Prose Header

Masked Man Works at Shop-Rite

by C. A. Sanders

Masked Man is old. He wears thick glasses. His lower back hurts him every day. He is supposed to take baby aspirin for his heart, but he forgets.

Masked Man rents a furnished room from a family of four. They let him use the washer and dryer, but not the refrigerator. He keeps a small one in his room next to his hot plate.

He works at the Shop-Rite on Middletown Road. He takes a bus to work. He wears a white shirt and an apron every day from 6:00 pm till midnight. He stands in front of a laser scanner, listening to the endless beep, beep, beep as it scans pricing codes. He knows all of the produce codes. He has trouble remembering to smile at the customers.

He opens his register at six o’clock. The line is long, filled with people returning from work. They are hungry and want to go home. A mother with a whining child rolls her eyes at Masked Man.

A chubby man buys his groceries. He pays with a Food Stamps card. Masked Man makes a face when the man slides his card through. “No pride,” he thinks. He tightens his smile and asks the man if he wants paper or plastic. He wants plastic. “Easier to carry,” the man says with a grin. Masked Man wants to punch the man until he has pride. The man says “thank you” as he leaves.

Masked Man’s father made a fortune by selling weapons to the Army. When Masked Man took over, he funneled tens of millions of dollars into his secret crime-fighting projects. Someone blew the whistle. The board voted him out. He spent his fortune on lawyers to stay out of jail.

Arch-Villain runs the front end in the evenings until close. He is balding and his belly distends over his belt like a volleyball. He wears his reading glasses on his forehead. The rumor is that he is sleeping with Meg on register 7. Meg snaps her gum and is studying to be a medical billing specialist.

Arch-Villain doesn’t recognize Masked Man out of costume. Arch-Villain jokes with Masked Man while he asks if Masked Man needs change. He smiles. The teeth that Masked Man punched out have been replaced.

The doctors say that the pills make Arch-Villain sane. Three in the morning, two at night. Now he can be a functioning member of society. He seems very happy.

This is what the doctors say, but Masked Man remembers how Arch-Villain killed and laughed and killed again. He remembers the gurgles of the dead. He gives Arch-Villain a twenty from his drawer and gets two rolls of quarters. He cracks one open against the register and lets the quarters slip through his fingers.

“You’re a great cashier,” Arch-Villain says. “Someday you’ll be a shift supervisor like me. Maybe they’ll make you an assistant manager. Then you can push me around for a change.” Arch-Villain slaps him on the back and smiles. Masked Man’s mouth smiles.

By nine o’clock Masked Man is fantasizing about crime. He pictures two robbers with assault rifles. One holds up the express register, the other covers him from the Pepsi display at the end of aisle 3. Masked Man grabs a divider bar from the register and slips away

Masked Man sneaks up on the Pepsi display. He grabs the gunman from behind and chokes him with the divider bar. He pulls the gunman into the aisle and hits him with a can of chickpeas. There is blood on the linoleum.

Masked Man grabs a bottle of Pepsi and throws it at the other gunman like a football. It knocks the rifle away and Masked Man is upon him. He punches the gunman over and over until the man’s face breaks. He is the iron fist of justice again.

Arch-Villain sends him on his fifteen-minute break. He buys a tuna sandwich and a Coke and eats alone in the break room.

Side Kick gets on his line at half past ten. He is a grown man, tall and handsome. He reads the covers of the gossip magazines while waiting. His eyes widen when he sees Masked Man.

Masked Man looks at the conveyor. Eggs. Bread. Nothing else. “How are you?”

Side Kick hands Masked Man his discount card. “I’m good. Got married... Three kids.”

“That’s good,” says Masked Man. He bags Side Kick’s eggs and bread. He makes sure to put the bread on top.

“I was just a boy,” Side Kick whispers.

“You fought like a man.”

“But I wasn’t. I was just a boy.” Side Kick places his paper bag in the shopping cart. “It’s good to see you.” The wheels squeak as he rolls the cart away.

At a quarter to midnight, Arch-Villain makes the closing announcements. There is a rush to check out, like every night. Masked Man tries to be polite, but he is tired and uninspired. He gives one man too much change.

“See you tomorrow night,” Arch-Villain says to Masked Man as he locks the doors of the Shop Rite. He is giving Meg a ride home. They’re fooling no one.

“Yep, see you tomorrow,” echoes Masked Man. He watches as Arch-Villain and Meg walk away.

“This must be a trick,” Masked Man thinks. “This is some evil plot by Arch-Villain. I am hooked up to a machine and Arch-Villain is feeding me hallucinations. I am not a cashier. I am Masked Man.”

Masked Man takes a cab home. The buses don’t run this late. He doesn’t tip the driver when he gets out.

He opens the door to his closet. Masked Man’s costume hangs on a hook. He feels the familiar fabric, the slashes and the bullet holes. “I will always be,” he says.

He crawls into bed and falls asleep to the sound of his landlords making love in the room next door.

Copyright © 2012 by C. A. Sanders

Proceed to Challenge 499...

Home Page