Excerpt "The Alien Behind the Counter"

By Angela Counts © 2008

The girl behind the counter yelled, "Next!" I looked around but nobody was in the store.

It was 11 am. I slid the application toward her hoping she would see it and I wouldn't have to tell her I was looking for a job. I hated having to explain things to people.

It took her a minute. She was busy reading a magazine – one of those cheapy ones claiming sightings of UFO's and strange creatures having sex with celebrities. She was really into it. Then she noticed my application and looked up. She was young. Probably 19, but looked my age. She didn't say nothing and I didn't say nothing. It was like she thought maybe I was one of those creatures or something and it was hard for her to make the shift back to reality. That's when I knew I wanted the job. Something where I could do my school work, ignore customers and play stupid. Perfect. I got up my nerve.

"I'm applying for the position," I said tentatively like she had some authority. "Manager told me to come in at 11 am."

"Oh." She said. Then nothing, like her thoughts got stuck at "oh." For minute I thought she was going to ask me if I was a flight attendant because she looked at my suit like I just got off a plane.

"He's not here. You wanna wait?" Hell no I didn't wanna wait, but I had promised Mama I'd give it a serious try. I didn't want to come home empty handed.

"What time's he coming?" I asked again with the all the respect I could muster for the dim-witted clerk. Did I really want to spend my afternoons pouring over cheap celebrity rags? This was not a girl I could go toe to toe with verbally or mentally and actual fighting was out of the question as she seemed made of flesh. Little bone, little muscle. A real bore. She'd make me want to get high every day. I started to turn on my two-inch pumps and smoke a cigarette out in the parking lot.

"He shoulda been here already," she said squinting towards the door like she decided to suddenly become Clint Eastwood in an old western. I imagined her with a twig in her mouth, a cowboy hat and lots of dust. I wanted to shoot her.

"You think he'll be here soon? I got some other interviews?" She smiled, kind of wicked. Maybe she wasn't dumb after all.

"You can read one of those magazines," she pointed at a rack near by. I looked behind me, vaguely disinterested and starting to shift in my cramped shoes. "If you want," she said as her eyes drifted back to the large-headed terrestrial in the magazine. I watched her scan the page and chew imaginary gum to let me know our conversation was up.

I went and got a magazine from the rack. Something to do with knitting. I absent-mindedly flipped through it. Pages and pages of ugly women making uglier sweaters. For the first time I noticed some music. Like a Muzak, rap thing. Now even Rap was acceptable.

Just then the automatic doors opened. A lady came in with her own cart with all kinds of ratty, plastic bags hanging off of it. She caught my eye and gave me one of those crazy smiles like she was gonna try to talk to me. I decided to walk around the store, check out the inventory in case I got any questions. That's when this young guy came through the doors kind of out of breath and made his way to the back. I figured he must've been the manager.

I looked up at this mirror, the kind they use to keep an eye on shoplifters, to make sure my hair and everything was still okay. My head was all small and my body bloated, like some kind of pod creature. No wonder the girl behind the counter had looked at me funny.

I dug in my purse looking for a mirror, but all I had was candy wrappers and coins and a package of Mama's Benson and Hedges. I patted my hair and rubbed my lips together, smoothed down my skirt. I looked at my hands and they were shaking. I went outside and had a cigarette.

It was a picture-perfect Los Angeles day. The kind that either made you feel you were on top of the world or sick to your stomach for being so screwed up when everybody else was so pretty and put together. Mama's B & H cigarettes tasted like her old Buick but at least my hands were settling down. I forgot to shave and my armpits had started to steam under the layers of polyester. Another couple of drags and that sun beating down on me through that hole in the ozone layer, another couple minutes in the parking lot and I'd have an afro and a bad, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners attitude.

Another couple of minutes and I'd find the nearest bus stop and I forget about my promise to Mama. I'd find old friends who'd be happy to see me. Happy to hold me over, 'til I could get it together. Palm to palm he'd give me what I needed. At a price, and I'd tell him I got a new job at Sav-on and he'd laugh and call me a trick. I hated it when he did that. Didn't he know I didn't like nasty names and all that. Couldn't he tell that I had some education and could be doing something else. Not this. Not what Mama thought was good enough for one daughter but not the other.