The Grocery Store
by A. Reid Johnson
I take the head of broccoli out of the organized display and hold it up. It is perfect: hydroponically grown, with droplets of moisture still clinging to the florets. I drop it into the compost container and then follow it with the rest of yesterday’s untouched stock, replacing them with indistinguishable fresh items from my cart.
When I finish, I stand back to scan the rest of the produce section. All I see are neatly stacked arrangements of fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything is in its place. I look across the empty store and nod to my coworker over in the meat department. They have also just finished setting up their display. I return to my cart, overloaded with yesterday’s waste, and roll it towards the composter in back. It’s quiet. The only sound is that of the wheels on the linoleum floor. The wheels are catching in the grooves that my cart makes in the otherwise pristine surface, so I make a note to call in the maintenance team to refinish it on their next shift.
I acknowledge the loader, who takes my cart from me, and then I return for one last walkthrough of my section. I scan the empty store. The lighting is adjusted to enhance the mid-range visible spectrum, and the food all looks pleasing to the eye. I wipe my hands on my apron and approach the cleaning station to finish out my shift.
When I am cleaned up and have removed my apron, I head towards the front of the store. The cashier stands, waiting for a customer. We make contact as I move past, but only briefly. I go up to the eighth-floor water taxi stop. The maintenance crew has repaired the small leak I reported yesterday; no water is dripping in from the 5th Avenue side anymore.
It is 5:09 PM when the water taxi arrives, right on time as always. As I step in, I see that the other occupant of the taxi is sitting in their usual spot, thirty-four seats away from my location. I look in that direction, but today do not make contact.
The taxi hums away up the 5th Avenue canal. It is calm today, not much chop. The other occupant of the taxi exits as usual at 42nd Street, but I continue on to my stop at 57th. Everything I can see gleams. Cleaners make their way up and down the buildings, reinforcing the supports and scrubbing the shining windows.
At the dock, I present my access card and make my way inside, descending four flights to the main lobby and the suite of elevators. I head up to my apartment; I make little sound on the plush carpet.
I enter my small room. It isn’t much. I note that the fruit on the table is now overripe, and will need to be changed tomorrow. The bar is fully stocked, as usual. I am ready to entertain any guests, my other primary function.
I pause, remembering my last guests: 218,473 days ago. I make my way to the small window and look out. Facing northeast, I can just make out the borders of Central Lake.
I wait for four hours, but no one comes. I prepare my night routines.
I check the weather forecast for tomorrow; it seems that it will be a nice day. Full sun. Highs in the low 130s. I set my buzzer for 6:15 AM and walk to my recharging port.
Maybe tomorrow the humans will return?
Reid has been writing science fiction for a long time. He normally focuses on space opera and first-contact stories but the creation process is non-linear. He can be found teaching college chemistry most of the time. Find him online at areidjohnson.com.