The faded conveyor belt slowly chugged along as the employee behind the register rang up items in the local mom n’ pop shop. Alice was fascinated by his monotone voice and pock marked skin. A stoner? She wondered what he ate when he got the munchies from the devil’s lettuce. She would’ve made homemade sweet potato gnocchi. Or perhaps fresh mushroom risotto with plenty of herbs and garlic and parmigiano straight from the cow. She salivated at the thought but also felt the telltale pit in her stomach that had been plaguing her for months now.
Two small kids squabbled with their parents in front of the register over whether they could get candy. Alice wondered why when they already won other battles it seemed. A mountain of Pop Tarts cascaded over the grocery divider bar. Alice imagined that the blue boxes of Tony the Tiger Frosted Flakes would melt the kids’ teeth from the processed cane sugar. Chef Boyardee Ravioli from the can and store brand frozen pizza finished off the mix of foods that would fit somewhere at the top of the food pyramid. Yet they held up the line over whether Reeses Peanut Butter Cups would be a perfect pair with their Yoohoo chocolate milk. Alice remembered her parents made the same mistakes until she took up an interest in what they ate when she hit high school. Morbid obesity would do that to you.
“Next!” the stoner’s voice surprisingly rang out clear and strong from his throat. Alice shuffled forward and placed her shopping basket on the belt in front of him.
“I decided to make dinner tonight,” she said with a smile.
“Good for you,” the stoner said with a bored voice.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve cooked. I thought sushi grade tuna would be a fun comeback.”
“I used to make it all the time,” she said, “I owned a restaurant, you know?”
“Hey Spencer! Look at the TV! It’s that episode of Kitchen Masters!” a girl at the register over interrupted them. She had dyed black hair that washed out her skin. A septum piercing and eyebrow ring finished off the look that caused the frown on the grandma’s face in front of her.
“You’d be very pretty if you took that germ infested metal out of your face!” said the grandma in her craggy old voice.
“Eat it, Grandma,” said Goth Girl. The grandma puffed up with indignation at her poor treatment, grabbed her groceries and managed to stomp out the door with a walker decorated with neon tennis balls for stability.
Goth Girl turned back to Spencer, “you have the remote, right? Turn it up. That’s my shit.”
Spencer grabbed a remote in a cubby underneath the register and turned the volume up so that it swelled down to them.
“You should finish ringing me up now,” Alice said hastily.
“Hold on, this is a good episode.”
Even though the TV hanging precariously down from the ceiling looked miniscule, it was big enough for them to see the commotion occurring on screen. Alice’s face blazed red from embarrassment and shame.
Chef Fournier, the host of the show, normally looked pristine in a crisp black suit and his gray hair shellacked on the sides of his head from crusty hair gel. However, this wasn’t the case at the moment. He was bent over a toilet that was perched just off to the right of the contestants. One of the spotlights shone down from above and illuminated the shitter. There were handles on either side of the lid so that a parent could lift the desecrated bowl and dump out the putrid contents.
The toilet was the shtick of the show. It was what separated it from Iron Chef or Chopped and even added a little humor that the serious Chef Fournier couldn’t provide. If he didn’t like a dish that one of the contestants made, he would humiliate them by flushing the leftovers down the toilet, declaring it, “a piece of SHIT.”
The camera panned over to a chef standing frozen to the spot with a look of horror on her face. She had dull brown hair falling out of a loose bun that dimmed the luster of her piercing gray eyes. She stood motionless, at a loss for words despite the prompting from other contestants.
Spencer’s head shot from the TV screen down to Alice and back up at the TV screen, recognition clouding his face.
“Shit! That’s you!” he shouted. He pointed his finger straight at Alice which anchored her to her spot in front of the register.
The girl with the piercings had a gleeful look on her face since she was in the midst of a bonafide celebrity.
“Oh my god! You’re my idol!” she did a quick once over of what Alice was purchasing, “are you sure you want to get tuna? Wasn’t it mussels that caused that mess?”
Alice thrust her credit card at Stoner Spencer in the hopes that he would ring her up quickly and let her crawl in her hole and die in peace. He slid the card through the machine and she signed as fast as she could. The receipt printed out with her signature and she grabbed her shopping bags to leave.
“I’m printing a copy of this receipt!” said Spencer, “I have an autograph of someone famous!”
Alice walked as quickly as she could out of the store without furthering the scene. She reached her car, dumped the groceries in the passenger seat, sat in the driver’s seat, and dropped her face into her hands from humiliation. She’ll never be able to cook again.