

No, why should it!

 

“I’ll have to get the assistant manager to override this. Mooommmm!” Spark screeched.

 

Mrs. P turned and made her way back to 34 to assist Spark once again.

 

“What’s wrong, hon?”

 

“Garlic salt won’t scan.”

 

“Oh yes that’s been a problem,” she clucked as she fumbled with her jailer keys again. Finding 34 she twisted it in the keyhole once again and typed some secret message into the register.

 

“There!”

 

Spark re-scanned the garlic salt and there was a beep!

 

Thank god, Jerry thought, he is only seconds away from freedom.

 

“$17.99.”

 

Huh?

 

“This is some expensive shit!” Spark declared not catching that he let an expletive fly in front of a valued Rockford’s customer.

 

“It should only be $1.79,” Jerry insisted.

 

“Oh. OK. Moooommmmmm!”

 

Holy crap, Jerry thought. Maybe he was being tortured on some twisted reality show, “Real Househusbands of Rockford’s: The Final Chapter 3.”

 

Here she came again. At least she’ll make her step count today on her health tracker. Or not. Jerry could see the cigarettes and Twizzlers poking out of her stretched backpocket.

 

“Well that’s not big, big savings! I’m sorry sir, I must have made a mistake when I entered the code. I’ll try it again,” she gleefully said as she once again clanged around with the keychain.

 

“Try it again, Sparky.”

 

The kid dragged the garlic salt back over the scanner.

 

“$1.79,’ he declared with pride.

 

He punched a few more keys on the register.

 

“That comes to a total of four dollars and thirty-four cents. Cash, charge, debit, Bitcoin, voucher, super-saver….”

 

“Debit,” Jerry cut him short.

 

“Chip?”

 

“Yes,” Jerry replied, understanding that he was asking if his card had a chip along with the magnetic strip.

 

“Sorry,” Spark intoned, “chip reader is down, you’ll have to swipe.”

 

Jerry dragged his North Sinclair County Community College officially branded debit card, emblazoned with the snarling, satanic-looking devil bat mascot on a field of black and gold, through the magnetic strip reader.

 

“Bweep bweep,” the card machine responded.

 

“Try again,” Spark implored.

 

“Bweep bweep.”

 

“Ass-kicking time coming up, buddy,” came that voice from the back of queue, although it sounded closer and more menacing.

 

Jerry fumbled through his wallet for another card to use. Sunoco, no, Winn-Dixie, no, it wasn’t like any of these stores even existed anymore.

 

Jerry found his official Rockford’s credit card he signed up for a few months ago after being pestered about it in the Garden Center. He’s never used it, Jane would have a coronary if he did; she’d check the statements online, as she did every morning, and see a charge and go ballistic.

 

“What the hell are you buying now, Jerry?” she would demand from her perch in front of the iMac she used to keep tabs on things.

 

Jerry dragged the card through the stripe reader.

 

“Bweep bweep.”

 

“OK, what now?” Jerry pleaded to Spark.

 

“Try the chip reader!” He replied as though this was a novel idea.

 

“But, you said…”

 

Jerry rammed the red card into the chip reader.

 

“ACCEPTED.”

 

“Just enter your phone number, area code first, followed by the last four of your social, your PIN you set-up when you got the card, the month and date of your birthday and the special character you chose,” Spark recited.

 

Jerry stared at the machine. He started pressing numbers on the number pad: 2-8-6-4-0-4-8-6-8-6-0-4-0-4-1-2-3-4-1-1-1-1. Jerry stopped trying to remember whether it was the question mark, exclamation, or the infamous octothorpe, commonly referred to as a hashtag. Shit, what was it? He was almost there. The numbers were right, he knew that. Jerry’s forefinger trembled over the number pad between the octothorpe and the question mark.

 

“Sir?”

 

“Octothorpe, goddammit!” Jerry blurted out.

 

“Huh?”

 

Jerry pushed his finger into the octothorpe character and closed his eyes.

 

“$4.34 IS YOUR TOTAL. DO YOU AGREE?”

 

Holy shit, Jerry thought, it worked!

 

Jerry pressed the green YES button.

 

“TRANSACTION ACCEPTED.”

 

Jerry felt as though he was being lifted to heaven on angel wings, with harp music playing.

 

“Yes!” Jerry exclaimed pumping his fist into the air.

 

Spark pressed some key on his register and the receipt, followed by coupons, follow by game pieces, surveys and special offers began vomiting out the machine’s receipt slot.

