For Edgar’s previous adventures, please read:
Edgar ducked into the health food store on his corner as he walked to work. His objective was to buy just one item for lunch. He wan’t necessarily healthy, and what he was buying was only marginally food, but its flavor was slightly better than neutral and most importantly, it was $3.50. His stomach tightened as he entered. One of the greatest burdens in this city was knowing exactly what you wanted and where you were going, two things Edgar always knew.
Edgar made his way quickly through the bright freezing produce & dairy aisle, adeptly slipping by a woman having a conversation with chia pudding, and cut over to the ready-made food corner. He rotated his lunches between three Asian-ish noodle boxes. Feeling bold today, he opted for the Szechuan. As he turned towards the front of the store, a man in pajamas with wild hair asked “Are those good?”
“Yes. They’re OK cold or at room temperature but if I’m home I’ll microwave them.”
At this last bit the man’s eyes widened and he shook his head. His hair wafted, muppet-like. “Oh, you mustn’t! Don’t you know what that does to food?”
Edgar laughed politely and began to step away. The man cut off his retreat. “No, really. I’ve looked into this. The radiation infects your food and gives you cancer.”
Edgar hesitated briefly, then decided to take the plunge. “Microwave ovens send photons of a certain wavelength through food. The photons only affect polarized molecules, like water, causing them to vibrate, which creates heat. None of that has anything to do with the processes that can cause cancer.”
The man gaped like a trout. “But…but…it’s radiation.”
Edgar gestured upward. “Technically so are these fluorescents. And it’s a higher frequency.” The man squealed and ran from the store. Edgar sighed, then steeled himself for what waited up front.
He found the scene he expected. The store had ten registers side by side behind a counter; no more than four were ever manned. There were no barriers or markers anywhere. The only indicator of the behavior expected from customers was a sign posted at intervals: “Seperate line each register,” spelling and questionable syntax faithfully reproduced each time. Rather than a short line at each of the four open registers, people milled aimlessly, jostling about in the space between where the lines should have been, in flagrant violation of the signs’ request. They all hesitated to declare allegiance to one cashier over another, fearful that they may be stuck eternally behind a complicated transaction involving personal checks, foreign currency, and a price dispute.
Edgar’s armpits immediately dampened, his pulse quickened from the adrenaline being dumped into his bloodstream. Somewhere right this moment in the Middle East a soldier about to break from cover under fire was experiencing the same feelings Edgar was having at the prospect of awkward interactions with strangers and possibly waiting two minutes longer to leave the store.
Edgar entered the orbit of people between registers three and five. There seemed to be some degree of seniority established already, so he hung towards the back and did his best not to think of the improvements he would make to this setup. That way lay madness, as he knew from experience. He did his best to simply focus on his breathing and avoid thought. Especially the thought that he should already be two avenues east of here to avoid being late.
After a couple of false starts which were cut off by aggressive seniors, Edgar realized it was down to him and a young woman by his side. He wasn’t sure when she had been absorbed into the group. Uncertain how to proceed, he glanced into her basket and noticed it only contained a few items. She was dressed professionally, and her features and clothing seemed local. He decided that civilization could prevail, and he would let her go ahead when a register became free. He discounted register five, where a short woman peering over the counter engaged the cashier in a spirited debate over the merits of hemp seeds as a laxative. Register three, however, seemed to be wrapping up.
When the customer there stepped away, Edgar gestured magnanimously to the woman next to him. She smiled and said “Merci.” Edgar smiled back, inwardly cursing himself for assuming. The French woman walked up to the open register and began peppering the cashier with questions, fishing out a handful of bills, change, and euro in the process.
I should’ve known. She was standing far too close to me.
The conversation at register five finally concluded with the two parties agreeing to disagree about their feces. Edgar swooped in, cutting off the advance of the chia pudding enthusiast from the dairy aisle earlier. His time had come, hard-earned. He placed his noodles on the counter and said “I don’t need a bag or utensils.”
The cashier began a complicated keying process on her register. “Good morning sir and welcome to West Side Health Market. Did you find everything you need today?”
Still punching keys seemingly at random, the cashier said “I’m happy to hear that sir and are you a member of our rewards club?” She had yet to make eye contact.
“No, thanks, I’m not interested.”
“I see sir. Would you like to sign up? It will only take a moment.”
“No, no, I’m not interested.”
“Membership entitles you to discounts on items and points that can be redeemed for rewards.” Still punching keys.
“I’m really not interested. And these noodles aren’t discounted for the card anyway, I checked.”
“Once you’re enrolled you’ll just need to punch in your phone number and everything else is automatic.”
“Please just let me buy this thing and leave.”
“Excellent sir.” Having finished her Enigma-worthy code on the keyboard, the cashier slid Edgar’s noodles across the scanner. He noticed on the screen that it misread them as a ham sandwich for a full dollar more than they should have been. He just bit his tongue. There was no time. The cashier started to slide them into a bag.
“I don’t need a bag, I’ll just use this.” He gestured to his messenger bag.
“Would you like to buy one of our reusable shopping bags? They’re just a dollar.”
“No thanks! Got a bag here.”
“Excellent sir. Would you like utensils?”
“Will that be cash credit debit?”
The cashier began punching keys again. Edgar’s heart fell into his stomach. “Go ahead and swipe sir.”
Edgar did so. The card reader beeped angrily. “Please swipe again sir.” Edgar swiped more slowly. The same angry beep. As a bead of sweat ran down his temple he imagined his supervisor strolling by Edgar’s desk, raising an eyebrow at the empty chair. Edgar swiped again, slightly faster than the first time, trying to find the exact speed at which the magnetic reader would do what it was designed to do. A more pleasant beep indicated success.
“Would you like to donate to children’s cancer research?”
Edgar pressed no on the screen, which was unresponsive. He pulled on the attached chain, which came up empty. He pressed again, harder, with no luck. He whipped his bag around to the front and dug out a pen, successfully pressed no with it, and almost broke the screen. As he did so he imagined a sick child’s face, hairless, eyes huge, and felt a pang of guilt. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to buy my lunch.
“Cash back press yes or no.” Edgar smiled tightly at the cashier and pressed no. “Please confirm your purchase.” Edgar thought that enrolling in his 401k required less red tape. Finally the receipt began printing.
“Thank you for your purchase sir. On your receipt is a number for a survey. If you call this number, you will be entered into a contest for—”
“I’m sorry, please, I really have to go.”
“—a cash prize of $500 or store credit for even more.” The receipt kept printing, feet and feet of paper slowly spooling out. It was impossibly long. The cashier pulled out a small cardboard pouch and began folding the receipt into it, droning on about the survey and its benefits. Edgar felt a snap, an actual physical snap inside his brain. He shrieked and grabbed the noodles from the counter. He sprinted for the door, shouldering aside the chia pudding woman. Dozens of containers of chia pudding flew from her basket. He burst through the doors and sprinted for Sixth Avenue, stiff arming a dog walker, his messenger bag flapping behind him in his own breeze.
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.