Ten Second Window

a short story
by: Christine Day



I feel like I am a pretty observant person. It is something that I like to do, and I sometimes find myself staring at people, wondering about their lives and what really goes on with them; what makes them tick. I sometimes play out these stories in my head, about who these people are, the thoughts they are thinking, and the lives that they may lead outside of the time that I am seeing them. This is an example of one of those times, my frequent encounter with this one clerk at a convenience store. It is a glimpse into how my mind runs rampant when I wonder what this person does, who they are, and what they think about.


I am at work again. I hate to look at these walls. They are such a drab color, like shit brown. There is probably some clever name for a color like this, like wood chip, tree bark, or polyester. I once had a pair of polyester pants in this shade of brown, but I am not sure everyone knows that, so let's just call the color wood chip. I am within these walls, working at a job that I hate, felling so consumed by all of this negativity. I remember in high school we used to take these tests. You would answer a series of personality questions, and at the end of them, it told you what you were supposed to be. I think they were called aptitude tests. Never in any of those tests did it say I was going to be a clerk at a convenience store. I am only working here until I save up enough money to get out of this place. I wonder how many people were in the same shoes I am in now that said that. I wonder a little bit more about the people who actually did it.


The clerk job has its perks. There are three shifts you can work; 6am-3pm, 3pm-11:30pm, and the graveyard shift from 11:30pm-6:00am. Being that I was so flexible, I had the opportunity of working one of these shifts at one time or another. I am not much of a morning person, so the 6am shift was usually out. I was forced to fill in every so often, and every one of those morning I hated my life. There's a really intense crowd that comes in during those times, especially around 7am. That's when you get your crazy rush of business people that all want their coffee fresh; a stamped of the angriest of people, much like the running of the bulls in Pamplona. There urgent urgency was always that damn cup of coffee. Then the crowd would die down by nine or ten, and the rest of the day was pretty much spent trying to keep my eyes open. The three o'clock shift was probably my favorite to work. I could still sleep in and not have to be there until three. I still managed to be a few minutes late, nonetheless. A few beers on "guy's night" and staying up till the sun comes up always impairs me to be at work on time, even at three. It's just that most of the guys that I hang out with are all married, so when they finally get a night away from their wives, we really try to live it up.


The afternoon shift was much smoother, because after that little rush of soccer moms and their little soccer player kids at around five, the rest of the shift was just the happy business people on their way home from a day's work. If I wasn't so lucky to get that 3pm shift, I was forced to work the graveyard. All night is really no problem for me, for I don't sleep much at night anyway. It may have to do with the fact that my roommate Greg would bring chicks into our apartment at all hours of the night for a night cap. He's a hard ass. I guess I'm just more sensitive. He always goes for the same type girl, cheap and easy. We could not be any more different.


When you work at a local store like this, you run into the same people at the same times during the day. You never really catch their names, for there is never really any formal introduction, so I tend to make up names for them based on their physical characteristics. There's Smokey McSmoker, a guy that comes in everyday at about six in the evening and gets his two packs of Marlboro reds. Then there are the stoners, who come in during the late night shift, high as a kite, for their Doritos and Dr. Peppers. There's Snooty Van Snootington, an angry business woman that comes in every morning at 7:30 sharp, with her ear piece for her cell phone neatly tucked behind her ear. I always think she is talking to herself, because you can't always see the ear piece. That's technology for you. Making more and more people look crazier each and every day. You get used to seeing these people, and the exchange of words is usually short and few. They are in a way, part of your day, and I guess you could say its comforting to see them. All of the people that I see are just average people, trying to make a living.


