One person managed to text someone before the phones were collected. A cell phone buzzes. Two or three others buzz randomly every few seconds, but no one pays them any attention.
The manager of the store is being taken to the room where the money gets stored until it can be collected—through an unassuming door behind the customer service desk.
They open the safe with the right combination. The store is insured. The manager sees no reason to try to trick the robbers.
Of course a silent alarm is stationed right where the manager can push it with a casual stance.
“We’re doing this because you need to wake up,” the Man says.
“We’re doing this because you have been exploited. We will not take your money. You earned it. We will take their money because they got it by charging you for things you need in order to live.”
Kira can feel other people rolling their eyes. One of the other robbers returns from locking the sliding doors.
“We will not hurt you. You’re human—just like us. We have no problem with you. This corporation, however, is not human. And we absolutely have a problem with them.”
He hears a contradictory, shape-shifting narrative on the radio as He drives. First it’s robbery. He sees a police car swerve around him. Then it’s a hostage situation. Robbery turned into a “hostage crisis.”
Someone even uses the word, “Terrorists.”
After hearing that, He turns to another station.
“These people are crazy.”
Or so says someone not that far away from her.
She tries to close her eyes and imagine herself somewhere else, as she does when she’s at the office, but instead of seeing a different world where everything is as she would like it to be, she can see the dark backs of her eyelids.
When nothing changes, she looks up into the eyes of the Man in charge and sees that his eyes are calm, like a child’s.
Something must be wrong, she thinks, if I’m on the floor, looking up at this Man with a Gun and I don’t feel anything.
Traffic gets blocked up. He curses because He does not want to wait. He wants to taste Her cooking and drink Her wine. He wants to hold her in the dark.
The music stops as someone on the new station makes a joke about police officers rushing to buy groceries.
He changes the station again. All He wants tonight is Her.
He texts Her so she knows he’s probably going to be late again.
Her cellphone rings among all the others, but the Man with the Gun doesn’t seem to take notice of it. The other robbers are coming out with the bags sold in the store with small parcels of cash inside. One person leads a butcher who’s only just come out of the back to lie down with the rest of them.
By this point, the Man with the Gun has figured out that the police are just outside the store.
“I guess someone invited them to the revolution.” The Man says. It’s half a question and half a statement.
He goes to the manager. “You weren’t going to be hurt; we were just going to take their money. We could’ve just disappeared.”
“I give you the slave mentality, the mind of a born consumer” he says, gesturing at his own head with the gun. “The man who is so owned by his master that he cannot even act in his own self-interest. In spite of all our talk about not hurting anyone or not shooting anyone, we still have a lot more guns than you do. And yet you still ignored my directions because some man in a suit told you it was the best thing to do.”
“Sit on the fucking floor,” the Man with a Gun says. “Turn your face to the wall. I don’t want to look at you.”
She skips out five minutes early.
The minute she leaves the office she feels relieved. When she bumps into someone in the parking lot she just keeps walking, enjoying the increased speed in the echo of her shoes on the cold floor of the lot. There’s a map quickly forming in her mind, a list of things to do, locations to be plotted out.
There should be some wine in the refrigerator.
She has tomatoes, garlic, pepper and salt. She needs tomato paste, olive oil and noodles. And perhaps another bottle of wine, just in case that bottle she remembers turns out to be the phantom of a bottle she drank the week before.
The supermarket is an art gallery regulated into oblivion, specializing in sculpture.
Everything is ordered in just such a way—rows of maneuvered merchandise arranged so that the label is always visible, the price is always clear and the product itself looks its best.
Having nothing to concentrate on, she remembers the time that she turned her apartment upside down and made it glamorous. In time the glamor of the new furnishings departed, and everything new became every-day, as it often does.
She needs something new.
She buys an orchid because she can.
He looks out the window and wonders, as he sometimes does, if She is comfortable with their arrangement. It’s probably not what She wants. No doubt it adds a certain complexity to Her life, in spite of their attempts to keep it simple.
Just as, for Her, He is just that—“He”—She is the same for Him. Just “She.”
He cannot explain his feelings for Her.
In one hour He will be on his way to Her place for pasta, after which they will make love. Then He will wake up, put his clothes on and leave for New York.
The man in front of her has no money. She rolls her eyes as more time passes. The man and the clerk do a little dance of language. Kira looks at her phone two or three times during the exchange. She doesn’t notice what they’re saying to one another.
She doesn’t notice when he starts cursing at the clerk.
She doesn’t notice until he takes out a gun.
She notices when everyone else gets down on the floor and he jumps to the top of the register, standing on the scanner, and he stands over everyone like a king.