 

“There you go, Mr., uhh, Octothorpe, your total comes to $4.34 which is charged to your Rockford’s credit card. You earned one point toward your gas savings. When you reach 50 points you will receive 10 cents off a gallon at any Rockford’s gas stations, now located in 47 of our United States and three provinces in Canada. They sell gas by the litter there, I think. Right now, you have not earned enough to qualify any gas savings so a litter is a litter up there in ole Cana-duhhhh! There’s a survey card for you to fill out. Simply go to the website on the card: W-W-W-PERIOD-R-O-C-K-F-O-R-D-S-S-A-V-E-S-U-B-I-G-B-U-C-K-S-A-N-D-S-O-M-U-C-H-M-O-R-E-PERIOD-C-O-M-SLANTY-THING-S-U-R-V-E-Y and enter the transaction number, register number, 34, cashier’s name, Spark, grand total, receipt number, store number, and answer the 50 simple questions about your visit to Rockford’s today and how we saved you  big, big bucks on your purchase today, and every day, and you will be entered in our weekly drawing to win FIVE-HUNDRED DOLLARS! There is also a coupon for chicken alfredo, diapers, laxatives, cheese fries, brussel sprouts, frozen pizza, bird seed, assorted garden tools, and ummm, err, feminine hygiene products,” Spark recited as he stacked up the paperwork into a neat pile and handed it over to Jerry.

 

His tax returns used less paper than this, Jerry thought.

 

Jerry returned his Rockford’s card to his wallet, grabbed the white plastic bag containing his sugar and garlic salt from the carousel and dumped all the paperwork into the bag. He stopped and looked back at the queue. This must be how prisoners feel when they are released from prison, he thought. Bag in hand and freedom only steps away. One last look at what was. He had seen that on Orange is the New Black and Wentworth, he watched on Netflix when Jane wasn’t looking.

 

Down the queue he could see the man who had threatened him with his ass-kicking. Sucker! I’m free! You’re not! The man glared back at him, his bluetooth earpiece jiggling as he shook his head at Jerry.

 

Jerry was free. It was over. 8:45 pm, his quarry in the bag, he was ready to put this all behind him now. Spark, mom, Bluetooth, palette jack guy, all will be distant memories once he finds himself on the other side of the big glass doors marked “EXIT/SALIDA.”

 

Jerry walked away from lane 34 feeling triumphant. Pushing his way through the crowd of North Sinclair’s finest, he past the haircut place, the arcade place, the bathroom place, the eyeglass place. He stopped. Dammit! In all this glory, he forget he had to pee like a racehorse. Jerry closed his leg tights like that would help and waddled back to the bathroom place.

 

The entrance was marked “men/hombres” with a left arrow and “women/mujeres” with a right arrow. Were men always on the left? They were from Mars, he knew that. Jerry turned into the left entrance and walked right into the custodian dragging his mop over the tile floor.

 

“Hola,” the man with the name tag that read HANS MITTENBERG, said.

 

“Yeah, uh, hi.” Jerry skidded past Hans and took up position behind the one man standing in front of the only urinal not marked with “OUT OF ORDAR” signs.

 

“Iss only verking vun,” Hans reported.

 

“Danke, mi amigo,” Jerry sputtered.

 

The urinal user finished his business with a shake and a zip, and walked past Jerry with a downcast glance. Jerry stepped up to the plate and got in his batting stance. Home run! This one is… out… of… the… park! Jerry closed his eyes and turned his head upward, ignored the splashback and after a few more foul-balls, it was a quick shake and zip and he wheeled around, picking up his bag and bid Hans a good night.

 

“Gut nacht, mon frere,” Jerry exclaimed in his multi-language response.

 

“Later, dude,” Hans replied.

 

The sun had just about gone out as Jerry emerged through the glass doors that separated the Rockford’s reality from that of his own. What would he find out here, he thought, a strange new world, a parallel universe, or just a parking lot filled with plastic cups floating in the breeze and cigarette butts?

 

“Ass-kicking time!”

 

Jerry turned to see the man from the back of the queue emerging from behind the row of shopping carts. How did he get through customs, err, the cashier, so fast?

 

“You lolly-gagged and wasted my time for far too long, buddy. Now, it’s time to for an ole North Sinclair ass-whooping.”

 

Sheesh, Jerry thought. He looked left then right and decided the best course of action was to run straight for his Toyota. He could see it. Just a few yards away and he was.

 

Jerry sprinted forward, constantly pressing the open-door button on his electronic fob. He could hear the Toyota respond: blweeep blweeep. Almost there.

 

Jerry yanked the door open and threw the bag of sugar and garlic salt onto the passenger seat. He could a “thwack” and then a “sssss…..” shit, the sugar opened. Goddammit! But, the bigger issue was getting the hell outta here and away from back-of-the-queue-angry-guy.

 

Jerry rammed the key into the keyhole and turned it. The engine started, the navigation display lit up letting him know it was in his best interests to obey the laws, the radio started up and even though he had it programmed to Bob-FM (“we play what the hell we want”) it started with the French-language country station from somewhere in East Gooseshit, Ontario, Q-106.3, la belle some shit or something.

