Round and Round

The cashier at the end of the world makes a cardboard nest in the grocery store break room, sleeps there covered in crinkling tinfoil blanket. She goes up and down the aisles, she reads all the greeting cards, she plays with the end-of-season clearance hula hoops. She can make them go round and round for ages, she thinks it is ages, thinks it could be hours, could be days, thinks you spin me right round, baby, and sometimes she laughs and sometimes she doesn’t.


Some days, the cashier goes out the front door. She has propped it open with the sturdy rug, remembers how strange it was the first time she stood in front of it and it didn’t open, remembers how strange and quiet it was.

Some days, the cashier stands on the front sidewalk in the sun, like she used to do as a girl when the final bell rang at school, step out into the light, the fresh air, breathe it in, breathe it in. The cashier stretches her arms out at her side, tilts her head. The sun on her face feels like the old days.

She thinks I miss the old days, goes back inside, walks up and down, up and down the aisles.


In the old days, the cashier worked the night shift, wore a blue apron with pockets. She was always finding things in the pockets at the end of her shift, dots of sugar, paper scraps, a curled-up leaf.

How did this get there, she always said, and Carl, the night bagger, would always shrug in reply. Carl had just gotten out of prison and had a hula girl on his chest that he could make dance by flexing his pecs. Carl was ten years older than the cashier and wanted to take her to Disneyland.

That teacup ride, you know? he said.

The cashier imagined riding in a teacup, round and round, leaning into Carl and his hula-girl chest, spin and spin and spin.

I know, she said.


The cashier tries the phone at the meat counter, in the back office, in the break room, the floral department. She holds silent heavy handsets to her ear, says hello? says, hello, hello, I’m here, is anyone else here?

She digs through the pockets of her blue apron. She finds a dime, a snapped rubber band, a paper match torn from its book.

She drops them, one by one, onto the grocery store floor.


Once, the cashier had Bagger Carl over to her place. He gave her a ride after work, when she’d missed the last bus from counting and recounting her till for the manager. He had a little Japanese motorcycle, and the cashier wrapped her arms around his waist. She remembers how everything went past so quickly, how it felt like a horizontal falling.

How was it, he said at her door.

I thought I might die, she said, and he laughed. She invited him in then, for the sound of his laughter, for the way his helmet smelled when he put it on her head.

He took off his shirt and made his hula girl dance, took her hand and spun her till she was dizzy, till the room looped and looped around her.

When he leaned in to kiss her, she thought, I could really like him, closed her eyes.

The cashier remembers paper or plastic, the cashier remembers would you like to donate to the children’s hospital, the cashier remembers Carl liked to tell a joke about a dead giraffe: that’s not a lion, that’s a giraffe.


When the world was ending, the cashier pushed her couch in front of her apartment door, hid in the shower stall. It was still damp in there from the leak that drip-drip-dripped. Her feet were wet and cold. She pressed a washcloth to her face.

Afterward, she went to the grocery store, walked for hours to the grocery store. She thought she might find a little Japanese motorcycle, hoped she would find, that she and Carl would run away together into the end, into Disneyland. She went inside, calling his name.

There was a purse on the floor in one of the aisles. The cashier scooted it aside with her foot and it spilled over, tissue packet, checkbook, lipstick tube rolling away. She pulled a quarter out of the wallet, set it spinning on the floor. Watched it turn, round and round and round.

CATHY ULRICH used to work at a grocery store. Her work has been published in various journals, including Adroit, Wigleaf and Forge Lit Mag.