Some New Trend


Chapter Twelve :: Stephanie by Carrie Rollwagen

chapter12

ANOTHER DAY AT THE THRILL FACTORY :: BY CARRIE ROLLWAGEN 

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YOU DON’T KNOW BOREDOM UNTIL YOU’VE DUSTED a shelf full of beaded lampshades to Esther’s exact specifications. This involves removing a stack of shades, sitting them on the shelf below, spritzing the shelf with Pledge, wiping it down with a rag, feather dusting the shades themselves, then putting them back on the shelf exactly where they were before you started. “There’s no room for error,” she says. It’s also implied that there’s no room for creativity.

This process is repeated on each of the twelve shelves. Then the entire dusting process itself is repeated every other day. In case you’re wondering, that’s not enough time for dust to actually collect. Talk about pointless.

I don’t really mind this tedium, but Miranda’s about to crack, I can tell. The trouble with Miranda is, she actually cares. She honestly loves the jewel-toned, fake-historical, world-traveler-wannabe merchandise we sell. She loves to set up displays, and I know she dreams of completely filling her tiny one-room apartment with Kirkland’s sconces and candlesticks.

Esther works here because she’s in love with the pseudo-power of retail management, and she fully exercises this power by cutting us down frequently. She’s especially tough on Miranda, who can’t seem to remember to check ID when she takes a credit card. I don’t know what’s sadder, watching Esther get off on yelling at a sixty-year-old grandma, or the fact that Grandma Miranda still forgets to check ID after working here for a year. It’s amazing how much you grow to care about a job that you never wanted, about people who bore you to tears.

Miranda’s main joys in life are Kirkland’s merchandise and pictures of her grandkids. I want my life to be bigger than that. I hate everything about this town, from the heat to the strip malls and even the beach. I don’t want to settle like Mom and Dad have. Like I’m afraid Josh is going to. I want to get away, be something. Do great things. Start a band.

Sometimes I think a band is my ticket out of here. I’m thinking power pop, edgy and serious, but also accessible. And June could be my drummer. Okay, she doesn’t actually play an instrument, but neither did the Ramones in the beginning. I’d play guitar and sing. Sort of a White Stripes meets The Donnas thing.

I’ve never admitted this, but sometimes I make up little adventures for our two-girl band (which is called Visual Purple, by the way). The fact that I invent these stories is a testament to the crushing boredom that is my life. But I think it’s better to have an imaginary life than no life at all.

Everything in this store is pretending to have a history, from suitcases covered in fake travel stamps to shells sold in bags meant to look hand-gathered from the beach. It’s all ugly at first, but it does kind of grow on you. I can actually imagine a cool apartment with some of this stuff, maybe one of the big, thick rugs, a few of our funny monkey lamps, and those huge elephant end tables (they’re shin killers, but I secretly love them). Put it all together with a killer sound system, and it could be sort of awesome. Kind of vampire chic, like a purposely gaudy lair.

I realize my vampire obsession is out of control. I mean, I bought the soundtrack to Twilight — even though it’s filled with songs by possibly the worst bands ever — just because Rob Pattinson (a.k.a. Edward, a.k.a. the hottest vampire ever) sings on it. I sacrificed two hours of salary just to hear Edward Cullen singing through my headphones.

If it weren’t for Twilight, who would I crush on? June likes Peter Parker, but I couldn’t deal with Spiderman running off every two seconds to scoop another damsel in distress off a rooftop or whatever. Vampires are like superheroes that don’t have to go around saving the world.

The pocket of my work-issued apron vibrates and I pull out my cell phone to read a text from June, doing a quick check over both shoulders to make sure Esther’s not around. My ponytail swishes across my shoulders. I really hate wearing a ponytail. It’s so pep squad.

I want to dye a few chunky pieces of my black hair bright blue so at least my ponytail could be subversive, kind of Gwen Stefani meets Morticia Addams. I tried to talk June into doing it with me, but I know she won’t. She’s always embarrassed to be herself. It makes me want to protect her, and it also annoys the crap out of me.

I cradle my phone so that Esther won’t be able to see it, even if she does happen to turn around.

whens your break?
it's slow so come by whenev.
cool … cinnabun?
YEAH!!

At least my fingernails are black, I think as I type out my responses. That’s a little punk rock. Esther complained, but the lights in here are kinda dim, so I told her it’s actually a deep wine color, and therefore in dress code. I don’t think she bought it, but we discussed it on the day our scanner broke, so she didn’t have time for a fight.

