Saturday, 12 January 2013

Mistaken for a God

Now this is a short story.

JournalWord: Obsessive-Compulsive cashier.


“Dust,” I mutter softly, cautious of breathing in any floating particles. I dig my hand into the front pocket of my green apron, my fingers lightly skimming the synthetic, soft and rubbery material of latex. I pull out a pair of latex gloves and nimbly snap the porcelain white barrier over the pale, exposed skin of my hands, left hand first then right, with a familiar twist of my fingers. The security and comfort of a shield against harmful bacteria almost releases a momentary sigh of relief. 

I carefully watch the dust floating precariously over the empty cereal box shelf, my eyes shifting over the expanse of the 2 mm thick layer of neglected dust packed on the surface of the shelf. “Disgusting,” I hiss, reaching for the bottle and rag, “Dirty and diseased.” 

To anyone else, it’s a job, however, to me, it’s a mission. I scrub with a vigor a determined maid could only muster. My actions are robotic and precise with every stroke of the rag scraping and dissolving the layer of grey dust. I sweep away the dripping and foaming cleaner, my tall, thin body hunched over so my spindly arms can reach the farthest corners of the shelf. A final spray of multi-surface cleaner is wiped along with the evidence of green solvent and shiny streaks. 

I straighten my posture, a smile bubbling on my face at my victory. I feel almost all-powerful and god-like in my extermination of viral infections and disease. I scan my work for any traces of smudges or spots left behind on the gleaming white shelf, satisfied that, yet again, there isn’t anything to redo. I squeeze the rag in my palm, a substitute congratulating pat on the back, and cradle the solvent bottle in my palm by it’s plastic neck. 

“Oliver,” Mr. Anthony calls, ten meters down the dry cereal aisle. His jolly prance around the corner of the aisle and shout startles a shopper into dropping a box of dry oatmeal. I wince as my employer’s short, round, jovial body almost kicks the box from the lady’s reaching fingers. The oatmeal is undoubtedly contaminated and inedible, I chastise, itching to just throw out the dirtied box and its germ infested contents. 

“Oliver,” he calls again, the high pitch of his voice surging an uncontrollable twitch to my right eyebrow. I nod in acknowledgement and wait for him to cross the ten meters between us . He doesn’t stop his progress, however, and instead, leans into me as he scans the shining, clean shelf. 

Mr. Anthony whistles a sharp note and tosses his arm in my direction. I quickly dodge the incriminating arm, wary of the sweat stain climbing down the underside of his shirt sleeve from his armpit to his elbow. His short trek from his office to aisle five couldn’t possibly be the culprit for this man’s excretion of bodily fluids, but I note that not everyone is as conscious of their wellbeing as I am. Mr. Anthony stares at the space I had momentarily stood in but otherwise ignores the rejection of his gesture, instead smiling. “Nice job, Ollie,” he chirps, “Never thought I’d see the plastic under all that grime.”

The rag in my hand is squeezed at the mention of the nickname, and when I attempt to relax the hand, my other hand clenches. Ollie, I wish to spit, is not my name. Mr. Anthony, oblivious of my irritation, animatedly chatters about his son’s basketball game, I believe, but I wouldn't be sure however because my focus in the space of two minutes and ten seconds is focused solely to the fresh yellow blob, that smells sharply  like mustard, creeping down the heart of Mr. Anthony’s over-washed, brown shirt. There are so many ways to clean his shirt, I imagine, starting first with a couple sprits of detergent directly on the incriminating stain. The latex glove on my left hand squeaks as it tightens and relaxes around the trigger of the multi-surface solvent bottle in four second intervals, matching synchronization with my slow, shallow breaths. 

I can almost see the dried mustard dissolving in a heavy dose of foaming soap and hot water when the stomping of impatient soles stamp rhythmically on the vinyl tile flooring of the grocery store. After three years of working in a grocery store, I have recognized this sound to only be the result of one cause, and as soon as I lift my head and lock eyes with a flustered cashier with a very distinct red name tag, I know today’s her first day on the job. 
“Mr. Anthony,” I sternly start, instantly cracking through Mr. Anthony’s intense discussion of his son’s stubborn eating habits, “Cashier one.” I don’t wait for his response and march towards cashier four. Cashier three may have been closer, actually right across the dry cereal aisle, but odd numbers aren't as safe as even numbers. And anyways, four is my favorite number. 

