My shift ends at 10:30. Then I get to clear out of here and leave this hellhole to Fucking Louie, the asshole who takes over for the night shift and never cleans up before he closes. I swear to god, everyone in the store has complained about him, but apparently management likes him for some damn reason, because we can't get him fired for anything. Fucking Louie. We're not supposed to have our phones with us on the floor, but they also don't have any clocks within eyeshot of the registers, so I glance around to make sure no one's nearby and sneak my phone out of my pocket to check the time. 10 PM. I'm so close I can taste the cold Chinese food waiting for me back home. A middle-aged brunette lady comes up to the register and I automatically switch on the face – customer service hi did you find everything all right face. She's got a box of wine, condoms, and an embarrassed expression, but the fact that she didn't try to dilute the pool with some innocuous magazines and shit makes me grin a little bit, genuinely. I can respect that. I give her the usual chipper spiel, ring her up, and see her out the door. There are a few other people in the store. I check in on them through the big rounded mirrors placed in strategic locations around the place, also known as 'the corners'. We already had some kids steal some candy earlier today, and at this point in the night I'd probably just let them get away with it – make it Fucking Louie's problem. But checking is a habit. The guy in the soap and shampoo aisle has just been sniffing the bottles for … I don't even know how long, at this point. There's a woman flicking through the clothes, slowly, like we might restock if she just hangs around long enough. Then there's the girl standing in office supplies on her phone, not remotely interested in office supplies. Honestly, I'm not sure what kind of person chooses to be in a dollar store at 10 PM. I'm stuck here every night and even I feel like there's something about this combination of time and place that causes reality to start coming slightly unglued from itself. The stoned guy who's captivated by his eighteenth huff of cherry blossom conditioner? Okay, maybe he's got nowhere better to be. The last-minute romantic with the wine? Sure, her options were limited and she was on a mission. And people like her who come in, zero in on what they need, and get the fuck out – I get them. I don't get the loitering. It's like this place just sucks them in and they forget that they have anything else going on. Amanda finishes tidying up the booze section and I catch her glancing up into a mirror, doing the same check I am, before zigzagging around racks of bullshit and landing by the register with me. She's got frizzy hair and thick-framed glasses and chipped nail polish. She's exactly the kind of person I picture working the night shift at a place like this, but she's all right. “You're off soon, right?” she asks in a whisper. I nod. We're not really supposed to talk unless it's for workplace communication, like for instance shouting those fucking kids stuffed candy in their jackets. “Can you get the cleaning stuff off the top shelf for me before you go?” “Yeah, no problem.” Amanda's tiny and Fucking Louie did something with the step stool we're supposed to have in the back room. Unlike him, she cleans like a motherfucker when she's on shift, but it's like he actively wants it to be disgusting for the morning crew. Fucking Louie. I'm pretty sure he's the actual devil. “I'll take care of it now, if you wanna take over for a bit,” I suggest. “So I don't forget.” She nods energetically. It's not that I particularly think any of our shoppers are going to rush to the front during the ten seconds it'll take me to grab the spray bottle and junk for Amanda, but you know – company policy. There has to be someone manning the registers, and god knows Fucking Louie is nowhere to be seen. Probably busy looking for some other way to make all of our lives shittier. My coworker takes my place and I head down the main aisle, passing the girl in office supplies whose blank face glows blue above her phone and the woman flipping vacantly through the thermal pajamas we got in last week. Neither of them take any notice of me as I go by, which is partially a relief because I'm here to clock in, clock out, and make money – not explain to people why we don't carry the very specific as-seen-on-tv product they're looking for – but the complete vapidity does make me a bit uncomfortable. At least the soap guy is showing some signs of life, even if it's a sad life. This place isn't a vacuum or a black hole sucking people in, it's just a piece of flypaper and soap guy's in his tiny fly death throes. That reminds me: we need more bug spray. Fucking Louie never takes out the break room trash and Amanda thinks there might be something breeding in the can. As soon as I pass from the brightly-lit store into the fucking bowels of the place, I'm hit by the rotting-food smell coming from the break room as well as a bleach scent strong enough that my eyes water. I have no idea why it always smells like bleach back here, because the stained concrete floor has probably never been so much as Swiffered and the drop ceiling tiles are more water damage than anything. I slap a hand over my mouth and nose, wincing against the horrible combo, and just make a beeline for the storage room. I have to go by the break room on my way. The door is just cracked open and light's off, or burnt out – it could go either way. The old CRT tv we have set up in there is blaring Old West gunshots, light flickering violently through the crack, and I can see Fucking Louie sitting at the table with his feet propped up on it, eating someone else's food because he never brings his own. How he can eat with the stench in there is a fucking mystery. And not one I have any desire to solve. I duck into storage and click the door closed behind me, trying to take a breather even though the smell's not much better in here. It's like I can feel it burning all of the little things in my lungs that absorb oxygen individually. Coughing and shaking my head, I roll up on tiptoe to grab the green plastic bucket our cleaning supplies are in off the top shelf, filter a deep breath through my sleeve, and head back out. I must have somehow not seen him before – probably my eyes tearing up – but when I reach the break room again Fucking Louie's just standing there in the doorway like he was waiting on me. It startles me into freezing and he just fucking stares at me, tall and reeking of chlorine and rot, and the terrible smell starts to make me lightheaded. He growls out, “You deserve it, you know.” It has to be something about the flashing lights behind him and the fact that I can't breathe. For a moment I could swear I'm in my car, tired after a long shift and craving lo mein, and when something pale flashes in my headlights and bumps under the tires I just keep driving. But it passes as the worst of the smell dissipates. Louie's in the break room again, feet propped up, eating Amanda's supper and watching some western movie. I watch him for a moment, disoriented. The fuck was that? Jesus, I've been working here too long. I head back out onto the floor. Clothing lady and office supplies girl are still there. A glance up into the mirrors shows me soap guy still enjoying his soap, and someone new's come in to lurk around the beverage section. I take a few more deep breaths, trying to shake it off and get the bleach out of me, and go up front to pass off the cleaning stuff. Amanda smiles and disappears into the racks, and I take up my station at the register again. My shift ends at 10:30, and thank fuck for that. I should've checked the break room clock while I was back there – though it's probably broken, now I think about it. The store doesn't like us to have our phones out on the floor, but I look around to make sure no one'll notice and reach into my pocket to sneak a peek. 10 PM. A brunette lady comes up to the counter with a box of wine and condoms.