by Alice Cherbonnier
LOUELLA GLANCED at her watch. Unbelievable! Still an hour to go until break!
She smiled mechanically at the flinty-eyed customer, whose upper lip was curled disapprovingly as she watched Louella work. "You must be new," she said. "You new ones are always so slow with the bagging."
Louella wanted to say, "And you must weigh 350 pounds, so why are you buying that chocolate?," but instead she replied evenly, "No, ma'am, I'm not new. Just want to be sure you get home with nothing broken."
The woman wasn't fooled. She watched the register to be sure every scan was correctly recorded. "Didn't you scan that twice?" she demanded, her hot breath hitting Louella full in the face. God, I hope she doesn't have anything contagious! thought Louella. They ought to issue hospital masks on this job! She pretended to check the tape. "No ma'am, it's only gone through once."
"Well, don't think I won't be checking that slip when I get home!" groused the woman as she began burrowing in her purse for her wallet. "You'd be surprised how many times I catch you all in mistakes."
No I wouldn't, thought Louella. It's probably your hobby. She adjusted her badge on her red Giant Food jacket and noticed her fingernails were already getting ragged.
"That'll be $27.81," said Louella, smiling woodenly.
The woman took longer to count out the change than it had taken Louella to scan and bag the groceries. Twice she dropped coins to the floor and grunted mightily as she laboriously bent to retrieve it. Customers in line were getting restive. Finally the transaction was completed.
Next came an elderly man with stooped shoulders. Louella had noticed how very carefully he had arranged his order on the conveyor belt, like an engineer might do. This one will be a cinch to bag, she thought with relief. "Paper or plastic?" she asked as cheerfully as she could.
"Paper! I only want paper! Whaddya think, I should want to trash the environment with that plastic? You must be outta your mind to even let people use that stuff!"
Louella was prepared in training for this type person. "Oh, but sir, we recycle that plastic! There's no need to worry!"
"Look, if they didn't make the stuff ya wouldn't have to recycle it, wouldja? Ya think I'm blind? Most people don't recycle!" he clicked his false teeth and picked at something in his mouth. Louella felt her stomach churn ominously. Come on, break! Come on, Pepto-Bismol!
"That'll be $13.18, sir," she said. To her amazement, he used a debit card with great finesse. He hadn't seemed to be that type. Guess it's these little surprises that'll make this job interesting, she thought cynically.
Louella daydreamed of the time when she was a professional with a nice office job where she could sit in a comfortable chair and phone anybody she wanted. Her feet began to hurt.