Sarah Green raced through the store to the back room and frantically searched through the boxes to find what she was looking for, her vision getting blurry with frustration with every second that passed that didn’t result in her hands finding what she needed.
All four tills at the front had queues 4 or 5 people deep, each person with full trollies of groceries. The baggers were flat out, the receipt paper was flying through the system quicker than water down a drain and of course Mrs Carmody needed to get an extra tin of cat food that wasn’t on the shelf so here she was digging through boxes on her knees.
“Ah ha!” she exclaimed as she grabbed the small tin.
She scrambled to her feet, dusted off the moss green apron she was wearing over her linen shorts and blue and white checked plaid shirt. Her red and pink tie-dye converse sneakers made squeaks on the linoleum floor as she raced back through the store to the till that was being held up for this last tin of cat food and she smiled at Mrs. Carmody like she meant it.
Sarah hated the 4th of July weekend.
Lucy and Tim, two high school kids who usually worked the entire floor making sure shelves were fully stocked, were today dedicated to the bread section and making sure dogs and burgers were available for needy customers, and they still couldn’t keep up. The rest of the floor staff were racing around helping customers, filling phoned-in orders, sweeping up spillages and making sure the smooth system most people were used to in Shay’s grocery worked as intended.
Except on the 4th of July weekend.
Hell it wasn’t even 4th of July yet! Sarah cursed. It was the 2nd. But it was Friday. The people of Madison, a small town a couple of hours west of Chicago, were preppers. Nothing would come between them and their BBQ fixings.
Sarah pulled her ponytail tie out of her hair and shook the dirty blonde locks loose before she combed her fingers through them and fixed it back into a looped bun at the nape of her neck. The heat was almost oppressive but Sarah had a good inkling that it was just the sheer volume of customers drawing her attention away from the tasks she needed to complete that was really annoying her.
Though there was one task she wasn’t looking forward to. She glanced at her clipboard which she had left at the end of the conveyor belt to help bag Mrs. Carmody’s groceries and saw the item listed at the top of her TODO list was still unchecked. “Call Nasty Nate”
She looked up and picked the head of lettuce from the feed and added it to the bag, filled it with the other fruit and vegetable items then added that bag to the now empty trolley. Chloe, the bagger beside her, a summer part timer who was currently struggling through their first day added the last of the bags to the trolley and waved.
“Thank you for shopping at Shay’s!” Chloe said enthusiastically and Sarah chuckled.
It wouldn’t be long before that joy was chipped away from her voice, she thought as she picked up her clipboard and walked through the other tills to make sure everything was working.
She wandered back through the aisles and directed some floor staff to focus on certain areas where their attention was waning then slowly made her way to the office at the back behind the store room.
The urgency that was driving her earlier had now evaporated as she walked around the cluttered desk and turned on the ancient computer. She sat back in the overstuffed office chair and sighed as she listened to the whirrs and clicks of the computer come to life.
This Friday routine was one she was used to and these 180 seconds of peace as she waited for the computer to boot up so she could find the accounts file were the best part. Everything after this was going to go downhill.
It wasn’t pessimism. It was realism. She had been dealing with Nate, the store accountant for about four months now, since she took the task over from Rob Walker, the store manager.
At first she was delighted to be getting more responsibility. Learning new tasks was always fun, but Rob had kind of thrown her into the deep end as he had handed her the task while dealing with a family crisis so she was lost when she first called Nate. He did not respond well to her inability to understand his accountant based acronyms, or her innate capacity for asking questions.
His biggest issue was how she insisted on calling him Nate. Nathan Miller was his name and he reminded her of this fact every time she called but she couldn’t help it. Calling him Nate was her way of exerting power over him in a situation where she had no power.
Sarah smiled and turned the chair a little to face the screen when it flashed green and came to life. She was convinced this computer had been around to help launch the Apollo rockets but it was all they could afford, or all they needed, depending on who you ask.
She accessed the accounts file, a spreadsheet she had been filling in all week with daily tallies and referenced it on the call with Nate. He had wanted her to email them but they didn’t have a DSL line in the store. She even tried downloading them onto a disk and using a courier to ship them to Nate to plug into his computer, but the spreadsheet software they were using in Shay’s on the ancient computer likely used by Cleopatra to send nudie pics to Mark Anthony, was incompatible with Nate’s software.
That phone call was fun, she recalled. Remembering how he accused her of sharing a corrupted file which destroyed his records and resulted in a 2 hour phone event where she back tracked all the daily and weekly tallies for the last three months.
Sarah picked up the phone and dialled a number she knew by heart, though her eyes still moved to the small business card taped to the bottom of the monitor. Nathan Miller. Accountant. A plain white no frills business card with his name, title, and phone number embossed in the middle. Just like him.
She had never met him and had only spoken to him on the phone. He was curt and sharp and she imagined his face was long and pointy like his usual mood. She liked to think that men she passed on the street were Nathan Miller. Men who looked down their nose at her. Men who tried to steal her parking spot. Men who looked at her chest before they looked at her face. Men who… well just assholes, she decided.
The ringing phone next to her ear brought her back to the present and she swallowed around the lump of nerves in her stomach in preparation for her least hated time of the week. She would rather crawl on her hands and knees all over the shop fetching cat food for Mrs. Carmody every day than have to-
“Hello.” His curt, no nonsense voice was the exact same every week. She wondered briefly if he was a robot.
“Hi Nate, it’s Sarah.”
She introduced herself every week even though she called him the same time every week. He never participated in any chit chat. He didn’t seem to care about the weather or her thoughts on it. He hadn’t responded when she tried to engage him in whatever weird true crime documentary was all the rage on Netflix. He merely wanted the numbers. Numbers, numbers, numbers, she scoffed.
“Please begin with Friday 25th June.”
“Yeah, I had a great week,” she said as if he had asked her. She couldn’t help but tease him. He had ever broken character and she wasn’t finished trying to hear him laugh. She would settle for a chuckle. “No, it wasn’t too busy but the store did well and of course preparing for July 4th is always hectic.”
“I did go out to the lake but it was way too busy so I ended up staying at home last weekend. Don’t you love the peace of a back garden?”
“I mean there is the danger of falling asleep while tanning and waking up over cooked, but-”
“Please, the daily tally for the 25th June.”
Sarah chuckled softly. His voice was a little more firm than it had been and she took that as a win. Chalk one up to the side of a non-robot. “Oh, you want the tallies? Okay, sure…one sec…” She hummed a little tune as she scrolled the spreadsheet down and waited for the display to catch up.
the phone call took thirty minutes. She supposed it was a task that could have been completed in ten but the computer was slow to react to her scrolling, and hearing Nate hmph and sigh on the other side of the phone was the only real victory she got from him so she eked it out as long as possible. The dichotomy between hating and loving this task was strong and unavoidable.
When she called out the final tally she both heard and felt his relief. She smiled and chuckled a little and thought she heard him grunt with displeasure.
“So Nate, any plans for the long weekend?”
Before she could tease him further she heard the dial tone in her ear and looked at the old fashioned ear piece as if it would show her anything else.
“Wow, rude,” she said as she replaced the handset on the cradle of the old rotary phone. She leaned back in her chair again to bask in a moment of silence before she went back out to the shop floor mayhem.