The Sliver of Silence
by, 15th August 2013 at 05:09 PM (229 Views)
It was just a normal day on August 14, nothing out of the ordinary. I had gotten to work early that morning, as I often did; Prime worked at 8:30, so that meant I had to be dropped off at my store two hours before the start of my shift. Some thought I was a bit crazy, as they often said they couldn't stand waiting for that long. To me, it was never a big deal--I could eat breakfast, do a little writing, chat with my friends or read the paper before I started. As long as I kept busy, the two hours would fly by. And fly by they did; ten thirty arrived and I officially started my day.
I got my assigned register from the computer at the fitting rooms but headed up front to check with a CSM anyway. Sometimes the assignment that's given isn't what's really needed and I end up elsewhere. As I had thought, I wasn't going to register thirteen. I was actually sent to two. Since we had the district manager in our building, along with a lot of other higher level management, CSM Mary told me to grab customers and keep the lines down. I nodded in agreement--this was something I already knew and did on a daily basis. I trotted to my register and got started.
It was 11:15. I was helping a customer when I hear it: a sudden, thunderous booming sound, much like a large and heavy object falling over and slamming against the concrete floor. A moment later, a thin sliver of silence, as frail and fragile as a snowflake echoed through the building. Then, shattering that uneasy peace came a third and final sound, one that chilled me to the very core of my being.
Have you ever watched the news and seen footage of a grieving mother, wailing over the loss of her children? That piercing, keening cry, the one that signifies a total and complete loss? That wail that signifies death? Have you ever heard that sound? I did. That was the last sound that reached me, that echoed through our store, which now hung heavy over the cash registers and smothered us.
My stomach immediately twisted itself into a knot. Sounds like a shelf fell, I thought, and someone got hurt and hurt badly. I hope they're going to be okay. But I couldn't dwell on it, as I had a customer to help.
A few people stood in front of our liquor store, staring inside. They were quiet; their faces, ashen. The few people turned into a loose crowd, which was joined by some of my co-workers. Then, members of management began to show. I saw Kristen, one of our co-managers race by, a distraught look etched upon her face. Whatever had happened, it was bad.
Customers looked at us and started asking questions. We all tried to answer honestly but we were as confused as they. No one had told us what was going on, whether or not someone was injured and how badly. I began to grow ever more frightened. How bad was this?
Then, the police came. When I saw a uniformed officer walk by, his gun in his holster and his eyes grim, I knew it was severe. This was no ordinary accident. Something truly terrible had happened.
I spotted an associate who worked at the customer service desk. I asked her if she had any idea what was going on. She spoke three words: "Someone's been shot."
My mind reeled. My jaw hung open in shock. This couldn't be happening here; I live in Wisconsin, not New York City! This is something that occurs in urban areas, in dark alleys and broken down warehouses that are used by drug kingpins as storage facilities. It isn't supposed to happen at my place of employment, where we know each other. Guns aren't supposed to infiltrate here. It isn't supposed to happen. This is one of those things that happens to other people, to someone else.
Cold hard fact of life: we are all "someone else" to someone else.
Now I was shaking and trying not to cry. I wanted to go home, to get out of the building. It didn't feel safe anymore. Who could have done this? Was the perpetrator still here? Had I rung up this person's order and wished them a good day before s/he walked over to the liquor store and pulled the trigger? I felt a wave of nausea crash over me. I wanted to race to the restroom and purge my stomach of all its contents.
More customers came and I helped them. They asked what was happening and I repeated the news. I had to tell them that I wasn't sure if it was an employee or a customer who was the victim. I told them I wasn't sure if the shooter had been caught. I told them I didn't know how badly the victim had been injured. I spoke the words as calmly as possible but inside I was shuddering. This just couldn't be happening. It didn't feel real and yet, it felt too real, too intense.
Another cashier walked by. She looked stunned. She said that for the first time in nearly two decades, she'd gone out and smoked a cigarette. I asked her if she knew what had happened and who had been hurt. She spoke a name: "Sharon."
Sharon, with the short blonde hair and the hearty laugh. Sharon, who was friends with nearly everyone. Sharon, who had so many regular customers because of her outgoing personality. Sharon, who wouldn't hurt anyone. She had been the target. My knees buckled. That couldn't be right. It had to be a mistake.
Minutes ticked by, albeit slowly. Every second seemed magnified. At 12:20, another cashier came to my register and relieved me for my first break. I told her what little I knew then stumbled to the breakroom, forcing my legs to move. When I got there, the room was filled with people but they were all quiet. I dove to the storage units, looking for my backpack. I grabbed my cell phone and rushed out of the room.
