Sun Story Sundays are back with our second rendition, this mythological ditty from Jim Quinn. And now we have an addition feature: an audio podcast to accompany your story excursion. Listen to it on the way to class, on the bus, or on the toilet. Any where you’d please.
Submission for next months columns are open. The theme is family.
I’m working the late shift again and I’m on the only open register still running. Things are going as usual. I ring up less and less people as time grows heavier, the giant industrial fan spins in slow, great arcs from its place in the rafters, and the plastic wrapped pallets of unsold products sit solidly on their shelves, forming mazes and caves high above the concrete aisles. My legs are sore from my stillness at the register and I’m already missing the small stimulation a steady flow of shoppers brings. I’d rather be stocking shelves. At least then I could be walking around the store, though even that gets just as boring just as quick.
From my place at the register I can see most of the store, right down the center where the lowlands dip close to the concrete, tables and shortshelves of books and clothes, between forests of towering shelves that stretch off into their own shadows, promising boxes of cheese crackers, fruit snacks, and the refrigerated obelisk with its crates of produce and wall of wind.
With this vantage point, I see him coming well before he approaches.
He quickly rounds a corner made of stacked up bottles of everyday vitamins and jerkily makes his way to my register. He drops an already opened pack of lobster tails and a bag of bread on the belt, which begins to roll to me. He doesn’t step forward.
“Hi. I would like to pay for this. And, everything else.”
Everything he’s wearing is from somewhere in the store, from the trench coat with its flicked up collar and the low sitting hat that casts his face in shadow to the gloves he’s got on, still connected by an elastic cord. There’s tags sticking out all over him.
“Great. So if you’ll just let me scan those.”
He steps forward like his legs are too tired to fully bare his weight and he’s actually just constantly falling. I start stretching my scanner all over to each of the tags flopping off of him. He’s not the weirdest customer to come through here.
“Anymore clothes need to be scanned?”
“Ah, there’s just the shirt.”
“Cool, could you just move the coat so I can get at the tag?”
“Ah mm, well how about the tails first?”
He slides the pack of already open lobster tails over, a sardine slides out of his sleeve and drifts slowly across the scanner in a gooey puddle of oil.
“Hmmm. Uh. Sorry about that.”
“Uh no yeah that’s uh don’t worry about it,” I say.
He’s not the weirdest customer to’ve come through here.
“I suppose… the ‘Jig’ is up. It is time you knew.” He unfastens the coat and opens it to reveal the shirt underneath is soaked through and yellowing in patches of the gooey oil where it’s touched his skin, which is kind of a strange texture. He raises the hat off his head to reveal a lobster where his face should be. Actually, his entire body seems to be made of bits of some sea food or another, cuts of salmon and tilapia, an entire mackerel here and there, and the intricate collection of sardines, squid tentacles, and lobster that somehow formed the necessary tendons and musculature for speech.
“Yes, it is me, Markór, god of ocean life. No I am not always in such a sorry state, but as you probably know it is not easy being a dispersed consciousness among the organisms in a stretch of water within a particular geographic location. I guess enough of me just got swept up in this seafood business that I ended up here. Really I have been away too long and must get back to the ocean soon. Don’t worry, I’ve gathered all the body mass you see from tossed left overs and expired scraps; I may be down on my luck but I am no trickster god, pilfering around for the dead organisms of his own domain, no thank you! It is a sad life nowadays! I am not nearly at the level of power I once was and it seems the business is drying up, so to speak, before any of the promised benefits have really come along. But how great was the ancient world, so full of mystery and promise: danger and life were everywhere, even in the most lifeless things! Gods and Spirits growing from shared experience and communication! Spreading over the land they came from and ruled and relishing their power! But while it is belief that created us, it is belief also that sustained us. Ancient belief in powers of immortality and indomitability have left us here, our divine forms dispersed along with the creators who gave us our power. Perhaps that is the nature of immortality? A gift to not be so lightly given? One that ensures suffering and failure even while it promises glory. Or perhaps that is the way of all life? Perhaps it is inevitable that imperfect mortals would create immortals made all the more imperfect by the mortal view of perfection? Or maybe I am exactly what I am meant to be, a conscious record of the beliefs that once were, granted longevity by those very beliefs.”
My leg is jiggling behind the counter.
“Hey listen it’s fine I can just gotta scan the shirt…ah, there. Got it. Looks like your total’s gonna be $95.63, how will you be paying?”
“Ah yes, cash,” he pulls some greasy bills out of the pocket of the trench coat. “Hang on I think I have 63 cents here.”
He does some more digging through his pockets and comes up with some change that at this point is too oiled up to really jingle much.
“Here we go,” he says and slides the coins onto the counter.
They’re greasier than the dollars, like flies trapped in sap before it’s turned to amber. I place the money into the open register, give him his change, print out the receipt, which he takes, and hand him his bag of bread and lobster.
“Have a good night now.”
And he’s off, leaving slimy shoeprints on the concrete as he goes. He steps through the vortex of wind at the exit, leaving the still world of the store for the darkness and drama of the parking lot.
I still have another hour on my shift.
Jim Quinn is a senior in the College of Arts, Architecture and Planning. Submissions may be sent to [email protected] Sun Story Sundays appear alternate Sundays this semester.