The pre-Thanksgiving business swamped the Bullseye Superstore, shopping carts bumping into each other in every aisle, packed with food and entertainment. I ripped open a case of macaroni and cheese to stock the shelf when the message of doom came over the speaker.
“Benny to register three.”
The guys working the shelves with me stopped and gave me the raised eyebrows. “No freakin’ way,” I said. “Get back to work.”
I zigzagged through customers to the front and tracked down Jamal, the manager. Register lines were about five customers deep. He was fixing some error on register eight.
“Dude,” I said. “You can’t expect me to go on register three.”
He didn’t even look up. “Yes I can. Yes I do.”
“But you know—”
“Look at this place,” said Jamal. “We need every register open.”
But… but you know—”
“Yes. I know.” He pointed down toward three. “Now.”
I pulled the register key from my pocket and walked that way.
No one knows why register three is the way it is. Maybe the building was built over sacred Indian ground and that spot was the magic nexus of all shamanism. Maybe a UFO landed there and ripped open a conduit to another dimension. Perhaps the Phoenix burnt to ashes there for the last time, never to rise again except to torment Bullseye cashiers.
What we did know is that a cashier at that station heard all the thoughts of his customers, sometimes for days. With great trepidation, I turned the key, logged in, and flipped on the light. Customers immediately peeled off other rows to fill mine.
The first guy to come through thought mostly about hockey, so it was gibberish to me, anyway. The couple after him chatted about some friend’s pool party, so most of their thoughts were in the open. It was more or less an echo in my head. The next lady thought about how happy her beloved cat, Dixie, was going to be with kippers.
So far, nothing outrageous, but the noise factor was making my head reverberate. Lucky the cash register does all the math.
Then came Jose. I learned more about Jose in one minute than I know about every member of my family combined. He sulked about his wife harping on him to rebuild their front porch when he needed to spend time drumming up business for his website development company. He thought in painstaking detail how her voice clanged harshly on his ears, picking at him at every moment of the day to pick things up, take things down, call the power company, get rid of the second phone. Blah, blah, blah, but most of all, rebuild the porch!
Quite frankly, Jose seemed like a real wimp not standing up to his wife, but I’ve never been married, so what do I know? But the thing was, after holding it in so long, his resentment and irritation was so intense, it made me want to crawl out of my skin. I fully expected him to freak out and kill everyone in the line with a can of beets and a banana.
I could still read his thoughts a half hour later, and he barely restrained himself from throwing a caramel machiato in a barrister’s face. In the meantime, everyone else’s voices kept popping in my head: ‘I hope this doesn’t bust my budget.’ ‘I wonder if she’d like them with gummy worms instead of glitter.’ ‘God will straighten it all out.’ ‘I hate my fingers. They’re fat, and the knuckles are wrinkly.’
Gregor overtook them all. Gregor was a muscle head, but as insecure as a high schooler with runaway acne. He mewled about no one taking him seriously, that he was really respectable and even owned a necktie. He wanted very badly to get into the Stanislov Golf Club, but you could only join by invite.
As far as I could tell, he was a real dandy trying to get into a good-old-boys club. He was a better fit for the tea club down the way, but his whining was oppressive, going on and on about how they didn’t appreciate him even after building their storage shed. He had no way to reach out to them. I wanted to reach out and choke him.
He was a lingerer, too. Gregor’s and Jose’s thoughts still jangled around in my head, and I could barely focus on dragging food over the scanners, let alone typing in produce codes. Ugh.
More people’s thoughts kept streaming through: ‘Is this guy really going to use all those coupons in this line? I’ll bet he’s going to write a check, too.’ ‘If I ask mom for a Snickers, she won’t buy me one. But if I don’t ask, she won’t know I want one.’ ‘That lady’s produce smells like toe jam.’
Lela was the next one to overwhelm me. It’s bad enough that I heard the song ‘Layla’ continuously in my mind after finding out her name, but she was screaming mad about some hackers that brought down her ‘Poodle Play Date’ website. She was vicious, and humanity felt like a complete mistake after thirty seconds of it. She rehearsed how she was going to present it to the girls at Stanislavs. They’d be so smug about it, but she’d prove how tough she was with lawsuits! Lawsuits!
She was going on about the hackers’ inferiority to exrement when I put it together.
Web developer needs porch built—carpenter needs invite to Stanislav—Stanislav member needs website fixed.
Holy cow! Maybe some good would come of this. By virtue of the telepathy, I knew each of their telephone numbers. With a quick couple of calls I told them to meet at nearby Quincy’s Pub—a place I knew they would all three like—and told them they would be able to help each other.
A half hour later, the three loudest voices in my head reduced to a distant murmur. I mostly just heard the people going through line.
‘Why do I have to have a card to show I’m loyal?’ ‘Wow, she’s hot.’ ‘Is that a mole on her nose, or are ugly brown nose studs a thing now?’
I chuckled and handed a customer his receipt. As he walked away, I said, “Go Big Red.”
“Hey. How’d you know?”