I sat in the family restroom, dialed my husband's work number and steeled myself for the worst. When he answered, I said, "Hi. I'm okay." His reaction was one of confusion until I explained everything. As I spoke, I tried not to cry. I gave him all the details, everything I knew. He listened and said he was glad I was all right. After I had finished talking to him, I went back to the breakroom to put my phone back in my bag. I spotted Val, who was wiping tears from her eyes. She said she'd come back to work tomorrow, but it was impossible for her to finish today. I couldn't blame her. When I walked into the breakroom, I asked a few co-workers if they knew anything. The word was the shooter had been caught and was female but we had no motive.
No motive. They may as well have told me that this had happened for absolutely no reason at all. As I walked away from the breakroom and towards the sales floor, I kicked the doors that segregated the back of the store from the rest. It was stupid of me and resulted in a sore toe that nagged me for the rest of the day but I did it anyway. I was angry, irrationally angry and had to let it out somehow. The poor door just happened to be the victim.
I was sent to register 11, which was overflowing with an abandoned order. Before I could open up, I'd have to clear off the conveyer belt and take the merchandise to the service desk. As I loaded a nearby shopping cart and started to wheel it away, I heard a sudden crash. I jumped and tried not to scream. A customer had backed his motorized cart into a display that held cans of tea, causing the display to collapse. When I realized that it was nothing, I gave a nervous laugh. Though really, I wanted to burst into tears.
Lunch came. I went to the breakroom to eat. I spotted one of my friends, Jim, reading. He was all right and admitted that he was worried I might have been the one in the liquor store when it happened. I picked at my food, trying to eat something. It wasn't easy, as everything had no flavor. But if I didn't eat anything, I'd only end up feeling sicker.
After lunch, I was assigned to the self check-outs. As I manned them, an associate from bakery asked me, "Is it true? Did you hear that it was Justine who was the shooter?" I could only stare, open-mouthed as I shook my head.
I knew Justine. She had hair longer than mine and always wore a skirt. She wore a lanyard that said "I love Jesus". If she saw a magazine cover she thought was objectionable, she'd flip it around. She was straight-laced and Bible fearing. I couldn't imagine her holding a gun, much less pulling the trigger.
My last break came at 5:30. I locked myself in the family restroom for fifteen minutes, trying desperately to get a hold of myself. Why would someone with such a high morally conscience pull a gun on a fellow co-worker? It had to be a mistake. That was the only explanation. It was a mistake; she had been misidentified.
When I returned to the registers, I spotted Anna, another cashier. I asked her if she had heard the rumor. She nodded then said something that disturbed me: she had seen Justine, her face completely blank and devoid of any emotion, being led away by no less than eight police officers. A second cashier confirmed the story.
For the last thirty minutes of my shift, I was returned to the self check-outs. As I walked there, I spotted a pair of customers who were leaving with their purchases. One of the customers held a cane and walked with a severe limp. Her blonde hair fell to her shoulders. "Cassie?" I called out. The customer, who happened to be a fellow cashier shopping on her day off, turned around, her eyes wide. She raced to me and threw her arms around me, sobbing. I was crying too. I don't think I had ever been so happy to see her in my life. But seeing her, knowing that she was all right took a load off of me.
When 7:30 arrived, I was dismissed. One of the CSMs gave me a brochure that offered counseling services if needed. According to her, I was one of the few that had lasted through the day. Yes, a part of me wanted to leave. I was sick with terror throughout most of my shift. But the far more stubborn part of me said no, as leaving would be giving in to my fears and I'm dead tired of living in fear of anything. However, I was glad to go home though and gladder still to see Prime.
As of right now: Sharon is in critical but stable condition. She lost a lot of blood and needed a lot of transfusions. According to one of the doctors at our local hospital, if she hadn't been attended to so quickly, she would have bled to death. The bullet also caused damage to her vital organs. She's been in surgery once and is expected to undergo more on Friday.
Justine was caught by the police, standing behind a register as if she was simply going back to work on a normal day. She immediately lawyered up. It is believed that the two had an argument before the shooting but the details are still sketchy. She'll be making her first court appearance next week and she's facing charges of intentional homicide. A lot of the cashiers have said that they don't want to work the liquor store anymore. I'm among them. Prime has been particularly adamant about me not going in there again. Personally, I wish they'd shut the damn thing down and wall it off. I don't want to be near that area of the store, much less step foot inside. It might be physically clean, the gunpowder gone and the blood washed away but the memories will still be there. They will always be there.
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