“Bleach. I can’t remember the last time I picked some up.” He looked down at his stained shirt. At one point, it used to be white, but that was a long time ago. “I guess I’ll go by menswear after this…”
It had been weeks since he last saw anybody. Looking presentable was the last of his worries. The bleach wasn’t for washing clothes, though. Just a few tiny drops are enough to keep a whole gallon drinkable when you don’t have time to sit down and watch it boil. Few places had running water left, and it was probably questionable at best.
“I don’t need that much; I’ll save myself the load and put it in a small container…” He looked up at the signs hanging from the ceiling. In the darkness, they were hard to read. A couple of aisles down, he found shelves of Tupperware and other containers. They were still mostly all in place. The whole store, in fact, seemed more intact than others he had searched through. In fact, it was spotless. He wondered if it was just the fact that the store was lacking its usual odd and dirty assortment of customers.
He pulled a small container off the shelf. It was a novelty mustard bottle with a nice closable cap. ‘Perfect,’ he thought, pulling it from its packaging. Opening the gallon bottle of bleach gave him a nice whiff of the strong chlorine odor. He pulled his head back and proceeded to pour it slowly into the smaller container. It overflowed just a bit and it dripped down onto this hands. Bending down to leave behind the remains of the bleach, his large backpack swiped the opposite wall of the aisle and knocked down several pegs worth of products.
“Shoot.” He said under his voice.
The intercom crackled on out of nowhere. “Cleanup on aisle 7.”
The voice made him jump. He looked back and forth at both ends of the aisle. The hanging sign said what he feared, the number seven. He quickly screwed on the cap and headed for the front of the building. Exiting the aisle, he was met with the loud sound rolling of wheels headed his direction. The beam from a flashlight flickered at him, making the hairs on his neck stand up. He tensed up, thinking about bolting.
“A man’s job is never done,” complained a weathered voice.
The beam of light dropped to the ground, and he could see someone pushing a plastic cart carrying a broom, a mop, and other cleaning supplies. Complete with a blue vest covered in brightly colored badges, he seemed very much at home. They glanced up at the signs, heading towards the aisle that had been called out.
“What seems to be the issue?”
“Uhm… oh. I just knocked down some things.” He stammered.
“And did you pick them up?”
The old man sighed. Squeezing past, he headed into the aisle now strewn with clutter from the shelf. Still holding the bottle of bleach, he turned around to face the man.
“What are you doing here?”
“I work here.”
“Even in these times?”
“These are our normal operating hours, are they not?”
“Are you the one stocking the shelves?”
“Yes and cleaning, ordering, inventory, greeting customers when I can.”
“Of course not. This is a big store. Didn’t you hear my supervisor on the intercom?”
“Oh. Well, I apologize for the mess.”
“It’s no problem.”
He stood there as the various kitchen tools were hung back up on their pegs. The old man noticed the open bottle of bleach, and screwed the cap back on, putting it on his rolling cart.
“Uhh… would you prefer if I paid for that?”
“Go through the check stand like everyone else.”
Confused, he turned and walked out, still hearing the man fiddling with the products scattered on the floor. On his way out, he made his way through the still dark check stands, and dropped a fistful of change on one of the scanners, and headed for the door. The automatic door took a bit of effort to open, but was unlocked just like he found it.
Out in the light of the day, he looked down and remembered he was still wearing his ratty old shirt…