"'Okay sir' she said cheerily, thinking of the full bottle of wine in her fridge"
Hi there, can I help?'
She smiled at the next customer, a gentleman approaching the desk, face red in frustration, vein popping bright on his forehead, chest puffed out in his suit jacket. The bag clutched in his meaty fist had the promise of an argument held in it; a faulty product, of course.
I wish I was still in bed, she thought.
The smile on her face hurt her cheeks, she'd been holding it for so long. Even she herself knew how fake it looked. She had a headache, was sweating from the unrelenting sun shining on her through the glass, an extremely intrusive wedgie and an infuriating itch on the arch of her left foot that she wouldn't be able to scratch for another half hour; her break time, or until the queue died down.
Considering it had been going strong for an hour, she was betting on the half hour.
'Your company has a lot to answer for' the man growled at her, slamming the bag down on the table with a loud thunk. If whatever was in there hadn't been faulty before it sure was now. The customers in the line behind him watched with wide eyes, ready and raring to witness a teenage girl getting verbally annihilated by a man triple her age for something that wasn't her fault.
God my butt isn't comfy, she thought.
She fashioned her face into the sympathetic frown she'd mastered, eyebrows arched, eyes wide and worried, mouth upset.
'Oh dear!'she whimpered. 'What happened?'
Let me guess, she thought. You didn't clean it.
'I've only had it a few months' he snapped. A bit of spittle flew from his dry, chapped lips and landed on her cheek. She didn't even flinch; it was far from the first time that day.
'Right!' she nodded, peeling back the bag. Sitting in there was a kettle that looked at least a few decades old, watermarks coating the walls and limescale protruding from the spout and opening.
'And its gone wrong?' She asked, keeping her voice gentle, trying to get a little more information before she started to put through a refund.
He glared at her, eyes cold. 'Well, obviously' he hissed. 'Otherwise I wouldn't bloody be here, would I? Frankly its a bit of a bloody joke- you claim to be a helpful cookstore and here you are ripping me off with a damn kettle that doesn't do shit!'
'I see' she fell back on her go-to list of 'calming phrases' from the training pack on angry customers. 'I understand why this is annoying for you sir. Let me see what I can do to help. Do you have the receipt?'
'Well of course I bloody don't!' He scowled furiously. 'Why on Earth would I keep a receipt for so long? I want my bloody money back!'
He leant against the til so he was facing the customers behind him. 'Bloody shop assistants' he said to the man behind him. 'They're all bloody slow as shit.'
The bloke behind him snorted. 'Yeah, the girls are the worst. Never understand what you're saying half the time.'
Stupid goddamn business men, she thought to herself. Rude fucking buggers the lot of them. Sexist assholes. When we all die and end up in the same hell I hope I get to see you.
'Excuse me?' She said out loud, still trying to use her nicest, calmest voice. 'Without a receipt I'm afraid I can't do anything but switch it for the same kettle again.'
'What use is that?' He exploded. 'I don't want the same kettle! Useless girl! Get your goddamn manager here now! This isn't right.'
'Okay sir' she said mindlessly, picking up the phone and dialling the manager down. 'He'll be right here, sir.'
The man nodded. 'Right! A man. We'll sort this out.'
'Okay sir' she said cheerily, thinking of the full bottle of wine in her fridge at home and the bottle of painkillers in her bathroom cupboard.Her brain pulsed in pain, just to remind her it was still there. 'Would you mind me serving the people behind you whilst he's on his way?'
The man waved a hand without speaking, moving aside to make room. Taking the dismissal as acceptance she turned her smile to the next man in line, trying to subtly rub her itching foot against the side of the wooden til.
'Hi there, can I help?'
'Just these, pet.' The guy shoved a bag of cupcake holders at her and then stared unashamedly at her boobs whilst she rang the holders up and took his money.
Creep, she thought venemously. What are you even looking at, I'm wearing a bloody sweater. You can't even see my damn boobs. Have fun wanking off to a shapeless pair of tits, weirdo.
She smiled cheerily at the man and handed him his change, determinedly not shivering as he stroked at her knuckles before leaving.
'Have a nice day!' She called after him.
'Yeah' he shot back.
Alright then, she thought. Stare at my chest but don't bother wishing me a good day back, rude git.
That wine was sounding better and better.
She turned back to the line, eye twitching against some dust in it. Next to her, her manager explained to the furious kettle guy that he couldn't have his money back. She ignored the guy's rising voice.
'Hi there, can I help?'
'Oh hello, love' a woman came to the til, a smile on her face. She instantly recognised it as being as fake as her own. 'Yeah, love, I need a hand. Could you call any of the lads down at all?'
'What do you need help with?' she asked politely. Not you, she thought. You're a woman. Don't ask me to get you a man in front of all these people.
'I really think I need a chap for this, love' the woman's fake smile grew sharper. 'I wanted to ask about this pan set you have, the one for twenty quid?'
'Right!' She actually brightened up a bit, knowing she could answer any question on that pan set. She didn't need to go through the humiliation of calling down a male colleague yet again.
'I want to know what the different between that and the thirty quid one is.' The woman's lips parted in the fake smile again, showing off the lipstick stains on her front teeth. 'Do you reckon that young man would know?'
Ignoring the question, she said 'there's two differences- the cheaper set only has two pans, and the expensive one has non-stick coating and contains three pans.'
'So which one is better?'
'it depends what you need them for' she beamed at the woman. 'If you need three, the more expensive ones. The non-stick coating tends to be more popular because it means less sticky stains, but if you prefer just the plain non-stick, then the cheaper one.'
'Right' the woman nodded. 'Sorry love, no offense, but I'm going to wait here and ask that man once he's done with that kettle. I think he might know better.'
'RIght' She deflated. 'Okay, sure that's fine. Have a nice day. Who's next?'
She felt burning behind her eyelids suddenly, but furiously blinked, ducking her head to look down at the til as she reached out to take the next customers items.
Don't, she told herself fiercely. It doesn't matter that they don't listen to you. Doesn't matter. They're all sexist assholes. Forget it. You get your break in twenty-five minutes, and then just another five hours and then you can go home and have a nice long drink. Stop fucking crying. Don't even think about it.
Taking a deep breath and blinking away the remnants of her emotions, she lifted her head and wished the customer a good day, watched the first guy marching out of the store furiously, kettle still clutched in his hand, listened as her male manager repeated exactly what she'd said about the pan sets to the lipstick lady, who was nodding along a lot more genuinely than before.
Just a little longer, she thought to herself. Just a bit longer. Then you can go to bed and sleep, and then get up and come back tomorrow.
Her throat ached for that wine.
'Hi there!' She chirped. 'Can I help?'