“Oh God, I promised myself that I would never shop here again!” Charlotte Altomare said. She steered the Subaru Legacy into an available parking space in front of the big box store.
“I know, baby. I can’t stand this place either. But who else is open at midnight?” Jack, her husband, said. He clicked his seat belt off and opened the front passenger door of the car.
“Well, I told you that wasn’t going to be enough packaging tape to box up everything in the kitchen.” She grabbed the keys and her purse before opening her door and stepping out of the car.
“You were right, you were right.” Jack said. He climbed out of the vehicle. Charlotte was standing next to the rear bumper, waiting for him. She pushed the lock button on the key ring and the car beeped once.
“Just for starters- What a horrible name for a store!” Charlotte said. She gestured with her hand at the giant glowing block letters that were fastened onto the outer wall of the massive building.
Jack chuckled. “I know, why would you name it Ball’s Mart? The original founder was named Roger Ball, but Ball’s Mart? Really? Wouldn’t Roger’s Mart have been better?”
Charlotte laughed and then dodged out of the way as a morbidly obese man pushed a cart overflowing with food past them and nearly ran into her.
“Jeez, did you see that?” Charlotte said.
“Yeah. And that’s just enough food to get him through tomorrow!” Jack said.
“Aw, be nice!” She tapped him lightly on the shoulder with a closed fist. “Is there anything else that we need while we’re here, or did I drive all this way for packaging tape?”
“I don’t know… Didn’t you say that you needed some gloves to wear while cleaning the oven?” He said.
“Yes! Thanks for reminding me.”
“Do you think they have enough security cameras out here?” Jack said. He jabbed a finger at the store as they finished crossing the parking lot and the numerous rows and clusters of cameras were coming into view.
The automatic front doors opened for them with a soft whoosh and the couple stepped into Ball’s Mart. An elderly woman wearing the store’s standard red vest uniform and name tag was standing on the other side of the door next to a row of banged up shopping carts. She silently glared at Jack and Charlotte as they passed by without taking a cart.
“I thought she was supposed to be a greeter! She did not say a word to us!” Jack said.
Charlotte shrugged. “Let’s grab what we need and get the hell out of here.”
Just inside of the store a pale young man with three large sores on his forehead was seated on a bench and talking to himself. A paper bag from the Ball’s Mart pharmacy was clutched in his left hand. His eyes were wild and his hair looked dirty and unkempt. As Jack and Charlotte walked in front of the bench he made a few loud coughing noises at them without covering his mouth.
“Did that guy bark at me?” Jack said.
“Just keep walking.” Charlotte said under her breath.
The couple worked their way through the maze of aisles in the general direction of the office supplies and the packaging tape. On the way they observed a young man wearing a bright purple spandex suit doing jumping jacks in the middle of the cosmetics aisle, an old woman with a goatee picking her nose while staring at an endcap display of heating pads and a guy with a thick unibrow digging frantically through the five dollar movie bin.
“Ah, here we go…” Charlotte said. She turned down the office supply aisle with Jack trailing a few feet behind her.
“Did you see that guy? Was he hitting that child?” Jack said.
“I don’t know, it kind of– Wait– You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“They’re out of packaging tape!”
“Yep, all out. Unbelievable!” Charlotte said.
“There’s duct tape, that will work. You know what they say, ‘If you can’t duck it–‘”
“Okay, grab some.” She said. She rolled her eyes and placed her hands on her hips. “This place never has what I need.”
Jack picked up two rolls of duct tape. “Cleaning supplies are just a few aisles over that way, we can grab those rubber gloves for the oven.” He said.
“Alright. You know, I have a difficult time shopping here ever since we watched that documentary.” Charlotte said.
“I know. I will never forget that one guy they interviewed who toured some of the hellhole factories where they manufacture most of this junk for pennies. He was a grown man crying in front of the camera while attempting to explain what those poor people went through everyday. How many of these customers even know about that?”
“How many of them care?” Charlotte said.
“Good point. ‘And the love of many will grow cold.'” Jack said. He turned down the aisle with cleaning supplies. “These are only a buck.” He picked up a cheap pair of disposable rubber gloves and showed them to her.
“That works. Anything else?”
“Oh, wait. I wanted to get some rope to tie down the big furniture in the moving van.” He walked out of the aisle and scanned the various signs that identified the different sections of the store.
A young woman walked by wearing nothing but flip-flops and a pink bathing suit. She was carrying a large teddy bear and sucking her thumb.
“Where do you think we’ll find rope?”
“Hmmm… Home and garden?” Charlotte said.
“Worth a shot.” Jack said. He started walking in that direction and then paused to look at an endcap full of whiskey bottles. “Wow, twenty dollars for that brand? That’s actually a good deal.”
“Grab one if you want.” She said.
“I think I will.” He tucked a handle of whiskey under his arm.
An employee in a red vest was stocking an endcap with aspirin nearby and Jack approached him.
“Hey man, sorry to bother you…” Jack said.
The employee turned and looked at Jack. He appeared to be in his late thirties and had dark circles under his eyes.
“Yes, can I help you with something?”
“Where would I find some rope?” Jack said.
“Aisle twenty-seven, just after the home and garden section.” The employee said. “You aren’t planning to make a noose, are you?”
Jack recoiled back a step, shocked. “No,” He said. “Are you?”
The employee shrugged and continued stocking the shelf.
Charlotte tugged on Jack’s elbow and they continued walking.
“Poor guy.” Jack muttered.
“Yeah, I’ll never forget when they opened one of these places in my home town. Caused all of the small businesses there to close because they couldn’t compete with the prices and the cutthroat tactics. As if that wasn’t bad enough, most of the people who owned and operated those places had to turn around and accept jobs at Ball’s Mart.”
Jack nodded. “Here we go, he was right.” He stooped down and picked up a small bundle of rope. “That will work.”
“Can we go home now?” Charlotte said.
“Yes, I think that’s everything.” Jack said.
As the couple journeyed back toward the front of the store to purchase their items they observed a man wearing a shirt with a Confederate Flag on it pushing a cart full of ammunition, a family of five arguing over which kind of bread to buy and man in a suit carrying five microwave dinners.
“Look, there’s only one guy in that line over there!” Charlotte said.
“Right on!” Jack said.
They moved to the third cash register and placed their items down onto the grimy black conveyor belt. The young man in front of them in line was using a credit card to pay for a new video game.
“Enter your pin number.” The woman operating the register snapped at the young man.
A display rack of condoms was located just to the left of the conveyor belt- Between the candy and the tabloid magazines. Jack picked up a box and placed it with the other items.
“Do we need those?” Charlotte muttered.
“I think we’re out.” He said.
The guy walked off with his game and the cashier turned to face them.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” She said. There was a deep scar running up her left cheek and a large bald spot on the top of her head.
“Yes.” Jack said.
The conveyor belt churned forward and, as the cashier began to scan the first few items she froze. She looked up at Jack with a horrified expression on her face and her hands started trembling. It suddenly dawned on him how bizarre their items looked together– Duct tape, rubber gloves, rope, whiskey and condoms.
“It’s going to be a crazy night!” Jack said. He winked at the cashier.
* * * * * * *
[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]
© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved