Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Endless Checkout - Part 1: Initial Visit

Marissa pushed her cart through the automatic doors of GreenLeaf Grocers, the familiar jingle of the entrance bell chiming softly overhead. It was late afternoon, the sun casting long, lazy shadows across the linoleum floors. The store was comfortably busy, a typical scene for a Tuesday – retirees comparing produce, parents corralling kids, employees restocking shelves.

She maneuvered her cart with practiced ease, her mind on autopilot as she navigated the aisles. The store layout was a familiar map she could traverse with her eyes closed – produce on the right, dairy in the back, dry goods in the middle. She hummed a tune under her breath, picking out a bunch of bananas, some leafy greens, and a few ripe avocados.

As she moved through the store, Marissa greeted several employees she recognized. There was Jerry, who always had a new joke to share at the deli counter, and Miss Tamara at the bakery, her apron dusted with flour. They responded with their usual smiles and pleasantries, but there was something slightly off in their gestures, a hesitancy in their eyes that Marissa couldn't quite place.

Shaking off the feeling, she continued her shopping. The store's PA system crackled to life, announcing a sale on ground beef. The normalcy of it all, the mundane routine, was comforting in its own way.

Marissa made her way to the frozen section, her breath misting in the artificially chilled air. She selected a carton of ice cream, the cold seeping through her gloves, and turned towards the checkout.

The lines were short, only a few customers ahead of her. She chose a lane and began unloading her items onto the conveyor belt. As she reached for her wallet, her eyes briefly met those of the cashier, a young man she didn’t recognize. His smile was polite, but there was a depth in his eyes that seemed incongruous with the setting, like he was measuring her for reasons beyond the grocery transaction.

The beep of the scanner was rhythmic, almost hypnotic. Marissa's gaze drifted to the tabloids and candy bars flanking the checkout. It was all so typical, so utterly normal.

Then, as she looked up to say thank you and goodbye, a flicker of confusion passed through her mind. Hadn’t she already done this? Deja vu, she thought, shaking her head slightly as she pushed her cart towards the exit.

The bell chimed again as she stepped out, the brightness of the setting sun momentarily blinding her. She blinked against the light, a strange sensation creeping up her spine, an eerie whisper in her mind that something was amiss.

But then the moment passed, lost in the mundane act of loading groceries into her car. As she drove away, the grocery store stood placid and unassuming in her rearview mirror, a staple of normal life, hiding its secrets behind automatic sliding doors.