The shape of the convenience store slammed into the night, a temple of exotic light and hollow promises. Warm haze flickered around its contours, the buzz of neon against granite dusk. I bathed myself in the vivid colour as it played restlessly amongst the hot dust of the parking lot, the dying embers of a cigarette still glinting in-between my fingers. The sky, fierce concrete dirty with the orange tint of sunset hung close overhead, the clouds alive with static as they twisted and turned in the grip of the winds. Letting the final wisp of smoke curl up across my face, I dropped the stub, and crushed the tiny firefly with the heel of my boot.
A radio blared somewhere within the store, saccharin music bleeding out through the front doors. Against the emptiness of the night, it was little more than another layer to the background hum. Still, I listened, as the doors hissed open, and my first footsteps into the store echoed off the glittering tiles. It was something to distract me from the ambient sounds of my own body; the beating of my feeble heart, the saliva circulating my mouth, the whisper of my lungs as I breathed in the cold supermarket air.
A pair of dark eyes, the colour of burnt amber watched me from behind the counter. The cashier stood there, stock still aside from those two glistening spheres, a bizarre flesh idol encased in a shrine of brightly coloured offerings. I stared back, unflinching under his gaze. Eventually, his purple rimmed scrutiny bored me, and my view flickered away, onto the television monitor that hung above his head.
There on the screen was a black and white reflection of the shop interior, scarred with static and transmission lines. In the centre my grinning face danced among the analogue snow, a gurning puppet paraded through the spotless aisles.
Onwards I went, undeterred by the security camera watching me, deeper into the bowels of the air conditioned maze. Chlorine and cleaning products were heavy in the air, the stench of fictional flowers clung to the artificial breeze. I tasted it warily, as it washed the warm afterglow of spent tobacco from the back of my lungs.
I soon came to the coolers at the back of the store. Foreign eyes stared back at me through the crystal glass. They belonged to a deer on its first meeting with the predator, and yet they were mine. I stared back, pulling my face into a wide smile in an attempt to spook my reflection. My grip on the handle tightened, and with one swoop of my hand, I banished the apparition in the glass as quickly as it had appeared.
Cold spilt out over my chest, piercing the thin t-shirt that clung to my skin, and tickling my nerve endings. I plunged an open hand into the frigid air, and snatched a cheap soda from the streets of coloured bottles. Nothing to it. With some interest, I stared at the label, the painstakingly printed words and letters, engraved in black in the plastic. The words meant nothing to me, alien and foreign in my mouth.
With the bottle in my hand, smiled up at the camera that watched from the corner, its glass eye silent and disapproving. I stared deeply into the eye, meeting it with my own, suddenly aware of its gaze upon my skin. In its view, I made the first tentative movements away from the cooler, leaving the door wide and gaping open, leaving the cold to spill and run through the aisles like a mountain stream.
I returned to the cashier, my soda cradled in my arms. Small rivulets of condensation ran down the plastic, like tears. Beneath it, the black liquid was alive with motion, with the kick of carbonation.
“Good evening.” He murmured eventually, eyes solidly fixed on mine. The rows tiny white teeth were visible behind the bastion of his lips, shining in the fluorescent lights, and beyond them, the back of his throat, a raw brilliant red.
“Hello.” The shock of my own voice sent the hairs on the back on my neck quivering, as if imbued with a will of their own. They seemed to want to pull up their roots, and flee the meat architecture they called home.
“Yes.” I handed him the soda, and he passed it over the barcode scanner. I went to my jeans for the wallet. It wasn’t in the left pocket, so I tried the right, and sure enough, I found it. Worn leather, cracked and smudged by a thousand touches. Inside, my driving licence looked forlornly out at me, a pallid face and damp eyes. I brushed over it, instead removing the last two dollars, and placing them down on the counter in front of the cashier. He looked down at the money for a few seconds, his teeth gritted. Eventually he looked back to me, and took the money. I smiled widely back at him, and slightly, nigh imperceptibly, he recoiled at the wet reveal of my many teeth.
“Thanks.” I whispered as he handed me back the soda, my smile still so very wide. I could see him urgently flicking his eyes up to the cameras, as if they motionless machines were his guardian angels, perched up in the crevices and dark corners, watching all those who crossed his path.
“Have a good evening.” I nodded in acknowledgement of the pleasantry, and unscrewed the top of the soda. Unblinking, never taking my eyes from him, I took the first sip. Harsh chemical fluid hit my throat, burning and stinging. I didn’t waver, and neither did the cashier. I finished a good third of the bottle, and licked my lips dramatically for him to see. The final flourish of the performance.
I was finished. With one last, ever-so-wide smile to the man behind the counter, I sent myself clicking from the store. The automatic doors yawned open lazily, revealing the night in all its close detail. Across the dust I walked, glancing back only once at the building as it faded into the tapestry of shadows.