Written Story by Cori-Anne Woodard

A Grocery Store Worker in Covid Times

I am the person at the grocery store who moves the carts around, the person who cleans the bathrooms, the person who helps you shop, the person who drops the shopping baskets in a pile, right by the door, for you, the customer, to pick up and do your shopping. 

I wear the typical blue jeans uniform, work casual, with the bright colored vest so that you can see me. 

But. You don’t.

For the most part, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I was just doing my job, going in to work, every day to the grocery store, as I witnessed the pandemic, and its effects, observing silently, in this town square environment, as you the customer, hoarded toilet paper, chicken, eggs, yeast, anything to make you feel like this was not the end of the world. 

During these dark times, especially at first, when we didn’t know much about this new virus, a sure and silent killer, how it spread, who would get it and why. It was like being in a long, dark tunnel, an endless night, where no one goes to sleep and where no one wakes up, either. 

Every single day, just like the last, no page turns, just the same words, the same sentence, over and over: Is this life, or death? Is this my last day? Is this the day I die alone, in a hospital, nurses hovering over me, like mourning doves, and my friends and family just moving images in a frame on a  tiny cell phone?

One day at work, my manager asked me to stay; he had already approved unlimited overtime. The store had already met last year’s dollar intake, and the day was only half over. I moved into the place at the end of the register and began bagging groceries. Me, on robot mode, now, looking for the end of the line. There was no end. I was sleep-working, opening the bags, putting the suddenly invisible amounts of goods into the countless bags. My arms on autopilot, my eyes unable to comprehend the purchases, my senses acutely aware of the real fear in each customer’s eyes. It was the fear of a wild animal on the hunt. It was the fear of the unknown; the poignant, wretched fear of the loss of control. 

I hoped no one would act out and do anything rash. 

I hoped I wouldn’t get this new, terrible disease. I hoped I would see customers again. And my coworkers, I hoped they would stay well.