“How the Interplanetary War Began” by Erin Fitzgerald

Nov 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Prose

For a few days, there were big photographs in the front windows. Pictures of a full parking lot, trees, and sunny skies. Two days after the store opened, the District Manager sent a bulletin: Take them down. After that, we’d look outside and see the heavy green clouds and low slumping tan hills. Lizzie said it looked a little like Arkansas. We were all quieter after that.

The customers were gray and mostly naked. We got used to that after a couple of weeks. Every other purchase was a scrunchy because they liked to decorate their tails. With everything else in the store, they’d open and close their hands while we rang it up. Our manager Kristen said that’s how they laugh. They also ate lip gloss out of the container, but so do five year old girls on Earth.

Then the Northwest regional district — which included the Ymir store, all the other regions already had twelve stores each — had a contest for most Claire’s Customer Card signups. The prize for managers was a trip to Las Vegas.

That contest turned Kristen into a major bitch. “This is what our translator nametags are for, ladies!” She snapped her day planner shut and glared at Lizzie and me. “Just because our customers aren’t always clear on how money works doesn’t mean they don’t come back!”

The contest prize for associates was a watch.

We were supposed to be the cream of the crop — the best employees Claire’s could give a store that was 20 light years away from the others. In reality, we just had to be with the company for five years, and write an essay about why we wanted the transfer. That ruled out a lot of associates.

At lunchtime Kristen covered for each of us while we ate. She hated that even more than she hated how much we didn’t care about watches. Lizzie went to lunch, and she had to come out from the back room. That was the rule, two people on the floor at all times. It’s probably still the rule.

“Thank you for shopping at Claire’s!” Kristen shouted at a customer wearing a blue rag. “Would you like a Claire’s Customer Card? It is only fifteen credits and it will save you credits the next time you visit.”

The customer said the same thing through Kristen’s translator name tag that customers said through Lizzie’s and my translator name tags when we tried to sell a Claire’s Customer Card. THANK YOU. PLEASE CLARIFY SENTENCE.

“This is such bullshit,” Kristen muttered.

I started adjusting the sunglasses rack so she didn’t see me laughing. A minute or so later, the customer stepped in front of me — and I realized I’d seen it in the store a few times before. Along with a blue rag, it was wearing a watch. Customers understood necklaces, some seemed to like rings. But they all opened and shut their hands like crazy at watches.

“Welcome to Claire’s,” I said into my nametag. “May I help you?”

The customer didn’t even wait for the translation. “Errrrsss.” It raised its arm toward the Ear Piercing Station, by the front window.

The only person who ever used the Ear Piercing Station at the Ymir store was me. Lizzie got a new piercing every time her name tag translated a swear word. She had six. The last time, we argued for half an hour first about whether the customer had said they wanted to spit.

“Are you sure?” I asked Blue Rag with Watch. Then, Kristen was at my elbow. She knew the same thing I did. The Northwest regional district was offering a special discount on Claire’s Customer Card, with the purchase of ear piercing and starter earrings.

“Of course you are sure!” Kristen said to the customer. “We have a special deal today. You will save money.” She stretched her hand to the Ear Piercing Station. The two of them walked over to it, arms still out.

“It will hurt,” I said. But their backs were to me, and I don’t think it could hear my name tag anymore.

I took a deep breath, and went to get the hand sanitizer.


Erin Fitzgerald lives in western Connecticut, and at http://www.rarelylikable.com. Motorist behavior is much more civilized
in the latter.

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