At the cashier booth, I fold the rag and tuck it alongside the solvent bottle underneath the register. The latex gloves are off and my hands are wiped clean with hygienic wipes I always carry in my pockets before a fresh pair of latex gloves are produced and placed on. My routine begins with a quick but thorough disinfection of the buttons and surface area that I will most definitely come in contact with. With both myself and the area safe and void of impurities, I flick on the light for the cashier and wait for half the line on the express booth to merge into mine. 

I methodically scan and punch in weights and prices of goods, systematically nodding as some customers attempt to chat. I, however, keep my breathing low and mouth shut, in the case of flying bacteria and saliva from those who chatter, and only speak to briefly state total price amounts before moving on to the next customer. Mr. Anthony won’t let me wear a face mask when I work cashier, explaining the discomfort of customers if I were to handle their groceries looking like a character from Saw. I move in a mechanical and familiar motion of scanning, punching, stacking, and stating, focusing on the task at hand and disregard the appraisal of my bagging skills.

The mid afternoon rush is swiftly dealt with, and as I wait for the last customer to dash off with his bags of bread and black beans, I grab an antiseptic wipe from my pocket and clear off anything of hazard from the surface of the cash register and food scale. I am clearing flecks of saliva and spilled milk from the counter when someone blows and pops a sticky bubble beside my ear. 

I freeze, shocked by the cold splatter of a substance I always care to never touch, much less on my ear. I straighten slowly, turning accusingly at the person who just squirted her foreign, possibly diseased saliva into my right ear canal. 

“Hey,” she says, chomping angrily. Her apron is askew, my analytic mind notes, and her untucked layers of colorful tank tops and tie-dye shirt is definitely too casual for work. Her jeans are ripped and there are grass stains on her knees. Her hair is a mess of approximate shoulder length blonde, asymmetrical, chopped locks. She looks like a hippy demon that came crawling out of the woods. She pauses her chewing to smile devilishly, the bright purple wad of bubblegum lodged between her left incisors. Definitely a hippy demon.

I desperately want to even out her hair and send her shopping for a suit, but instead I start a list of all the possible diseases that would breed in the cavern and crevices of my ear. My mind reels at the thought of an infection that would slowly terrorize my brain. Needless to say, my hand instantly reached into my right pocket for another antiseptic sheet. 

I am scrubbing my ear with the sheet when I realize she hasn't left. She has leaned over my cleansed counter, her head tilted up to stare at my face, mechanically chewing her wad of saliva slathered gum between her teeth. The close proximity of her face to mine is unnerving. In a move that defies any sense of logic, my feet slip on a plastic bag I had accidentally ripped off the rack in my scrambled attempt to find purchase on something so I don‘t fall over. I don’t hit the floor. My fear of the unknown hazardous bacteria harvesting on the vinyl tiles send a boost of adrenaline that I need to scramble, albeit not as smooth as I would've liked, into cashier five’s register. 

I slam into the steel box and press my back into the edges, ignoring the pain to stare at the bowed head bobbing with laughter. I have nothing to say and slowly retract my body from the uncomfortable, splatter-like position. Humiliation is nothing to me, I repeat in my mind, adjusting my apron from between my legs. I politely excuse myself from her presence, turning around just as her wad of purple bubblegum falls off her gaping and guffawing lips to the rubber mat behind the counter.

I spend the next fourteen minutes scrubbing my ear and face of any traces of residue deposited from her and checking and recheck my neck glands for any swelling. When I finally feel sanitized and clean again and not at risk of any sort of hepatitis, although a scalding shower would be much appreciated to burn off any bacterium I've missed, I soak my hands in hand dispenser suds and wash them four times before dressing them in matching latex outfits. I’m calm and relaxed after I’m done, and I exit the male employee bathroom intent on avoiding the new cashier. My plans, however, are foiled when I open the door and step out into the fluorescent lights and aisles. 

“Wow,” she says, snapping her wad of gum again, and I swallow back the bile that rises at the thought of her plucking the sticky blob from the mat and plopping it back into the hot slimy confines of her mouth. 

