Gabriel's Assistant

Gabriel's Assistant

A Story by Montilee Stormer


If ever a person existed who truly had a hate/love affair with her job, it was Cassie. It wasn't a simple dislike, either; it was more of a loathing, a primal hatred she felt every morning when she clocked in at the quarter of the hour of nine. She felt it grow in her belly as she counted her drawer. Felt it boil when she saw people already lined up to have their purchases rung. It had its benefits, but there were some days when she wondered if, in the greater scheme of things, it was all even worth it.

We aren't even open yet, She thought. What are they doing in here?

“I call express,” she said to no one in particular, yet the other cashiers heard and it went uncontested. Cassie was the fastest and most efficient cashier, and in her mind was the most qualified to run the Express lane. The last cashier to debate the point found herself with a battery acid bath and three hundred dollars lighter following a lucrative payday – not that Cassie was ever accused of the crime, why should she bother getting her hands dirty. Express was since considered bad juju and it was easier to just let Cassie have her way.

The Express Lane was designed to get people with a minimum amount of items paying with cash out of the store without having to wait behind some yahoo writing a check. It was not for people with a cartful of perishables paying with cash. It was not for people with an apple and two bananas who wanted to write a check. It definitely was not for anyone with any amount of groceries who wanted to charge it. It was a fine idea and Cassie was bound and determined that only the right people were going to use it. She was proud of the fact that those who made the mistake of breaking the rules were probably so humbled by the humiliation, they never would think of doing it twice, and were they to return, she fancied they would offer her a wave. With careful prodding, anyone could be taught to respect the rules.

Cassie not only hated the people who abused the Express lane, she hated the idle chatter that went along with it.

“Gee, I didn't see the sign.”

“Oops, I saw the ten items part but I didn't see the cash part.” And, of course, vice-versa, as if the 24” x 36” sign were the size of a business card. If we can’t trust you to spot a brightly colored grocery store sign, Cassie mused silently on more than one occasion, how, may we ask, can we expect you to observe signs half its size while maneuvering a two-ton vehicle at fifteen-times your walking speed? Cassie could gently turn away a full grocery cart with a simple but curt upward point of her finger to the gi-normous Express Lane sign, but it was kind of hard to tell if someone was paying with cash. They were a devious, surreptitious bunch, who wanted nothing more than to pull the wool over some innocent’s unsuspecting eyes. These people were the worst kind of vermin. Divine intervention was the preferred course of action, but Cassie didn't believe those people deserved to wait that long.

Cassie hated the conversations that went along with having to be friendly and courteous. She was brought up to be sincere and forthright, things that were impossible with the very rude or very ignorant. How she longed to tell rotund shoppers that if they’d simply fill their carts with items that covered the four major food groups more thoroughly than shortbread cookies and Ray’s Strawberry Ice Cream, they, in their quickly approaching twilight years, wouldn’t need the assistance of valuable baggers to their vehicles. Recently, there was the untimely death of one of the Market’s favorite spherically forged customers (read: spent $200 a week, thank you so kindly) of a carbon monoxide death on her way home. Never you mind that Cassie was forced to ring her 97 items and walk her credit card to the nearest machine three lanes away. Never you mind that Cassie had to endure the grumblings of the seven or so people stuck behind this uncivilized, ill-mannered fleshy waste of a life. Never you mind that she didn’t bother tipping the unfortunate bagger who had to find creative ways to fit these items she would never consume into her junky car. Some evil-minded person jammed four Valencia oranges into her tailpipe, and with the windows rolled up tight to the Arctic air-conditioning circulating within, she took her final catnap behind the wheel of her ’76 Caprice Classic. Fortunately for her fellow drivers she never made it to the e-way, or she would have needlessly taken innocents with her to the Great Beyond.

These things happen.

More important lives go on.

Cassie was much too busy – doing her job, thank you very much – to ask about the weather or hear complaints about politics. A much finer point, she couldn't really care less how anyone else's day was going. Did they care how her day was going, like, ask and really be concerned? Did it matter that she wouldn’t experience this wonderful weather everyone says we’re apparently having for another six hours? Of course not. Therefore, why should she bother to prattle on as if hearing the Reader’s Digest version of the entire repertoire of someone's day was the proverbial icing on her cake? Kissing a*s was not sincere and forthright and therefore, not in Cassie’s programming. Nodding and grunting at the appropriate pauses was the best she could muster, and they were darn lucky to get that. Muzak and conversations from other lanes were in constant flux, and it made tuning people out that much easier.

Lane 4 – “Boy, sure is hot.”

Lane 3 – “What happened to spring?”

Memories/All alone in the moonlight

Lane 7 – “Did you see the news last night?”

This last statement drifted over from several lanes down. Some customers never left the house except to shop and in order to fill the depthless void in their meaningless lives, they talk the ears off of hapless cashiers who have no choice but to stand there with forced rapt attention and listen to blathering twaddle. Cassie was busy ignoring her own customer to pay too much attention, but the woman with a voice like a bullhorn quickly raised her ire.