At first it seems like he’s just a crazy man, the kind that Tabloids are made for. Now, however, it becomes clear that something else is going on as Kira sees more people walking around with guns. They aren’t security people; they seem like regular customers, only now they’re pointing guns at people in the matching shirts of the grocery store employees.
They keep shouting to get down on the ground and keep your hands visible.
They keep shouting.
Kira feels a small teardrop go down the side of her face out of instinct.
The robbers—for that is what they clearly are, now—don’t touch anyone who is already on the ground with their hands out in front of them. Kira is in a yogic pose, feeling the muscles in her back starting to strain slightly. She lets her legs slide out from under her a little bit so that now she is laying face-down on the cool, tiled floor. The robbers only take an interest in the clerks, the baggers, the checkout staff and the managers, making them open all of the tills. They take out all of the money.
The man in front of her is their leader, or so it seems by the way that the other members of the group act around him. He is the only one who doesn’t have anything masking part of his face—all of the other people have kerchiefs or wear hoodies and dark glasses.
“If you have a cell phone, I want you to put it on the floor in front of you,” he says.
They put their cell phones out. Several people collect them and put them in rows on the floor by the pharmacy counter.
“You’ll get them back when we leave,” the man says. “We just don’t want you talking to anyone outside our little party.”
The group doesn’t make a move for anyone’s wallet or handbag.
Kira thinks that she’s either surrounded by sheep, or by people who are smart enough not to entice the robbers to more aggressive action.
The robbers seem to be coming from all corners.
No one fires their gun. But the threat is there.
Probably being a baby and such. What’s your earliest computer memory?
Kira wakes up early in the morning. She runs her fingers through her hair like a clumsy brush. Some days she wakes up and sees Him lying beside her. Sometimes she wakes up and He has already left.
Today He has already left her.
She goes to the kitchen of her apartment and sees that he left the kettle on. A jet of steam punctures the air with a low whistle as she takes it off of the burner. Before he left, he set out her coffee cup, with two packets of sugar from the Diner resting beside it. There are heavy brown crystals of instant coffee in her cup. It’s the little things that make her love him.
She pours the water and drinks her coffee.
She has work in an hour.
Kira showers. It’s Tuesday, so she doesn’t shampoo her hair. She puts on her underwear. She holds up one bra and then another, debating between the plain, dark black one and the white one with a small fringe of lace around the top of the cups. Or perhaps she won’t wear a bra after all.
She turns on the television. The apartment feels less empty when other voices speak for her. White noise plays on CNN. She slips on her stockings.
There’s a moment where technology fails, and she sees herself reflected in the darkness of the TV screen as she bends over to pull her skirt up to her waist. It lasts three seconds—no doubt someone will be fired for it—but it feels like it lasts even longer.
Kira looks up at the screen out of instinct, hearing the silence invade the world once more. She can see herself as He has seen her a few times, bending over, presenting like an animal.
A commercial break disrupts the silence. The dark screen shoots alive with light.
This is what comes from a life witnessed as live television.
The phone rings.
The coffee cup is emptied.
The keyboard is punched.
The computer turns letters into code.
The code is stored in files.
More typing. More code. More files.
Kira leaves early for lunch. Lunch will be a small stack of peanut butter crackers stolen out of her coworker’s lunch cubby, since she forgot to pack her own.
She checks her email as she eats the crackers, twisting them apart to eat them one by one. He hasn’t written to her yet.
An email flashes across her screen around 4pm. She has a mild headache by then and is eyeing up the Advil bottle she keeps in her desk.
It’s from Him.
“I’m sorry I had to leave early this morning. I had to pack. I’m going to New York tomorrow afternoon. I want to see you one more time. Tonight? Call.”
There’s no signature, no final salutation.
That’s all She needs, in his mind.
He doesn’t even feel the need to use her name at the top of the email. They dispensed with formalities a few months ago.
Jessie tells her not to steal her crackers anymore. Kira barely hears her as she looks at the computer screen, then at her phone; then at the screen once more.
She can taste Him. She can taste His lips on Hers.
She texts him. “Dinner?”
She waits, looking at the reflection of herself in the white page of an open Excel spreadsheet, seeing herself broken into thousands of cells waiting to be filled with numbers.
Jessie doesn’t realize that Kira has tuned out. Or maybe she does and she just wants to rant at someone. Kira is texting, Jessie is droning.
Kira just wants to go home.
He texts her back. “Your place?”
Kira thinks of what she has at home. She can throw together a pasta from the bits and pieces left over. She enjoys cooking for him, it lets her feel like they live together, playing a life of cohabitation in a dollhouse.
“Sure,” she messages back. She debates putting on a smiley face, but it’s too light, too informal; too childish for His taste.