VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Paul Tanner

organ to organ

don’t laugh at their joke?

the customer gets mad.

don’t ask follow-up questions to their life story?

the customer gets mad.

serve everyone in the queue

who is before them

before them?

the customer gets mad.

the customer is never not mad.

one wonders if being right all the time

is worth it.

one wonders how people will cope

when confronted with a genuine problem,

like cancer of the spleen or assault.

one wonders how I’ll cope,

when I realise I’ve wasted my life

pandering to everyone else’s narcissism

for minimum wage.

I’m only paid to scan groceries! I’ll wail

as the mad customer

assaults me

in my cancerous spleen

until it’s

as swollen with sickness

as theirs.

double cunt

o cunt with a 50-pound note

why do you always buy something for under a pound, 

like chewing gum or a bottle of water?

o cunt with a 50

how can you stand there unapologetic

while we call for a supervisor

to open the safe out back

and bring out armfuls of coin bags

to give to you?

cunt with a 50

you do realise we’re going to be low on change

for the rest of the shift now?

and we’re going to get endless shit about it all day?

cunt with a 50, why do you need all that change?

cunt with a 50, where did you get that 50?

and why can’t you put it in the bank?

what you up to, cunt with a 50

that means you can’t use banks?

cunt with a 50,

this is why

you’re not just

a cunt with a 50

but also

just

a

cunt.

shit happens

sir, I tell him, you can’t return these shorts.

not with all these …

stains.

I’m not having this! he warns. I’m gonna get my mum!

and storms out … 

it’s pretty sad

to have a grown man

with a shitty arse

threaten you with his mum.

sadder still

when he keeps his word:

look out the window:

she’s already marching across the car park towards us,

her special boy scurrying behind her,

smiling …

he’s not too special to have car keys.

he’s not too special to wear a wedding ring.

he’s not so special

he can’t stand outside your local polling station

telling you to how to vote.

no

he’s just special enough

to crap his pants

and get his mother to fight his battles,

when he isn’t

driving or voting or breeding

and I stand at the counter

waiting for them both,

the shit-stained shorts beside me

and not much else.

I tell her the price and she says:

no! they’re on offer!

she jabs a finger at her biscuits.

two for one!

well, they’re obviously not, I say.

otherwise they would have scanned through as that.

well then someone’s put the wrong sticker out on the shelf!

she reckons. that’s not MY fault! but you still HAVE to honor it!

trading standards! TRADING STANDARDS!

I ring the bell for help.

another worker comes over.

I ask him to check the price label on the biscuits.

he runs off.

we wait …

the biscuits are in aisle 14,

so we wait for some time …

can’t somebody else jump on to serve?

someone in the queue says.

no, I say. there’s only me and my colleague,

and he’s busy checking the price of the biscuits

for this lady.

everyone tuts and mutters.

we wait …

the worker comes back:

them biscuits aren’t on offer, he says.

yes they are! she says. you’re lying! go get the sticker!

so off he goes again …

it’s disgraceful, this is! she says.

wasting my time like this! and these people’s time!

she talks to the queue: aren’t they?

the queue nods: they’re on her side. 

we wait …

my colleague comes back, wheezing.

here, he hands her the shelf sticker. see?

no! she blinks at it. no no no!

you’re LYING! you could have got this from anywhere!

you’re just trying to embarrass me in front of all these people!

she asks the queue: aren’t they?

the queue nods and nods: they’re still on her side.

take me to biscuits, she says. I’ll PROVE it!

and off she goes, dragging my colleague with her …

we wait …

can’t you serve us while they’re doing that?

someone in the queue says.

I could, I shrug. but then I’d have to cancel her transaction.

so? they say.

so I thought you were all on her side? I ask.

what’s that gotta do with it? someone asks.

are you gonna tell her she has to join the back of the queue

when she comes back?

and you know what someone says? they say:

we won’t BE here when she gets back!

yeah, exactly, I say. it’ll be a whole new queue

and I’LL have to tell her to join the back of it!

that’s YOUR problem! someone says.

we don’t work here, YOU do!

I think I’m beginning to understand,

I say

and walk off.

the biscuits weren’t on offer

but you already knew that.

everyone did:

me

my colleague

the queue

maybe even the mad woman

and I had half a roll-up left

which I lit up

and it lit up

and I toked

and.

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