An excerpt from I'm Not Her
It’s a Tuesday like any other when I stop in the Shop N Save to grab the weekly donuts for the staff meeting. I’m not invited to the staff meeting, but that’s not the point. I’m only an assistant claims adjuster. Truth be told, I don’t really adjust anything, except everyone else’s paperwork. I don’t eat donuts either, too much sugar, white flour, and fat.
Waiting in line, I study Leann, like I always do. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by her. Sometimes you can’t divert your eyes from things that repulse you. The back of the cashier’s stand cuts into her butt, dividing her in two and causing her fat to pile on the stand like newspapers waiting to be delivered. That can’t be comfortable. It must leave lines on her skin the same way my lawn chairs tattoo the back of my thighs.
Leann’s stringy, dirt-colored hair usually hangs in her face, but some days, like today, she pulls it back on one side with a tiny pastel-colored plastic barrette, the kind my mother uses on her Shitzu. Her teeth are straight, but yellow, and the only makeup she wears is a garish green eyeliner.
Leann calls for a price check and waits, picking at her nails. I don’t have time for this. I’m already late. I’d skip it, except the donuts make everyone else at the office somewhat indebted to me. The fashion magazines catch my attention, and I mentally compare myself to each of the cover models. I look up to see Leann roll her eyes at the nervous woman who says she doesn’t need the olives anyway so forget the price check.
When the man in front of me steps up, Leann nods at him. He teases her. It’s charitable flirting. I arrange my groceries on the belt and smile blandly at the man as I reach over his groceries for a plastic divider. He looks me over appraisingly and starts to say something, but is cut off by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” a telling ringtone for a balding white man.
I’m not certain of the next chain of events. I remember Leann wrestling with the change drawer. She can’t slip the credit card receipt in the slot because something is blocking it, so she begins shaking the machine to shift the contents. The oversized metal Valentine’s Day card attached to the lane pole begins to sway as Leann’s bulk rattles the cash register. Sometimes events happen in slow motion and your brain freezes and you simply watch the train wreck or the car accident as it happens, never moving to avert disaster. I see something large crash towards me. I wonder briefly why I don’t move out of the way. Then everything goes black.
I feel a funny floating sensation, like I’m a balloon lifting off. I see the nasty linoleum grocery store floor receding from view, and it’s all eerily surreal until a powerful surge, kind of like the time I touched the static ball in physics class, rushes through me and I’m slammed back to reality.
When the grocery store comes back into focus, something has shifted. I’m standing behind the register, which is crazy because I can see myself clearly lying on the floor as blood pools around my head. The manager kneels next to my body frantically stuffing magazines under my head. I know I’m not dead because I hear my own voice asking, “What happened?” No one answers. A small black guy appears next to my body and says, “Shit!” in a voice that seems more annoyed than horrified, before picking up the Valentine’s display that inflicted this trauma.
As I watch myself, all I can think is the blood is ruining my newest Anne Taylor jacket and I’m not doing anything to prevent it. I’m just lying there growing whiter. But then I realize I’m not lying there, I’m standing here. To verify this fact I look down at my hands and notice that they have deep creases at the wrists. I shiver and try to refocus. My head is pounding, and as I bring my hand to my head, I’d almost swear I brush by boobs. I’ve never been more than a 32A, so the shelf I encounter doesn’t make sense. But then again, none of this makes sense because how can I be standing here with a throbbing head if I’m lying on the ground covered in blood?
I try to move, but I’m trapped in the cashier stand. When I turn to get out, I feel my stomach press against the bars from the bag rack.
Another checkout clerk, the older one with the mustache whose hands always shake when she bags groceries, looks right at me and says, “You alright, Leann? That Valentine display clocked her good, huh? Lotta blood. Guess it weren’t attached to that pole so tight.”
This cannot be happening. Somehow I’m trapped in the body of Leann, and that doesn’t make sense. I need things to make sense. I’m a practical person. I don’t read science fiction; I don’t believe in God; and I’m not the least bit superstitious. I’m in control of my life, my future, and most certainly, my body. This cannot be happening.