“Fifteen minutes sure is a long time. You should probably get yourself looked at.” I’m about to turn around and lock myself back into the bathroom when she grabs my arm. At this point, all the rational I've prided myself on for keeping my emotions at bay, and before today, I could safely say that I never allowed anyone the satisfaction of seeing me blow a gasket over something trivial. Today demolished any pride I had initially built up. So here I am, dignity thrown to the wind and an unstable disarray of emotions, and I rip my arm from her grasp, pushing her forcefully away. I don’t stop to see her expression at my actions and briskly walk to the back store room so I can replace the cereal boxes on the shelf I had initially cleaned. 

I make it to the store room without stopping and by the time I close the door behind me, the shaking in my legs have resided. I head straight to the stack of boxes to my right, finding the large brown package that contains an assortment of cereal boxes on the top of the pile. My actions are a blur as I scavenge for a box cutter. 

“Why do you wear latex gloves?” she asks. I can see her shadow on the wall in front of me, leaning on the door frame  I refuse to face and acknowledge her presence so instead I swiftly slice the tape on a box with a box cutter, drowning out the second half of her inquiry with the scrape of blade on tape. 

“Are you, like, afraid of germs or something?” she asks, “Are you OCD? Is that why you tap things all the time?”

I accidentally slice through the latex on my right hand, slicing into my thumb, a slash right under my knuckle. I can’t remember the last time I've ever become injured. I’m usually cautious and I never stray too far from my comfort zone to ever encounter something dangerous. And anyways, I tend to stay away from blood because I’m hemophobic, so when I look down at my gushing thumb and hear her yell, “Hey, you need to put some pressure- Damn, don’t you faint!”, I faint.

When I come to, I’m still in the store room, lying on the floor to be exact, and a little dizzy. The floor, I remember in an instant, is covered in dirt and grime and germs and liver-killing bacteria, and I bolt up into a sitting position, only to be stopped by a hand pressed firmly on my chest. 

She scowls and glares at me with a feral growl set on her pink lips. “You don’t move until I finish bandaging you up, buster.” She pinches my collarbone when I attempt to fight back. I surrender and slowly lower myself to the ground, but not entirely laying on the floor, and painfully hover a couple centimeters by arching my back. I turn away from the blood clotted cotton pads and shredded latex glove beside my left shoulder and breath slowly and calmly so I don’t faint again. She works silently, wrapping my thumb excessively in bandages until finally she ties off the ends in a bow and smiles at her handiwork. 

I could have done it myself, I want to interject, but I’d be lying. I wouldn't have been able to deal with the blood, much less stay conscious to get myself to a hospital. She turns to me with a frown and sigh before she helps me stand up. She bends over the first aid kit and collects the bloodied cotton pads, placing them in a paper bag. I arch my back into place and stretch my right hand, slowly flexing the thumb.

“It’s just a cut, nothing that needs stitches,” she states.

It’s a relief, however, I really want to rip off the bandage to sanitize the wound myself, but I will my hands to my side and away from each other. 

Should I apologize or thank her? I hesitate as she snaps the kit closed and stands up. 
“I’m sorry for bothering you with all my questions,” she says, walking past me as she heads to the door, “I’m going to tell Mr. Anthony that the first aid kit has run out of cotton pads.”

I’m surprised by her apology. I should be the one apologizing for my rude behavior.  
“Ah,” I say, for lack of a better word, “I’m mysophobic.” 

She turns around to face me, a confused frown on her face. She stares at me for a moment before asking, “Is that why you wear latex gloves?” When I nod, she smiles again, and suddenly I’m wary. “So you’re OCD?”

I pause. Me, obsessive compulsive? “Definitely not. A perfectionist, I am.” 

My statement raises an eyebrow from under an askew lock that makes up for a fringe. 
“OCD and in denial. Makes sense.” She must have sensed my objection because she bursts into laughter and I notice that she’s gum-free. 

“Believe what you want,” I reply, a tad bit miffed. She stifles her laughter behind the hand that clutches the paper bag. “Um, thank you, for bandaging me up and I’m sorry for my behavior.”

