Spring 2011 — THE POTOMAC

Something to Do While He Waited
   C.L. Bledsoe

Someone was waving something green in Javier's field of vision. The person wriggled it in his hand, drawing Javier's attention out of himself. It was money. Cash.

"I bet you haven't seen that in a good long while," a voice said.

Javier looked up into the eyes of Bill, a customer he recognized.

"No," Javier said. "We don't see it much anymore, Mr. Henderson." Javier had an implant in his ear that whispered the name of each customer to him, but he didn't need it, if they were returning customers.

"Can you make change?" Bill asked.

"I think so," Javier said. "We get it every so often." He took the bills. They were crisp but soggy at the same time. This is because they were made, somewhat, of cloth. He wondered if people even remembered that, and shared it with Bill.

"No," Bill said. "I didn't know that."

Javier gave Bill his change and bagged his books. He had to use a special key to open theregister. He was the only one who had one. There was barely enough change to cover it, but Javier doubted he'd need any more. They got cash maybe once a week, if that. Usually from elderly customers like Bill.

"So this is your last day," Bill said, pocketing his change carefully.

"Yes sir," Javier said.

"Guess you had to see it coming. Nobody uses cash anymore. Hell, hardly anybody even goes shopping anymore. Big plans for retirement?"

Javier just smiled. They chitchatted while customers zoomed by in the other aisles, pausing for the millisecond it took the store cameras to scan their purchases and electronically deduct their value from the customers' accounts. A nervous—looking kid tried to come through at one point, but as he passed between the sensors, an alarm buzzed and arcs of electricity froze him. He dropped the merchandise he'd tried to hide in his clothes and the sensor let him go.

Javier ambled over and picked up the item.

"Candy," Javier said, showing it to Bill. "Always candy."

Bill left and Javier closed his register in order to return the candy to the shelf. On his lunch break, he delivered a monologue to the other employees, three or four kids who managed the place and did all the stocking. Everything else was done electronically.

"When I was young, this was my first job. It was everyone's first job," Javier said.

"It's my first job," the store manager said.

"I just wonder what will be your children's first job," Javier said.

"Something with robots," the store manager said. "Robot maintenance."

"Robots will maintain themselves," Javier said. "Your children will have nothing to do."

"Isn't that good?" the store manager asked.

Javier just smiled.

Back on register, Javier watched customers and told stories to anyone who would listen.

"There were lines, in those days. Everything wasn't delivered automatically. You had to wait, sometimes. You learned how to wait."

Occasionally, customers would come and ask for help, and he'd lead them to the products they were too lazy to find for themselves. An hour or so after lunch, the store manager came and closed Javier's register.

"I can't imagine we'll need this anymore," he said.

Javier nodded.

"Just keep an eye on the front," he added.

Javier would've swept, but there were robot vacuums gliding along the floors. He would've washed the windows, but they were self—cleaning. Young people milled around the store—the only reason they even left their homes was because the government encouraged people to walk around and gave them spending bonuses.

"In my day," Javier said, "we went everywhere in cars." Now cars were rare.

It was his last day, and it was almost over, but Javier was still waiting for closure. He thought back to his younger days, when people would storm out of jobs over trivial offenses.

These days, employment was in the hands of the government. When one got a job, one worked it until he or she couldn't anymore. Otherwise, you were labeled anti—social, which meant...well, Javier didn't really know what it meant, exactly, except that it was bad.

The buzzer tolled in Javier's ear. He went around the store, shaking his co—workers' hands. Then he left and walked the two miles to his room. As he passed toll—areas on the sidewalk, lights flashed in his eyes, electronically deducting the tolls from his credit. At his door, a light flashed, deducting his night's rent. He went inside. The walls were dingy plastic.

Someone had carved a name into the wall on one side. It said "Anjy wuz here." Javier liked to stare at it. It was like he was having a kind of conversation with the past. It gave him something to do while he waited.

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