This is the first thousand or so words of the novel. The novel is broken into chapters, indicated by a Roman Numeral. Each chapter is a short story, or at least, that has been my goal. Obviously, these stories are connected and bleed into one another as they move the overall story along.
There are a few themes that run through this story. One of the big ones is the inability to change the world. In other words, determinism is a central idea. Another major idea is that social constructs are the real culprits behind many of the evils plaguing the world, and people are just puppets bending to these incorporeal forces.
The Cocky Smile
That cocky smile. That sly, sideways, smirk that sneaks along his lips and ties off somewhere by his ears. His head is tilted, showing off his childish buzz cut and doe-eyed grin. Every time he speaks, I see flashes of that dreadful expression poking out from behind his words. I see it lurking on his lips and tangled under his breath. It’s waiting, I’ve decided, waiting to glow upon his victim and ruin their day.
Every single time he confronts me, reprimands me or allows me to leave; that’s how he ends the conversation, with that arrogant smile cemented in a blank face.
“Sweep the floor,” he says through a toothy smile. His face is innocent and childish as he issues his request. “Go now, and sweep it.”
I don’t answer him. I never do anymore; he isn’t worth my breath. He isn’t worth much of anything; none of them are. I sweep the floor, dragging and pushing the broom along the bright tiling. I collect garbage and gunk that’s strewn across the flooring. I must make it pristine and spotless or he’ll order me to do another pass through the aisles. He seems to take joy in ordering me to do anything. He especially seems to take joy in making me redo a task. That’s why I’ve taken to finishing the job the first time; I want to rob him of any joy I might provide him with.
Each time he orders me to sweep, I pry deep into myself and find courage in order to battle my gut reaction. It tells me to leave bits of paper and cardboard on the floor, but I always carry it all away. Every day, I must persevere and take everything away. Through the doors into the back I shuffle, all to dispose of it properly. I must hurry into the back before he can call me out for not dumping the crumbs and debris in the trash can. He’s done that many times before; not always to me, but to whomever he sends out to sweep and tidy up. He watches them from his office. He watches the camera feeds as they wander up and down the aisles. Some lazily sweep and others are studious in their efforts, but either way, they are likely to end up seeing his callow eyes staring at them from the end of an aisle.
When he isn’t ordering me about on extracurricular activities, I keep my head down, and stick to the protocol of my job. I cut boxes open, remove smaller boxes, and gently position the smaller boxes on a shelf in the precise spot, so they are easily accessible by the customer.
The customer; our necessity, our prey and our god. They supply my wages and pay for my services with their countless purchases and desires. They probe the shelves and aisles for the lowest prices, and the best deals. The same people return weekly, browse the same shelves, and gaze at the same products, all with the hopes of discovering some new product or new deal. Something new, anything new or better or cheaper; that’s what lures them all back, I believe. That chance at locating something that wasn’t there before. That’s why the fisherman returns to the river bank and why the hunter walks out into the woods; they seek the chase, and the chance of finding something new.
Every week, he reminds all of us about the customers’ importance. “We couldn’t stay open without them!” he says in the weekly briefing. Other times he says we need to treat them like family. Treat them like our most treasured loved one. That is the company’s thinking; the customers are our family. They perpetuate a family atmosphere, urging children, mothers and fathers to venture into our store, where they pick out goodies like an absurdly perfect nuclear family.
“We need to treat them like we know them!” he says energetically. Then his cocky smile returns as he issues our daily tasks and orders.
And from that repugnant grin, sly words drip and ooze from his thick lips. It irks me, every time he speaks. His words insert themselves into my ears and drill their way into my head; echoing, and reverberating all day. They stay there and cycle throughout my being as I try to keep my head down and precisely place their boxes and products on their shelves. “Stock the shelves and answer the phone when I page you,” he tells me every morning. I swear he cackles as he stands before me. I swear he laughs to himself, taking pride in his ability to boss me around. I swear he is delighted when he sees my sulking expression, as his words penetrate me. I wonder if he would be so gleeful if I were allowed to scold his harsh smile and condescending tone. Probably not, I’ve decided. He’d probably fire me and request that I be banned from the store, permanently.
So, with a face of joy and chest filled with angst, I walk the aisles, sweeping the junk away from our deities. I return then, after I save the public from the shock of a dirty floor, to stock the shelves full of poisonous goodies, colorful do-dads, and thoroughly useless and utterly annoying trinkets. I endeavor no more to dream, or think as I walk these aisles. I no longer strive to create thoughts or consider the future as I walk these aisles. For thinking, even for a moment, would allow me the pleasure of contemplating the bosses constant disrespect and the wasteful attitude of this establishment. And contemplating any of these subjects is forbidden, if one wishes to avoid hearing his coarse words fall from that cocky smile.