 

Jerry threw the Toyota into Reverse and spun his new bargain tires on the parking lot just as queue-man reached the window and got one ham-fisted bang on the driver side window. Jerry could see him mouthing ome words, which he guessed to be “have a pleasant evening, my good fellow!” Or not.

 

Chapter VI.

Jane’s Getting Serious. Jane.


 

Jerry was home free! No ass-kicking. Not from the guy at Rockford’s anyway.

“Well, look who decided to return from the big world,” Jane sneered at Jerry as he entered the front door of their house.

 

“You know how it is at Rockford’s, it’s a mad-house and this time was worse than ever,” Jerry replied as a way of justifying his tardiness.

 

“There’s a frozen pizza on the counter. I’m not cooking anything tonight, that’s for sure,” Jane slurred as she nodded toward the kitchen. Jerry could see the empty bottle of Shiraz through the batwing doors.

 

“Fine,” Jerry huffed as he headed for the kitchen, pushing the bat-wings open with a bang and thrumped the sugar and garlic salt on the counter almost knocking the empty wine bottle over. He clanked around with the pizza pan and slammed the frozen pizza onto the tray and shoved it in the oven. He grabbed a Keystone Light from the fridge, pulled it open and started guzzling. Another fun night at the store, he thought.

 

Jerry awoke to the sound of pounding. What was that? He tried to go back to sleep, Jane motionless beside him. Another set of bangs. He looked at the clock. 5:30am. The banging got more insistent.

 

“OK, OK,” Jerry whispered to himself. He put his feet into his tattered slippers and descended the stairs, tying the belt of his bathrobe around his middle. The banging got even more insistent as he tried to peer through the frosted glass to see who was on the other side. Police, he guessed. Maybe looking for a runaway or a meth lab or something.

 

Jerry opened the door slightly. “Yes?”

 

“Rockford’s security,” one of the tall men in sunglasses replied. The sun was hardly up but Jerry thought this rent-a-cop needed to have that Men In Black look to be taken seriously. Jerry almost laughed as he pictured Tommy Lee Jones in a Rockford’s vest.

“Yes, what do want, it’s 5:30 in the morning?”

 

“Sir, you were shopping at Rockford’s last night,” Tommy Lee detailed.

 

“I know,” Jerry replied.

 

“Sir, did you or did you not agree to purchase chicken alfredo mix, a special low-low price bargain that only Rockford’s could offer to our valued customers?” Tommy Lee said, apparently delivering his words in all seriousness.

 

“Chicken? Oh, yeah. That insistent women in the kiosk badgered me so I guess I did agree to buy that damned stuff on the way out. I forgot. So what? You come to my house to remind me?”

 

“Not remind you, sir, to make sure you honor your side of the contract.”

 

“Contract?”

 

“Sir, when you make a verbal contract with a representative of Rockford’s that’s a binding agreement between you, the valued customer, and the provided, in this case, a Rockford’s associate with more than ten years of service and an unblemished record of providing value to our patrons. Now, you violated this sworn trust and you must make amends.”

 

“You can’t be serious. Just because I offhandedly told a vendor I was going to buy something, you come all the way out here to the cul-de-sac to sell me chicken alfredo mix? I’m under no obligation to buy anything. That’s my right as a customer in this free country. I didn’t even like that sample that woman forced on me. I just wanted to get on my way and as it turned out I was there for three hours and pissed off my wife in the bargain so take your chicken alfredo and shove it up your ass, Tommy Lee!”

 

The other rent-a-cop grabbed Jerry by the shoulders. He didn’t look anything like Eddie Murphy so he must have been a stunt double, Jerry thought as he pushed him into a bright red SUV with the swishy Rockford’s R on the door. Under the big R were the words: ROCKFORD’S SECURITY, DIVISION E.

 

“Hey!” Jerry pleaded as he was thrown onto the backseat. Even the seats were bright red.

 

“Where are you taking me?” Jerry yelled as he pounded the back of the seat.

 

“Justice,” Tommy Lee intoned.

 

Jerry knew exactly where he was going. He was going to face the tribunal, the council of elders, the holy judges of the world’s largest bargain retail establishment. He was being brought in front of the Court of Chicken Alfredo. Judge Hairnet presiding.

 

“Welcome back, sir. I see you have decided to take advantage of Rockford’s generous offer and get yourself some chicken alfredo mix for your loving family,” Judge Hairnet exclaimed.

 

“No, I was kidnapped by your thugs and hauled here against my will. This is illegal and I’ll never shop at Rockford’s again. This is criminal!” Jerry spat.