“We live in such a world. There is nothing that would justify something like that.” It was someone who obviously enjoyed the ring of her own shrill intonations, as if this were the normal topic of grocery store conversation, ranking right up there with picking out the perfect tomato.

“Really.” The cashier tried to sound interested, but the trained ear can tell the difference between sincerity and one just agreeing to be courteous. “Yeah, the details must have been brutal. The newslady said that sensitive people should leave the room, so I did. I missed all the good stuff, but my stomach just can’t take it.” The woman sounded much too excited to be disgusted.

“People are saying mu-ti-la-tion.” She said “mutilation” like it was a foreign word her big, fat lips couldn’t wrap around. “Wouldn't that be something?” Yes – it would be a mutilation; a homicide; an assassination. That’s what it would be. Perhaps they had it coming, but Cassie knew better than to voice that particular nugget of wisdom. Cassie rang up 12 customers to that one attention deprived woman, precious minutes she would never get back. Cassie was sure that there was a special place in Hell for time-wasters. The loudmouth finally left smiling the smile of the blissfully stupid. Cassie wished to carve that expression off her head and hang it above her register as a gentle reminder that if cows could grin, it would look very much like that.

Presently, 10 o'clock rolled around and slack-faced baggers, looking more like a juvenile lineup in County and obviously not there for the prestige of working in a fruit market, solemnly paraded through the store. Cassie looked in vain for her favorite, without dropping her mask of non-concern. Express wasn't supposed to have a bagger (a rule Cassie felt she was more than justified to break), but if she was on the floor, young Daniel stuck by her as close as he could get away with.

Daniel admired her. He liked the way she thought, they way she effectively ignored customers without being called rude. There was a cold detachment about her that was extremely attractive to him. He liked her in the fashion all fifteen-year-olds like women nine years their senior.

“Hello, Daniel,” she said without turning around. That soft purr in her voice was like being hit with a warm, fuzzy rock, that elemental coldness, and something wonderfully horrible underneath. He couldn't put his finger on it, but when you're fifteen, you don't concern yourself with stuff like emotions. Cassie liked Daniel in the bemused way that most people her age regarded teenagers. So full of life and wonder and often enough, so full of crapola. Daniel was different. He was eager to listen to her laments, and more importantly, eager to learn. He was grasping that the world is brimming with stupid people and most of them do their marketing around the first of the month. The elderly prefer their groceries packed lightly in paper bags and then inside of plastic ones. Mothers often need another cart to carry out their bags because their demon offspring are too lazy to walk. The closer it is to naptime, the more screaming children are apt to be in the store. Older people won’t tip more than a quarter regardless of how many bags are taken to their car. And – it can’t be stressed enough – always carry fruit in your pocket, as one never knows when their usefulness will transfer into salvation.

“Hello,” said the gentleman in the natty gray suit who had unloaded his groceries while her back was turned. Cassie and Daniel were carrying on a deep philosophical conversation on whose God was more powerful, the Jewish with the seven plagues or the Catholics with the much ballyhooed Armageddon. She continued her point about the seven seals and twenty-fourth chapter of Revelations, while ringing his groceries and simultaneously counting his items.


“How are you,” he offered, interrupting her conversation. How rude.


“Fine thank you,” she countered.

9-10- Oh man.


“Sir, this line is 'Ten Items or Less’.” Her relative good mood was eroding fast. “You're three over.”

He was unvexed by her accusation. “Sorry, must have missed some limes there.” Was that sarcasm? He was too smug; slipping one by was sport and he was king. How absolutely irritating! She really felt like cramming those limes down his throat. Cassie instead gave her sweetest smile.

“Looks like we're going to have to knee-cap you.” Good-natured laughter all around.

“Hey, I'm really, sorry. I'll keep my eye on my purchases more closely next time. Look, it won't happen again.” There was that underlining sarcasm, again. He just didn’t care.

“That's okay,” she grinned clean, white teeth and bunny rabbits snuggled with velvety kittens. Better believe it won't happen again. He paid his bill (better believe it was cash) and made his way into the parking lot. “Daniel, be a dear, and run some carts out to the corral.”

“Gotcha.” With a little more energy than was probably needed for the task, Daniel rounded up the carts left to fend for themselves in the center of the floor by customers too slothful to return them to the corral - forget that they had to walk right by it to exit into the parking lot. He lined up four carts and headed for the exit, almost running. If he wasn’t careful, he could inadvertently and unintentionally run into someone.

Cassie had a little time between customers so she straightened a few curls in the mirror that served as one wall of her cozy open office. The scream, like glass across slate, the squeal of tires, the thud, the second squeal, and the ice-under-winter-boots crunch that followed did nothing more than cause her to raise an eyebrow. Everyone else rubbernecked, even left sacred places in line, to get a view of the accident. Cassie heard the blare of the horn, and screams of onlookers, and tried to picture the type of car that would use that kind of horn. It sounded expensive like a Caddie or a Lincoln.