She nods, her laughter suppressed but a smile still present on her face and lighting up her brown eyes. “I’ll only accept your apology if you tell me how you became OCD.” She pauses and stifles a giggle. “I mean, a perfectionist. That should be an interesting story.” She finds herself a box to sit on and dumps the first aid kit and paper bag beside her. She sweeps her hand over a box on her other side, patting it with a smile aimed at me. “Come on. It’s story time. Cough up the details.”

I shouldn't have taken her bait, much less let her play with my pride by refusing my apology. I should not have wiped the box thoroughly with an antiseptic wipe despite her eye roll, or sit beside her, or answer her questions about my childhood. But I did. I told her about the nights I spent, wide awake and waiting for mum to come home from work, or how I find comfort in cleaning my apartment. She inquired about my need to clean and control my life, especially after my mum died, but I didn't have an answer. She asked about the funeral, and I confessed that I couldn't break away from my routine to go. 

We are silent for a couple minutes before she speaks. “I’m actually studying to be a psychologist,” she confesses, “And I have been watching you tap and clean everything before you touch anything for a little over a week now. I only got this job because I wanted to figure you out.” She bows her head, her face flustered and red. “I’m kind of your stalker.”

I tap? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say so I stay silent. Now what? Okay, so I was sort of her psychology experiment. Her head is still and I watch the shine of her blonde hair send tiny sparkles of gold shine around her, like an aura or something similarly unnatural. A tear slides down the tanned skin of her jaw and her delicate chin shakes and quivers. 

Brilliant, I made a girl cry. “It’s okay, I‘m not bothered,” I say, and wait for her to lift her head, but she doesn't. “At all,” I add, and when she still doesn't react, I start to panic. What should I be doing? 

“See, you’re tapping,” she says, and I stare at her, confused. She wipes at her face with the hem of her green apron and I try not to succumb to the slow drop of my heart when I see her eyes dangerously close to a dried blood stain. She raises her apron away from her face to inspect the object of my fright. She scoffs. “It’s dried. And it’s no where near my face. Just look at your hand, Oliver. You’re spazzing over something so trivial.”

I twist my face away and I’m sure I’m blushing. I am tapping on the box and I’m surprised that I've never noticed it before. Have I really been tapping without even knowing it? I watch my left hand, wrapped in protective latex, tap against the cardboard box in a fleeting flutter and I have to make myself physically stop with my other hand. 

“Don’t worry about it,” she says and I’m not sure what she is indicating because at the moment I’m worrying and flustered and embarrassed, and I’m usually calm, collected and sane. Or I believed I was. Am I such an anomaly that I’d entice a psychology stalker? 

The emotions are too much for me and I am suddenly embracing panic when she leans into my shoulder and places a hand on the pile of my own. Her cool hand is touching my cold, exposed hand. There is skin touching skin and I lose control. 

“Don’t touch me!” I retract away from her, lashing her hand from mine. I am out the door in strides fueled by fear and I’m scared I might scream again. 

My routine would never have allowed me to exit the doors of the grocery store before I was scheduled to clock out, however, today, in my scrambling system, is an exception. 

Mr. Anthony, obviously in a disarray from manning the cash register, shouts, “Ollie, cashier three needs someone. Hey, where are you running off to? Are you okay? Where’s Lo-” 

I pass Mr. Anthony in my haste for the exit and don’t wait to hear the rest of his sentence. I don’t want to think about his questions.  So instead, I curl my shoulder inwards so I can barrel through the door without stopping.

I run the four blocks to my apartment, weaving through confused bystanders and traffic. My familiar path home must be ingrained into my body because I follow the same streets and crosswalks home. However, despite the same surroundings, my vision, though blurred by my speed, doesn't stop to criticize and analyse the hazardous germs and microscopic invaders hidden in the shrubbery and strange spots on the sidewalk. For the first time, I notice the tall oak tree covered in carved names and symbols of affection two blocks from my apartment and a playground laden with children sliding down the expanse of a bright red, curved slide. 

I don’t stop to marvel at my discovery and finally slow down to the entrance of the apartment complex I have lived in for the past seven years. I enter the lobby and head straight up the stairs, taking them two at a time, another first, so I can get home faster. I’m instantly washed in relief when I reach for my key in my pocket and am welcomed home by the scent of lily detergent and lemon fresh cleaner. 