 

“Sir, Rockford’s does not operate outside the law, we simply want to bring value to our customers and it sometimes requires a little more, errr, marketing efforts on our part to print consumer and product together to create an experience worth Tweeting about,” Tommy Lee explained.

 

“So, let’s see, you wanted three boxes. That comes to $27.95 plus tax, insurance and warranty.”

 

“And the dollar coupon you promised, remember that!” Jerry began to shake as his face turned red.

 

“That has expired, sir. Had you completed your contract in the specified timeframe the coupon would still be honored, but, as you can see by the clock, the day has passed,” Judge Hairnet ruled.

 

“The clock! It’s six in the morning and I’m wearing only a bathrobe and standing in a freezing Rockford’s buying chicken alfredo mix. Screw your coupon! Screw your chicken alfredo and screw you Judge Hairnet!”

 

“My name is Penny G, it says so right here on my badge,” Judge Hairnet replied, tapping the bright red Rockford’s name badge pinned to her bright red smock.

 

Jerry began to shake uncontrollably and was sweating into his slippers. His vision blurred and all he could see was Rockford Red. From what seemed like a long distance he could hear voices: “Chicken alfredo, chicken, alfredo, ass-kicking, ass-kicking, 611, 611, sugar, sugar, garlic salt, garlic salt, axelrose, axelrose, spark, spark, mom, mom…” and they were getting louder and more repetitious.

 

Chapter VII.

Chicken Alfredo.

 

Jerry woke up with a start. He must have been dreaming. Maybe it was a memory, maybe just a nightmare. He was in Rockford’s. Of course. People were yelling at him or maybe he was yelling at them? No, not Jerry Tristan, he didn’t yell. Somebody wanted sugar. Who was that? He thought he knew. Somebody from the past maybe. June? Jean? Whatever. Six AM. Better get going. Not good to be late.

 

Jerry chugged some orange juice and grabbed a protein bar, wrapped in bright red plastic wrap, for the ride. He pushed his fingers through his thinning hair and patted his ever-growing beer gut. He’s knees were aching, but he managed managed to pull himself up into his creaky Toyota. Should have traded this jalopy in years ago, he thought.

 

Jerry jabbed his finger onto the radio switch. So much for pre-tuning, it always defaulted to the Static Station. All static all the time. The best hits of the electromagnetic spectrum in the quad-county area. Jerry twisted the dial slowly, keeping one eye on the road and the other on the LED read-out. Country. Hip-Hop. Religion. French. Spanish. Religion. Right-Wing Loonies. Religion. Country.

 

That did it. Another jab at the switch and the radio fell silent. The Silent Channel! The best tunes of never spun by your DJ: Mr. Nobody! Perfect.

 

Jerry unwrapped the protein bar and threw the red wrapper on the passenger side floor alongside several others from previous days. I need to clean this car one day, Jerry thought as he tooled down the highways of North Sinclair County. How many NS3C Devil Bats will he have to deal with today, he wondered.

 

Jerry stepped out of his Toyota and into the parking lot at work and headed inside to his work area, ready to start a new day of service to the community.

 

Jerry peered through his little window, looking at nothing in particular. A young woman was approaching in his direction. She was carrying a large bag over her left shoulder with the letters “QR” emblazoned on the side in swirly gold stitching. She was talking into her cell phone while trying to keep the bag on her shoulder and looked like she was imitating the hunchback of Notre Dame. Attached to her right hand was a girl of about 12 years old, Jerry thought. The woman finished her phone conversation and dropped the phone into the big “QR” bag.

 

“Mr. Tristan! Mr. Tristan!” the young woman called to Jerry.

 

“Come on, Lexi, you remember Mr. Tristan,” the woman said to the girl in tow.

 

“Good morning, Mr. Tristan, sir,” the girl said to Jerry in a polite tone.

 

“Mr. Tristan, it’s me, remember?” the woman asked inquisitively.

 

“Qortni. Qortni Rogers. Well, I was Qortni Champagne. That was years ago, before I got married, got my Master’s and took over the loan office at North Sinclair Savings. You remember Lexi, don’t you, Mr. Tristan? She likes that better than her real name, Axelrose, and I must say that I agree!” The woman declared with pride.

 

Jerry gazed at the woman and then the girl. He did have a memory of them. Images flashed through his mind: a giant smartphone, Cheerios, orange goo. He must be confused.

 

Jerry lifted himself from the stool he was perched on and stuck his head out of the little window just slightly. He smoothed his bright red smock as he did so and straightened the magnetic name badge over his heart. “Jerry T.” it read. He looked directly into the woman’s eyes and intoned:

 

“Chicken Alfredo?”

 

--The End--


© Copyright 2018 Jeff Macharyas. All rights reserved.

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