INT. — PUBLIX GROCERY STORE — LATE AFTERNOON
A global virus has laid waste to a once-supple planet. In order to obtain survival supplies, citizens must designate one family member to patronize the local supermarket, where new protocols rule the day.
AVERAGE SHOPPER enters through a post-apocalyptic glow. She wears a face mask and blue latex gloves.
CART BOY wipes down each shopping wagon. His fatigue is palpable. He is in charge of relaying the newest precaution introduced by Publix, the largest grocer in the Land of Corona.
CART BOY: We have one-way aisles. So you don't get lost.
AVERAGE SHOPPER tries to thank CART BOY but her voice is muffled by the mask, and it sounds like...
AVERAGE SHOPPER: Phramp pru
Strips of blue tape litter the linoleum, directing shoppers. But there are no arrows in the produce section. Citizens can roam freely here, crossing in close proximity. It confuses AVERAGE SHOPPER. She does a dance with MAN IN TANK TOP near the tomatoes.
MAN IN TANK TOP: Oh, sorry, I just...
AVERAGE SHOPPER: Npoph, go maphed.
Overhead, music plays. (TRACK 1: "BROKEN WINGS" BY MR. MISTER)
AVERAGE SHOPPER enters "international and kosher" heading south. People pass on her left, breezing by closely. She feels their air as she grabs salsa. She sighs and wonders, is this really any safer?
WOMAN IN ELECTRIC WHEELCHAIR approaches. HUSBAND is with her. They are irritated with each other.
HUSBAND: Which way are you going?
WOMAN IN ELECTRIC WHEELCHAIR reverses, the beep from her device echoing off the tahini and coconut milk. She heads backward into a crowd of one-way shoppers.
ANNOUNCER: Please help us by staying 6 feet apart and following the one-way arrows. We're all in this together.
AVERAGE SHOPPER heads into the bread aisle, tense. Her grocery trip used to be the highlight of the week. Now she must speedily choose items so as not to slow the one-way line. No time to compare prices or read ingredients.
NERVOUS SHOPPER stays three alligators' length behind, impatient. WRONG-WAY SHOPPER pushes through with reckless disregard.
Tumult reigns in the meat area where there are no arrows. People gather around boneless chicken breasts.
AVERAGE SHOPPER tries to say, "Can I just scoot past you?"
AVERAGE SHOPPER: Pahn I phust toosh fast phu
She smiles, but no one can decipher smiles anymore. Crinkled eyes framed by a forehead and a mask only appear hostile. She lowers her gaze.
Overhead, music plays. (TRACK 2: "KISS ON MY LIST" BY HALL & OATES)
In the paper goods aisle, shelves sit empty. The toilet paper was gone by 11 a.m. because in the Land of Corona, it is an icon of the resistance.
AVERAGE SHOPPER heads to the register and assumes her tape line. She places a box of wine on the belt. Behind a sheet of plexiglass, CHECKOUT WORKER glances at her identification card, though her face is mostly obscured. CHECKOUT WORKER holds up a shallot.
CHECKOUT WORKER: Is phis a smallosh?
AVERAGE SHOPPER: Yesh.
BAGGER loads supplies and steps back six paces. His eyes are weary.
BAGGER: Can I help you out with these?
AVERAGE SHOPPER shakes her head no. She knows she can't accept. Sharing inane details of the day with a friendly BAGGER while he loads sacks into the trunk is no longer an option, not in the Land of Corona.
She pushes her cart into the haze.
Stephanie Hayes is a columnist at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. Follow her at @stephhayes on Twitter or @stephrhayes on Instagram.
Photo credit: igorovsyannykov at Pixabay