Someone was screaming about calling an ambulance, that there was a man who’d been hurt. Then there was a sudden surge of people running into the store through the trendy garage-type doors that were all the rage, a wave of panicked bodies, all shrieking and trying to get away from something also on its way in. Slowly, one painful handful of concrete at a time, a man dragged himself into the store. It would have been simpler and less time consuming to crawl but his legs were in no condition to be dragged behind him, much less attempt to function as solid masses. What amazing will, or maybe it was pain-numbing shock, to drag one’s mangled body across cement. Maybe he was repentant, coming in to apologize. It took a little more for some people to see their wrongs and nothing felt better than being told “I forgive you and sin no more, you sarcastic b*****d.” She straightened her uniform, patted her obsidian angelic ringlets into place, and gave the dying man an expectant look. The man in the bloody gray suit opened his mouth, but his apology was interrupted by a gout of vital juices and displaced innards, coating the floor in chunky masses and ruining the impulse-buy displays. He convulsed for what seemed like ages, getting blood everywhere. Finally, he lay still and ashen-faced women fainted left and right. And the screaming; honestly, like they’d never seen a man die a violent death before. Cassie rolled her eyes.

In the ensuing melee, Daniel came strolling back in. He gave Cassie a shrug. “Cart kinda got away from me.” He looked over the crowd. “Sure was a nice car.” The sun glinted off of twisted metal and bounced off the automatic glass doors. “Boy what a finale! The Tempo hit him, but the Cadillac ran him over. Did you see his head? It was all crushed in on one side! I think he left brains on that guy’s windshield.” He mugged it up the way fifteen-year-olds do when they’re pretty proud of themselves. “He certainly won't be walking home.” Daniel shrugged again.

“That was sloppy.” Reproachment sounded like a come-on. Her dark eyes danced with exhalted glee. “I expect craftsmanship, a little finesse.” She tried to affect exasperation. “Kids,” she said to the ceiling.

On the upside the store was shut down for a few hours, giving police a chance to question everyone and Daniel to show what a really good actor he was. Those not shaken too badly stuck out the workday, now having something interesting to share. Presently the store was cleaned and reopened, empowering a new crop of potential sinners. Cassie returned to her register, Daniel sticking to her like a dirty tee-shirt, and began ringing up the next customer, who must have been hiding in the bathroom, considering the amount of foodstuffs she’d acquired in so short a time. She also, rather ceremoniously, whipped out her checkbook.

“Some accident, huh.”

Cassie agreed silently and merely continued ringing.

“Did you see what happened?” As if breaking rules was something that could be glossed over with mindless jabber.

“No, ma'am, I was minding my Express lane, my Ten-Items-Or-Less-Cash-Only-Lane.” The woman appeared genuinely startled and looked for the sign that couldn’t have possible been any bigger. They always do as if ignorance, feigned or real, makes up for such a blatant disregard for the rules.

“Oh my, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize. I could move,” as if she were the one being wronged and would endure the supreme act of martyrdom by changing lanes. She made it sound like it could be fixed. Just like that.

“No that's okay. You're here now. I couldn't make you move if I wanted to.” Again that smile that put everyone at ease.

“I'm really sorry. I hate it when people do that to me. It won't happen again.” Cassie processed the check, ringing in the driver’s license number, the check amount, studying the face and more importantly the address. A quiet cul-de-sac, especially with a name that ended in Court, cut off from just about anywhere. She thanked the victim and gave a nod to Daniel, who in turn rounded up more carts, carefully this time, to get a bead on the vehicle of Miss Check Writer in the Express Lane, who in turn would sin no more after tonight.


© 2008 Montilee Stormer

My Review

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I like the Flannery O' Connor/ Joyce Carroll Oates vibe in your work, but I think this story does need a stronger protagonist and I think you met up with one of the problems I had on the piece you reviewed: depicting banality without getting too banal. I think it could stand a few more flourishes.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Although very well written and supremely well thought out I felt this piece was difficult to read and found I was "forcing" myself through it. It just lacked an interesting enough protagonist. And when I was finally awarded with some worth while conflict it was anti-climactic to say the least. But do not take my review to heart as I am a poor amateur writer. Goodluck.

Posted 10 Years Ago

Beautiful. Splendid in it's gleefull coldness. Like a Chuck Palahniuk of the check-out lane. Added flavor and devilish enjoyment if actually read at work. Didn't quite understand the title, though.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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3 Reviews
Added on April 25, 2008


Montilee Stormer
Montilee Stormer

Royal Oak, MI

Short Version: MontiLee Stormer is a troublemaker, writing acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. Her interests wander from abnormal psychology and serial killers, to lost loves and.. more..