Then there's Nadia. She's special. She's one of the very few people that come in and I actually know her name. It's only because she comes in before she has work, wearing her uniform with her name tag pinned on the corner of her shirt. She's wonderful. She's tall, long legs, a skinny figure; her clothes sort of just hang on her tiny frame. The girl knows how to dress, everything she wears looks like it was made just for her. No matter the season or the weather, her skin is always the darkest shade of bronze, like she just came from sitting in the sun all day long. Her teeth are the bright white, and when she smiles, it's like the whole room notices. She has the most gorgeous hair. It's long and dark, and sort of flows off her head like a river of mahogany.Everyday when she comes in to get her pack of Marlboro Lights I find myself in complete awe about this girl. She is probably the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. I wonder what she does on her spare time, and what kind of beer she drinks. I wonder if she has a boyfriend. She would probably be one kick ass girlfriend. I picture her to be very laid back and chill, not like one of those possessive girls that needs to know where you are at all times.That is such a turn-off.


I always try to strike up conversation with her but it's hard to say something short and profound in the ten second window I have to say something. I used to just say, $4.49, which was just the total of her bill. That would be the extent of our conversation for the longest time, until I decided I had to say something more. So right before she handed me her money, I would ask if she wanted a bag to put her items in. She usually said no, because she was able to carry a pack of cigarettes and her water without the use of a bag. There would be the rare occasion where she needed a bag, when she was picking up bread or milk or something, in which case she would say yes. I always got fidgety and nervous when she would come in, until I was able to channel that energy to try and spark up more conversation. Like the other day when she came in, it was sunny. In my little ten second window, I said, “It's such a nice day out, isn't it?” Then she would come back and say, “Yes, its gorgeous out.” That was a nice day. I feel like I am getting better with our little conversations; each and every day a little bit more improvement is being made on them. I look forward to seeing her, because it gives me this sense of bliss, and I don't really know what that means. It's only 4:00 now. She shouldn't be getting out of work for another hour or so, so I guess I won't see her until then. At least it's something to look forward to.


Time stands so still when I'm at work. It's like it takes ten minutes for every five to pass on the clock. That's why I don't mind playing the role of the stock boy and stock the shelves to pass the time. That's also why I like Wednesdays so much, because the shipment of candy bars comes in, and it takes at least a few hours to stock the shelves with all of it. Sometimes I use a pricing gun, sometimes I just don't feel like it. Today, I don't mind, so I unpacked a case of Reese's Peanut butter cups, and put a 79 cent sticker on each and every package. I get into a groove, and I don't like to be interrupted, so when I heard the bell ring to let me know that someone was walking into the store, I threw my pricing gun down in frustration. I am never going to get this shit done. I looked up to see that it was Nadia. My mood instantly changed.


I fixed my shirt and re-adjusted myself, as I made my way back to the register. She looked especially beautiful today. She had on this tiny skirt on with ruffles, and a solid pink tank top that clung to her skin beautifully. She wasn't on her way to work today. I looked down at my watch. It was 4:43. She was early. I watched her as she slowly gazed the items up and down the aisles. She had her hands full, and I knew it was going to be a day that she would need a bag. She walked slowly up to the register and put down her bottled water, a few candy bars, and some toilet paper. It was Charmin, not the generic kind. She's not a cheap lady. She looked up at me and asked for a pack of Marlboro Lights. I already had them in my hand and on the counter. She smiled. I melted. As I was checking her out, meaning her items with the register, she skimmed through the latest copy of US Weekly that graced one of the shelves near the register. Britney Spears was on the cover this week. She looked up at me and said, “Can you believe that Britney Spears is pregnant?” My mind went blank. She actually spoke to me. We usually never have any other conversation other than the weather, or if she needs a bag for her things. This sort of comment is unprecedented. I didn't know what to do. I began to freak out, palms a bit sweaty, a feeling that I wasn't so cool to handle. I tried to conjure up a worthy reply, but all that was able to come from my mouth was, “I know, right? I still can‘t believe that she‘s married to that guy.” Nadia looked back at me and said, “I know she is so much better than he is.”


I finished ringing her out and said $14.34, as I started putting her things in a plastic bag. It was a nice ten second window today and I was glowing as I handed her the bag. Just as she was about to walk out the door, she turned to me and said “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Britney?” I felt my cheeks get flushed with nervousness, and replied in a bashful sigh, “Yes, my boyfriend tells me that all the time.”