When I lock the door behind me, the run home finally takes a toll on me. My legs buzz in the after shock of adrenaline and I have to sit down to catch my breath. I close my eyes for a moment after I slowly tip into one of the two kitchen table chairs. The support is comforting and when I open my eyes, the familiarity of the open living room and kitchen slow my fluctuating heartbeat to a steady hum. 

The stack of puzzle boxes beside the door, uniform and organized by size remind me of the hour I spent hovering over them with a ruler to make sure they were perfectly aligned. I scan the couch in the living room, bought and placed in front of the window that overlooks the apartment manager’s back garden, but never sat in for fear of a lumpy and uneven cushion. I can’t bring myself to look at the room anymore. I lean my head back and close my eyes again, shutting them away from the truth. I am OCD. 

Why have I been denying it? It’s plainly obvious. Mum used to always rant about my cleaning habits and my need to organize. Mum was trying to help me realize what I was doing to myself. What have I ever done for you, Mum, in return? I never even went to your funeral, much less visit your grave.

I make myself stand up and walk to the bathroom, an itch to be rid of something dirty creeping suspiciously in the folds of my mind. I flick on the light and stare at the reflection in the mirror, a portrait of a disheveled young man, hair wild and apron coming undone. The squelch of my shoes on the tiles of the bathroom grab my attention. Sometime in my run, I had stepped in a puddle and the dark cuffs of my pant legs are drenched along with my work shoes. I've had these shoes for such a long time that with tedious attention they've never stepped a sole in anything or were in need of cleaning aside from a monthly polish. 

I bring myself to look up into the mirror again, taking in the sag of my gelled hair, only this morning perfectly aligned and stiff straight. Then I notice the tear stain on my left cheek, still fresh. I don’t remember crying. I don’t remember crying on the way home. I don’t remember crying in the storeroom. I don’t remember ever crying in my past. I’m not even sure I cried for mum?  

“Who are you?” I ask the reflection, watching him repeat the question back at me. The name tag on his apron, worn for years but still legible says “Oliver” so I address him as so. 

“Oliver,” I answer, “I’m not you.”


“Well,” Lola encourages, a hand on her hip. “Aren’t you going to apologize?”

I stare as the wind nips at her strange, chopped blonde hair and the sway of her bright orange dress. Ever since I apologized to her the day after I ran away from her, she has stuck to my side like glue, introducing me to her psychology professor and somehow signing me up for free therapy sessions. The sessions have helped and Lola, with her encouragement and vivacious personality, has cracked me out of my socially ignorant shell and become my first friend. 

I sigh, and turn my attention to the gravestone in front of me. “Can’t I at least wipe off her gravestone?” I whine. Over the last couple of weeks, I've found that when I whine, Lola is as malleable as microwaved butter. 

“No,” she says, but I can hear the waver in her voice that comes from the use of 'the whine'. “It’s part of your therapy.”

“Please?” I ask again in a childish beg. The autumn wind whips at my dark locks and a strange tingle of unfamiliarity shivers down my spine from my hair, devoid of hair gel, freely flipping around my temples.

“Fine,” she surrenders, “But only with your flesh and blood and spit because this is your mother and she gave you hers- Hey! I thought I got rid of all your antiseptic wipes!”

I disregard her attempt at humor and authority and wipe away the grime and dirt accumulated over years of neglect. “Hi, mum,” I whisper into the stone. “I’m sorry for forgetting about you. Your Ollie is back and this time, he’s going to stay.”


Something to keep ya'll entertained :D I hope I accomplished at least that!
Let me know what you think!
(Your words are my motivation, really)

I'm working on my requirements (taking it one step at a time!) and now with a week conquered of this semester, I've really got to hammer down and focus 
Surrounded by all this science (genetics, cell biology, chemistry...) it's surprising how easily my mind can wander to fictional settings, so in just a week, I've managed to plot out a handful of stories. -.-; Of course, just when I don't have the time to write them all up, uninterrupted..

Oh! And check out this song: Warrior by Kimbra, Mark Foster, and A-Trak. I love Kimbra and Foster The People! The music video is strange though, hahaha, but I love strange as ya'll can probably tell ;P

Be good,


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Your reaction to the story is highly anticipated. I'd love to know what you think so feel free to comment and criticize. (And suggestions are always welcome and considered!)

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