Charlotte San Juan

Photography by VA Smith

The Real Stories Stand in Line
 
 
It hits you as you’re standing in line at the down­-the-­street CVS pharmacy. The disheveled bun of the cashier, her face being held together by Cover Girl powder and sixty years of wear and tear. You see her smacking her gum, eyes rolling back into her head. She wants to yawn herself into a coma.
 
“Next.”
 
The people in front of you, a woman with long braids, long toes and six kids playing with wrappedpastries and fifty cent toy dinosaurs that are chokeable--­­they scoot up, throw a few 2 liters of Diet Pepsi and a box of diapers that has been sat on, on the small counter space crowded with foiled Lindt chocolate balls and overpriced breath mints. One of the kids pockets a green lighter. You snicker.
 
“Next.”
 
The guy behind you, an old Filipino biker with American flags and Filipino flag patches sewn on hisleather jacket sleeves tilts his head at you, gives you the good ol’ up-­down. You look down at yourmoccasins and the 36 rolls of shrink wrapped toilet paper you cradle in your arms.
 
“Will this be all?”
 
This is pathetic. The toilet paper, that is. And so are you, maybe. But then again, we all are. Thecashier is probably waiting to dildo-­herself in the car after a long shift of restocking pregnancytests and potato chips. The ratty, mid­-aged single mother (you’re guessing) with the snot nosedsquadron--she’s yet to boil a pot of hot dogs, on top of which she has to scour the toilet and sink, both somehow shit­-stained. Then, just maybe when all the kids are slumped in one hibernating pile under the blue glow of a muted television lullaby, she gets out of the bottle of Cazadores from beneath the sink, nearly mistaking it for the fat round bottle of Drano, and laughs a little like the sound of coins being rattled in a metal cup. She’ll take it to her bed, the tequila, for two shots and a chapter out of some steamy grocery-­store paperback, where men with long hair but not long toes, ride stallions and sweep maidens off their bare feet for a castle life with someone else to shit-­stain scrub for her. Some bimbo governess to teach her kids French and sleep with her long-­haired hero--­­ which she wouldn’t mind­­--because she’s not scrubbing floors, she’s eating caviar and laughing into champagne glasses.
 
You put the toilet paper down, this plastic pyramid of obstruction. You lose sight of the cashier and the cartons of cigarettes behind her dirty-­blonde head. You want to laugh as she fumbles aroundwith your mound of toilet paper. You want to laugh and you also want to cry.
 
“Let me get a pack of Black and Milds,” you say out of nowhere. You look back at the Filipino biker.
 
“Cigars, huh?” As if this changes his opinion of you, or what toilet­-papery thoughts of you were being kept beneath the dirty mattress of his mind. You see arms fumbling for the top shelf carton of little cigars­­--cigars you used to smoke all the time with that group of friends you’ve left behind in spots of midnight memory and the bubble of bong smoke, in the folds of couches and in the ripples of freezing pool water dressed in the fragmented fabric of fallen leaves.
 
You nod at the biker man, deciding that he is quite harmless. He has the face of a twelve year oldboy with mild tweaker habits.
 
“Yeah, these things take the taste of a shitty day out of your mouth.”
 
“You want the wine flavor?” asks the mound of t.p rolls.
 
“Yes, that’s fine. Thanks.”
 
You pay. You walk through the automatic door with your head held high and the unbagged monstrosity of ass­-wipe fabric awkwardly clutched in front of you, in a pregnant fashion. This leaves you at a waddle-­pace, and grungy high school kids at the next door pizza joint see you and snicker. In their ripped, thrift store jeans and bomber jackets, in their ‘on-­purpose’ fuck­-head bed hair, their grimy pus-­bubbled skin, they see the mound of paper as a submission to society, a conformity ofsubject A, Jane Doe, who has become reduced to nothing but a vehicle of the perpetuation of bodilyfunctions, some inescapable reality of normality that for now they laugh at because toilet paper for them, is always on the roll. For them, even if their parents throw books at them or call them fuck tards, somebody is still buying the milk and cereal. The hot dogs and fall­-apart buns. Somebody is still buying the toilet paper.
 
This makes you remember the woman with the long hair and the congregation of small children at her heels. This makes you think of her hands and knees, chapped and worn from detergents and sponge scrubbing, masterbating to the idea of Mr. Clean coming out of the bottle and doing all the work himself while she watches that soap opera with a bag of knock­-off brand oreo cookies between her squash thighs.
 
You’re in the car now. You almost want to strap the toilet paper rolls into the passenger seat, but you don’t know what the joke would be, or the punch line. This moment deserves some great punchline, but it fails you as you sit there in the small glow of your little wine­-cigar, puffing right into your steering wheel as the smoke takes hold of your hair and your insecurities and as evidence of another bad habit--­­the first bad habit being that unreasonable pull to hold something to you and squeeze it until it runs out of life.
 
The cold coffee cup of nearly two weeks ago gets emptied out onto the paved lot in a splash ofsamurai­-blood letting, something about the gesture is so artful and romantic in its slaughter. Youtip some ash into the mouth of the cup, letting it soak in the saliva of coffee drippings.
 
“We are both full of it.”  You tell this to the cup. To the toilet paper. They listen. The scent of misery is wine cigar. And partial self­-pity; partially the animal inside you wanting to eat fire and ash and paper and turn into a smoldering pile of words smeared on a window or left as a bookmark in a heavy unread book spelling out: Forget it, then.
 
And maybe the lady with the six or seven kids would find that book and pick it up and start wherethe bookmark left off. Or maybe the high school kids would eventually reach nirvana outside oftheir microcosmic pep­-rally rebellion. Or the Filipino biker with the beat up baby face would glance through the pages and shrug, not understanding what was meant by the bookmark, wondering what exactly it was he should forget. Or maybe the dildo­-toting drug store cashier in her blue apron would put a price tag on it, this figurative book. It’d say: Clearance-­$0.99. And it’d sit next to the toilet paper, its white trash third cousin. And nobody would pick it up, which means nobody would remember just exactly what they were supposed to forget.