Carter bangs the till shut. He taps an order into the touch screen. He takes money from a customer. He counts the dollars, the quarters, the dimes, the nickels, the stinking pennies. He presses the button that shoots the till open. He puts the money into the right slots. He bangs the till shut.
The clinging of coins and rattle of his monitor aren’t satisfying. He’s used to the sound. It rises around him from the other four till workers. It’s the movement of his arm, back and forth, the same feeling he gets when he vacuums his small apartment. It’s the powerful thrust forward that makes something happen. There’s an agency to it that has become better than violence.
He’s tried violence. He boxed at the gym after beating people up in bars didn’t work out well. He did three months in jail that one year, and he never wants to go back. It was a cheap jail, not federal, not one of the places where they invest money for long-term stays. It was a revolving door there, people in and out. There wasn’t any time to make connections, figure out who did favors for who, whether it worked like the movies. He tried to keep his head down, ended up getting the crap beaten out of him anyway. Bruise for bruise, he figured. He started wearing his mother’s old cross necklace when he got out, hoping it would remind him of something. Mostly, he just remembers to feel guilty when he wakes up late on Sunday and realizes that he’s late for work, never mind that he’s missed church too.
There’s a girl now. In front of him. She’s a sweet thing, younger than him, but he always feels like that about any pretty woman, even when she’s his age exactly. He smiles at her. He takes her money. He puts it in the till. He slams it shut. She doesn’t smile back at him. She looks away, swallows, keeps chewing her gum. Carter opens his mouth to ask her name, to tell her his, even though his is written on the name tag on his shirt, but she glances at his mouth, sees the hole where one of his teeth should be and isn’t, and her lips suck in and shuffle sideways on her face in muted disgust. She turns away and walks to the pick-up area to wait for her food. Carter keeps his eyes straight ahead, his lips shut tight.
He craves whiskey and his apartment. He craves a moment alone, without the jingle of commerce and the false music of the mall echoing from beyond the food court. He craves a tooth he lost in a fight that didn’t make him feel better for longer than half an hour. He craves a punching bag. He craves the girl.