I’m not in CVS.
I’m not in that new Dollar Store.
I’ve made a right turn into hell. A blue, brightly-lit hell.
I stand in the doorway as the auto-doors spring open and close, open and close, as I sway on the spot. Overhead, in the great ether that is the ceiling of this colossal Rite Aid, that song is playing.
Letting the days go
Let the water hold me down
There is no order. It’s a Lovecraftian labyrinth of curved metal aisles and s-shaped formations, so it looks like the entire room is moving back and forth. I see the potato chip aisle, but it is directly by the eye drops. Why? At CVS, chips go near the crackers, and crackers near the wine, and on and on in beautiful order.
“Can I help you?”
I jump, raising my hands to cover my head in case of the rapid crack-crack-crack of gunfire that I always seem to be expecting these days.
It’s not a gun wielding agent of death. It’s a little old lady in a capris and a blue shirt. It says: “Rite Aid!”
More like fuckin’ Wrong Aid, but I can’t argue with the shirt. It is fabric and I am flesh.
I tell the lady: “No, leave me alone,” and it comes out harsher and meaner than I intended. She jolts like she’s been shot, so I start looking for a hidden sniper, perhaps perched on the Wendy’s across the street.
The old lady stomps away. I watch her go, wondering if she is the only employee in this cavern of evil.
My ribs seem to be squeezing my chest, and I freeze all forward motion to consider this. It occurs to me that I have not even left the rubber mat in front of the doors, and already this has been more exhausting than any other thing I’ve done ever.
I make my feet move. I start walking through the store. The only reason I got off the bus and trudged into Rite Aid was for eye drops. My eyes hurt all the time lately. When the police find my body, the coroner will say: “Eye pain. That’s what got him.”
I can’t find the “Fix your eyeball” section. I look for the signs, the hanging signs that indicate where things are in a convenient, accessible fashion.
But these signs are bullshit.
For example, Aisle 7 to my left, is apparently the “paste” aisle. The sign reads like this:
There’s no paste in that aisle. It’s full of old Halloween candy. Bags of Dum-pops and Tootsie Rolls.
Aisle 12 thinks it’s a fucking comedian.
Your Mother Your Mother
Aisle 17 is just a bunch of hieroglyphic-esque symbols, like they smashed a keyboard until it wrote something out. Like this:
I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’m just the narrator.
“Can I help you find something?”
I jump again, my elbow striking a sunblock display and sending a cardboard bikini model flying. Bottles of sunblock split open and ooze their white blood. I stare at it, feeling very ill.
It’s not the old lady. It’s Ali. He’s standing there like an angel in red, a CVS guardian. In his hand is a packet for a new CVS card. His unshaven face and light smile are like balms on my sunburnt brain.
“Ali,” I whisper, hoarsely, for I am a dying man in a desert of cold tile. “Eye drops. Where are the eye drops?”
He hands me a package of eye drops. A double package.
He nods, but now he’s looking around, like I do when I’m worried about snipers. I search too, and notice that the walls are shaking slightly. I hear a dull growl from beneath my feet, and I understand.
Rite Aid is a monster.
We make for the door, Ali and me, me and Ali, two pals, two buddies, out fighting the bad drugstores, but something fast and perfume-smelling smashes into us. Ali crashes into the magazines, and I fall into the double doors. They open, then close on my leg, locking me in place.
The old woman. She stands over me, like a hunter about to do a mercy kill, which is understandable because I’m unsure how I’ve survived this long.
Just as she’s about to strike with her arthritis riddled claws, Ali arises like the glorious phoenix that he is, and kicks the woman between her legs.
As we run into the darkness of the night, we hear the trembling howl, and for a moment I can see the true form of Rite Aid. It’s an all-consuming horror, a galaxy sized tape worm that swirls with the spiral arms of the Milky Way, slowly swallowing everything.
And then it’s gone. Ali grabs me under the arm and helps get me to the bus stop. He hands me a fistful of change and then the packet for a new CVS card.
“We want you back,” he says.
I don’t know what to say. I turn over the packet and look at the info I need to fill out. “Ali, I don’t have an email address.”