I wrote this short piece for Australian Writers’ Centre’s Furious Fiction last year. Among other criteria, it had to be set in a supermarket. The story seems appropriate close to April Fools’ Day. In it, I pose the question, how do you deal with frustration?
Night shift. Andy beatboxes as he stacks Milo onto the shelves. He loves hearing his rhythms echo through the empty store.
Jaco rolls his eyes. ‘How long you gonna keep that up?’
Andy cranks up the volume. Switches to lyrics. ‘Aisles, aisles, miles of aisles.’
Jaco laughs despite himself. Joins in. ‘Price check, price check, uh, pr-pr-pr-price check.’
An almighty crash splinters their harmony.
Andy jumps back. ‘What the?’
Jaco drops his voice to a whisper. ‘Something out back.’
They creep towards the storeroom. The door stands ajar.
Jaco holds up his phone and mouths, ‘Police?’
Andy shakes his head. He doesn’t want to raise a false alarm. Hates feeling like a fool. Still, his skin prickles as he peers around the door. Jaco cowers behind. The fluorescent light glimmers over a pile of broken glass. Red fluid is sprayed across the room.
‘Blood orange. Bundaberg soft drink.’ Jaco knows his stock. A whole case has exploded on the shelf.
Andy tiptoes around the storeroom. Tests the back door. It’s locked. ‘How the heck did that happen?’
‘Don’t be daft. Nothing’s on fire.’
Jaco bristles. ‘Spontaneous explosion, then.’
‘More likely defective glass. Creepy. What now?’
Jaco shrugs. ‘Clean it up. Write it up.’
An hour later, they’re stacking shelves again. Andy sings a ballad that sounds more like a wail. Something about breaking hearts.
‘Would you shut up?’ Jaco’s temper frays like a windswept flag.
Andy stops singing and they work in silence. The cleaning fluid on his hands irritates his nostrils. Something doesn’t add up. ‘I’m gonna check out back.’
He’s half way there when he hears a door bang. Instinct takes over and he sprints into the storeroom. His head darts from side to side. A case of Ribena lies open in the middle of the floor. No bottles broken. Yet. He scouts between the rows of shelving. Nothing.
The back door’s unlocked. Someone’s been here. The hair on the back of his neck stands up. Panting, he pulls the door open. Dashes outside.
A body is doubled over beside the back door, wheezing.
‘Don’t move. Citizen’s arrest.’ Andy tries to sound strong, but his voice squeaks. He pulls out his phone to dial the police.
The wheezing laughter stops and a head bobs up. ‘Lighten up. It was a joke.’
‘Charlie?’ Andy’s friend, a known prankster. He must have pinched a key.
Andy’s nostrils flare, adrenaline floods his veins. He hates feeling like a fool. His fist smashes into Charlie’s face. Blood splatters.
Charlie springs away. ‘What the fuck, man? It was a joke.’
Andy trembles, coming off his rush. His knuckles tingle. ‘Never mess with the night shift.’