Why? (The Cashier Thinks)

“Where’s the sour cream? It’s not down there.” She points to the aisle down there and the cashier shakes her head.

“That’s because it’s over there.” The cashier points to the aisle over there and the woman looking for the sour cream grunts and starts walking.

They always ask ‘where’ things are. Never why. ’Where’ is surface level––it’s a nod to a stranger on the street. It doesn’t answer why you can find the sour cream in that aisle or the stranger on the street, it just acknowledges that they are there. Why are they going where they are going? Why is their hair mussed and eyes red? Are they okay? Why not? Did they talk to someone on the phone today? Or was it an email? Were italics used to highlight the importance of a particular word in the message––that word defining the emotional direction of the correspondence. Is that word now floating in the stranger’s head like a fly in a glass of water? Each time they try to take a sip, to think about anything else besides that word, the bug getting sucked towards their mouth and they have to stop before it gets pulled inside. Is the stranger emotionally dehydrated from not being able to think about anything besides the fly? All you did was nod so there’s no way to know. There’s so much more to know, the cashier thinks. And come on, the goddamn aisles are clearly alphabetical.

Chunk Barnley

They ask you to sign in. It’s not a membership thing. I don’t think it’s even a safety thing. They’re not keeping record in case the building goes up in flames and they need to confirm that you are not one of the charred lumps on the ground near the larger charred lump that used to be the pool table. They just want your name. A name. Any name. It’s to fill some weird self-validation quota like guest books at weddings––“See, people came.” I never put my real one. I’m not paranoid or anything, I just go out to places like this to luxuriate in my anonymity, not reveal it in the first forty-five seconds. The cashier at IKEA once asked for my area code and I nearly threw my RÅSKOG into the soft-serve machine.

Smirking, halfway finished scrawling my pseudonym in the bar’s book of collected names, is when the pen stopped working. I shook it, scratched into the margins and nearly through the page––dead. This pseudonym was near perfection, my best yet, and now it lay undone. I could’ve just left it and grabbed a beer, no one would’ve checked to make sure my book-name matched my life-name; but I needed this. I asked the bartender for a working pen. They had none. Neither did the women at the bar. My friends waited for me at the table in the back but I couldn’t get myself past coat check. I left. If couldn’t be someone else in here, I’d be no-one out there.