Once I got over being pissed at June for not getting a job, I realized there were hidden benefits to having a best friend who’s free to pick up coffee drinks and the occasional lunch so you don’t have to spend your entire break in line at the Food Court. It’s pretty sweet of June to do this, but I don’t expect any less from her.

She shows up ten minutes later, Mochalatta Chill in hand, a weird look on her face. I assume she looks strange because she’s just seen my brother with Bryanna. We never talk about it, but June’s majorly in love with Josh. I pretend I don’t know, because I know he’ll never like her. Never even notice her, probably. I can’t bear to be brutal and shut her down, but I don’t want to encourage her to hope for something that’s impossible.

“Did you get this from Two-N-Jenn?” I ask.

“Yep,” June says. “But we’re back on a no-name basis, post-birthday.”

“The way it should be,” I say, taking a sip of the drink and then stashing it under the counter. Esther isn’t actually that strict about food at work—mostly because of her pack-a-day Diet Coke habit—but it’s not a great idea to rub it in her face that I’m going against the official rules, either.

June jumps as we hear a chirp coming from somewhere behind the counter.

“What was that?” she asks.

“Cricket,” I say, leaning behind the counter for another sip of sugary goodness.

“Are you guys playing a rainforest CD or something?” she asks, looking for the source.

“June, rainforest? Crickets? Really?”

“Okay, I didn’t mean, like, the literal rainforest. You know, one of those white noise machines or …”

I give her a look.

“Okay not white noise,” she says. “One of those nature CDs that help you sleep.”

“What do you think this is, Sharper Image?” I ask. “That’s not a CD. That’s an actual cricket.”

“Uh, what?” June’s jaw doesn’t literally drop, but, metaphorically, it’s on the ground.

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “Seriously. The place is invested with crickets now. We have so few customers that we’re literally being overtaken by Mother Nature.”

“How could you not have mentioned this?” June asks. “Crickets at Kirkland’s. Classic. Amazing.”

June picks up a candlestick. It has a special finish that’s supposed to make It look like an antique, but it really just looks badly sponge-painted.

“Miranda says they’re good luck,” I say.

“Candlesticks?” she asks, surprised. “How come?”

“No, not the candlesticks,” I say, taking it out of her hand and putting it back in its exact place. Esther is extra critical about candlestick placement. “The crickets. They’re supposed to be good luck.”

“Oh,” she says. “How come?”

“No idea.”

“Hey, Steph?” June says, and she looks really nervous.

“Yeah?” I pick up the feather duster and start in on a row of rhinestone encrusted elephant bookends. What is it with this place and elephants?

“I … um …”

“Just spit it out,” I say, a little irritated because I think she’s going to want to talk about Josh, negating our unspoken agreement not to discuss her crush on my brother.

“Okay,” she says, taking a deep breath. I don’t let it show, but now she’s even making me nervous. When she does start talking, it comes out loud and fast.

“I kind of accidentally applied at Hot Topic and I got the job and I start tomorrow and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” she says. Then she stops short.

I can actually feel the blood drain out of my face. I’m not very tan anyway (bad Floridian) and I’m sure this isn’t helping. I probably look like a vampire, and not the good sparkly Twilight kind.

I want to speak, but I can’t. I can’t even process what she’s said, not really. I kind of hear a ringing in my ears. I don’t know how long we’re standing there, but June’s looking really uncomfortable, and this pause feels like forever. I hear a cricket chirping into the silence. How appropriate.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and she really does look sorry. For once, I can actually hear the voice of reason in the back of my head. “Don’t get mad,” it says. “This isn’t worth losing your best friend over.”

I still can’t speak, but I put down the feather duster, and then I put my arms around June, which is weird because we never do this, and because I’m at work. I feel like any minute Esther’s going to start yelling at me for showing affection when I should be directing my attention to overpriced knick knacks.

I pull back and June looks totally shocked.

“June, that’s wonderful!” I say. It sounds totally fake to my ears, but maybe that’s just the ringing because she seems to buy it. “I’m so happy for you. For real!”

“Really? Because I was thinking about not taking it if you weren’t okay with it.”

“Not okay? I’m totally okay!” I’m saying this too loudly, and Esther turns around and gives me a look. Her attention is quickly diverted though, as she walks over to redo a display that took Miranda all morning to create.

“June that’s wonderful. Wow. Hot Topic. Wow.”

“I know,” she says. “I’m scared out of my mind, but I’m a little excited too.”

“Good for you,” I say, and she can’t hear how hollow it sounds because there’s a loud crash from the other side of the store.

