by: Bert Stanton
All he wanted was a bag with handles. Just one large bag with two handles. Paper or plastic, didn’t matter. Big enough to fit the contents of the brown bag sitting on the checkout counter, almost filled to the top with enough food and assorted sundries to get a modern person through another week. The same brown bag that, if not put into a bag with handles, would prove too difficult to carry in one arm, while the other did God’s work; if God fumbled with house keys, showed transit passes to bus drivers, swiped right, and discretely scratched himself in public. That bag would dip and slip and dance and spill. Maybe even burst. Maybe at the bus stop, maybe on the bus itself. Maybe as he was sprinting towards the blinking walk sign on the other side of the dark, rainy, intersection filled with agitated and impatient honking. None of them would care. They just wanted to get home.
And he just wanted a bag with handles.
The cashier stared him down, smacked her gum, shot jaundiced rays of impatient disgust and heavy disdain at him through narrow eyes unable to care. Each smack smack smack of her gum became louder and louder and louder, her lips wetter and wetter and wetter. Every time he blinked, both the top and bottom lip swelled as if someone stabbed them with a basketball pump and started furiously pumping away. Her breasts swelled too. So did her hips. And so did the cocked angle which she rested one hand on her hips, and continued to smack her gum at him.
“I would like a bag with handles,” he said, calm and flat. It wasn’t a difficult request.
“Ain’t got none,” she replied, each word enunciated with wet, smacking lips.
“Certainly you have to have at least one,” he replied.
“Nope,” she said, and for a brief moment, he wanted to grab the pen holding her piss poor dye job in place and stab her lips, her breasts, her hips, her thorax. Not in any mean or misogynistic way. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Put her out of her misery.
“Can I look around at the other registers?” the man asked. There were eleven other registers. None were open, but surely must be stocked. Surely one of them would have a two-handled bag.
She shook her swelling head, and turned back to the register, to whatever occupied her thoughts when there were no other customers. Particularly nasty ones like him who would never take a no for an answer. Who thought they were gods of all creation over price labels, clearance items, and expired coupons.
“Can I speak to a manager?” he asked. The cashier didn’t turn around, just pointed one long, gnarled, overly manicured finger towards a young man with green hair standing at the end of the line of registers.
He looked too young and too frail to have any authority, yet his name tag read ASSISTANT CASHIER MANAGER. It also read BRAD.
“We are out of bags with handles,” Brad said, his words moldy with repetition.
“I need one, though. I need it for my groceries and sundries. I need it or I may not make it all the way home.”
“We are out of bags with handles,” Assistant Cashier Manager Brad repeated.
“Are there any in the back?” the man asked.
Brad’s head started to turn, then spin, around and around and around. 360 degrees to 720 to 1440, and on and on. With each turn, Brad’s head spiraled upwards, his neck an elongated screw, until the top of his head touched the high ceiling. His eyes bulged to the size of basketballs.
“WE ARE OUT OF BAGS WITH HANDLES” his dull, metallic voice boomed from the roof.
“This is not a difficult request.” The man who wanted nothing more than a bag with handles said. “I just need a bag with handles.”
But it was useless, and he knew it. Still, he pushed on.
“Give me a bag with handles.” he said, and then said it again. It quickly became a droning chant, each repetition blowing his body outward, as if someone stuck the hose of an air compressor into his left ear and let it rip. His body ballooned up and out, up and out, up and over the cash registers and any merchandise or people that got in his way. Soon he was face to face with Brad, both madder than the heat of a thousand suns.
The roof broke apart, as their metamorphosis into A CHEAP LO-FI KNOCK OFF OF 1970S RODAN and ASSISTANT CASHIER MANAGER BRAD ONLY NOW MUCH LARGER neared completion. They hovered over the building in the light of a clear, full moon, each trying to remember which secret Japanese government laboratory originally spawned their embryos.
NORAD mobilized the Air National Guard, but the pilots stopped off en route for a pool party at a secret government laboratory atop Mount Hood. This one was a United States government laboratory, and unlike the Japanese they learned long ago to not fuck around with dinosaur DNA, to just leave it alone. After all the United States has Lt. Colonel Jeff Goldblum on their side to warn them of such irresponsible dangers. Just stick to chemical and electronic warfare, ya dinguses. It’s a lot less likely your country will be trampled by an annoying lizard god. The pilots drank and laughed and tried to remember how much sexual assault was allowed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
When A CHEAP LO-FI KNOCK OFF OF 1970S RODAN and ASSISTANT CASHIER MANAGER BRAD ONLY NOW MUCH LARGER finally collided, the ensuing mushroom cloud could be seen as far as Tacoma, Washington, and leveled the ten blocks surrounding the store, which was super convenient for the city planners who were trying to hurry up gentrification in the area.
Anywho, that’s why the Freddie’s on 82nd and Foster is now closed.
Bert Stanton lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.
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