Miranda has just thrown a glass snow globe onto the floor, and it’s shattered everywhere. Or, I guess she dropped it. I can’t imagine Miranda doing it on purpose. On the other hand, her face is full of anger, and it sure didn’t look like an accident.

“Esther, I worked hard on that display,” she says. At first her voice is forceful and kind of mean, and I’m about to be a little proud of her, even if she is about to get herself fired. But she wavers at the end, and her tears start to flow immediately.

June’s the only customer in the store.

“You’d better go,” I tell her.

“Okay,” she says. “Text me later.”

“Yeah, sure,” I say, and June walks quickly out of the store.

Miranda, Esther, and I stay frozen until she’s actually left. I still don’t know what to do, so I walk over to Miranda, put my arm around her, and lead her to the back room so she can get cleaned up.

“It’s okay,” I say to her as we walk. “You’ll be okay.”

I get a dustpan and broom and sweep up the mess Miranda made. We’re still totally slow, but I keep busy redusting and organizing behind the counter. Who knew we could lose so many pens under the register? My Mochalatta Chill sweats condensation and goes bad as I work out a complex pen retrieval operation using the lid of an empty gift box.

After a couple of aborted attempts (they end in tears) to rejoin us on the floor, Miranda stays in the back all day. Esther and I are at the registers when my shift ends and, for once, she actually cuts me on time.

“Go ahead and clock out,” she says, and I shut down my register and walk toward the back.

“Oh, and Stephanie?” she says in a strained voice.

“Yeah?” I say, turning back.

“You did a good job today,” she says. “You know, with the snow globe.”

I know she means with Miranda, but she can’t say it.

“Oh. Yeah, um, okay. Thanks.”

I’ve never been so relieved to slip my apron off. I take out my ponytail and don’t even bother to brush my hair, even though I know it’ll look all crimpy and terrible. I just have to get out of here. Between praise from my brutal boss and betrayal from my best friend, it’s been a long day.

Suddenly, it’s all too much to take. My mouth fills with saliva and I can’t tell if I’m going to cry or vomit. I walk desperately around the Personalized Pens kiosk, hoping for a trash can in the front. I’m so out of it that I circle the thing twice before realizing a kiosk has no front. And no trash can, either, apparently.

I’m almost relieved when tears fill my eyes. Crying is better than losing my lunch all over a display of ballpoints. I race to the bathroom, but it’s being cleaned and I can’t get in. I’m heading for the privacy of a Sears dressing room when I’m stopped by one of those clipboard Nazis trying to get me to take a survey.

“No thanks,” I mumble.

“Oh, come on,” this pixie-cut blonde in an ugly Walmart suit says, and actually grabs my arm. Isn’t that, like a violation of my rights or something?

“I’m busy,” I say, and pull away, but Tinkerbell doesn’t give up. When I turn around, she steps in front of me confrontationally.

“It’ll only take a minute, and you can get 20% off a new cell phone cover!”

I look at her for a second and then, I can’t help it, I burst into tears. Not the nice girlish ones. The flooding, messy kind.

Tinkerbell turns on a dime and races down the escalator, stealing looks back over her shoulder at me as she goes, looking horrified.

Somehow I feel my way to a bench outside Master Cuts and collapse. I figure I’ve just lost my last shred of dignity, so I put my face in my hands and let myself sob.

“It’s not fair,” I say into my snotty hands. “It’s just not fair.” I hate that my sentiments are so unoriginal, but there it is. I’m the one who dreamed about Hot Topic. I’m the one who had enough courage to apply. I’m the one who actually cares about the music, and knows everything about Twilight, and owns Doc Martens. It should have been me. “It’s not fair,” I say again.

“I know it’s not fair, sweetie,” says a roundish woman who sits down beside me.

“Now honey, don’t you worry, we’ve all been through this.”

“You have?” I sniff. Somehow I doubt this woman—who is wearing Crocs and Gator-printed scrubs—ever got screwed out of a Hot Topic job by her best friend.

“Of course,” she says, and smiles, running a finger through my hair. “But don’t worry, dear. It’ll grow out.”

That’s when I realize that Crocs lady thinks I’m crying because I got a bad haircut. I look up and see a girl who’s about to go into Master Cuts give my head a once-over and turn away immediately.

And suddenly this woman’s comfort is meaningless, because she’s wrong. It’s not my hair that’s the joke, it’s my life. And that’s not something that will just grow out.

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the swipe of pony tails do make me oddly angry…

Comment by Catherine




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