Spool Five


Note: This was a draft I wrote a few years ago. Not sure where I was going with it, but it appears to have been heavily inspired by Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes.

A store is closing. A mother, her daughter and her son race to get all the shopping done before it closes. There will be some kind of catastrophe if they don’t make it (and also if they do make it).

Have you ever seen a child lost in a supermarket?

No. I don’t think so.

It used to happen a lot. Back when I was working security at MART.

Yeah, I forgot you used to be a security guard.

I wasn’t really a guard though. I was more like analysis. The security systems were mostly automated at that point. Remember those? Anyway, I just has to sit in a small room monitoring a feed. There were two screens. One with some data streams, and one that cycled through the building’s one hundred and forty or so cameras. Each camera feed would flash for three seconds, then change. The computer itself was watching all the feeds at once of course.

So what was the point of you then?

I’m not sure, actually. Mostly just updating and restarting different parts of the system when they needed it. Maybe once every few days. The rest of the time I just stared at the security camera feed. I couldn’t even interact with it. Just watch each screen click by. Some were just of the storage rooms. It was just robots moving boxes around. They were fun to watch though.

So that second monitor was there just to entertain you?

Probably, yeah. Anyway, the MART stores where huge, remember? And quite tightly packed. Like a maze. So it wasn’t too uncommon for a kid to get lost.

Sure, I can remember what they were like.

Mostly, the other customers wouldn’t even pay attention to lost kids. That always shocked me. Was it always like that? Didn’t people used to help the kids find their parents or something? Like, take them by the hand and take them to the checkouts.

Yeah, and then someone would announce that a kid was missing its parents or something. That’s probably why those people didn’t help the kids.

Why’s that?

Well, by then there weren’t any people at the checkouts any more, right? What were you supposed to do? Wander around those huge places with a random kid looking for some parents?

Well, yeah. Why not?

You’re the ’analyst’, or whatever. It doesn’t seem very efficient to me, wandering around any which way which a lost kid. Could take forever to find the parents. Best thing would just be for the kid to stay put. Eventually the parent would retrace their steps and find them again.

Yes, that’s what happened mostly, now that I think about it. Except this one time.


Yeah, I guess this kid didn’t do the intuitive thing - just stay put and shout or something. This kid looked panicked. She shot off as soon as she realised her mother was gone.

Did she find her?

I don’t know. Maybe not.

Maybe not?! How can a kid get lost indefinitely in a supermarket? It’s a finite space. No parent would just leave without checking everywhere.

I hope so. But, this was the last day.

When the stores all shut?

Yeah. I guess that’s why the kid panicked too. She knew what was coming I suppose. Anyway, she took off, and my camera feed switched. I only saw her one more time, about 30 minutes later. In a completely different area of the store. She was still alone.

I’m sure she found her mom.

Yeah…but, if she didn’t…

Well, even if she didn’t find her mom, I’m sure she got out before, you know, the explosions.

I don’t know. That last time I saw her, she was in Aisle 67, it was pretty far from the exit.

Aisle 67

A slow, muffled trumpet plays over the intercom. She believes she recognises it. Something from before her time, before anyone here’s time. Maybe from the 1970s or 80s. Sakamoto maybe. Some kind of recomposed trumpet, placed before a glistening disco-beat.

Sakamoto was a bit like Eno, she thought. Same level of genius, but less money. Didn’t sound as rich as Eno’s stuff. Who cared any more. She rarely got the chance to listen to music in high fidelity settings anyway. It was all she had left of her father now. That knowledge of mid-twentieth century music. He would play her the songs through the tiny speaker of an old mp3 player. Those early versions could survive for years.

And why was she thinking of her father now? Yes, that’s right. The music here. Strange selection for this kind of place. But there was something else too.

Aisle 67, she was sure she would’ve found her mother here, this was where she said she would look for it next. But she had been waiting here for ten minutes now and still no sign of her. Should she move on?

The store will close in twenty-five minutes. It will then be liquidated. Please make your way to the checkouts as soon as possible.

Ugh, that voice. Why don’t they use real humans for those things? Liquidated. Was that really gonna be like how they said it on the radio? It would still be another year until the other people move here, they have plenty of time to get rid of the stuff and get everyone out of America before then. No need for this dramatic ’liquidation’ business.

South America. It was going to be so wonderful there. No more snow storms. She could already speak some Spanish.

But they still needed these last things. This list. Things that could only be found in a MART. Then they would be gone forever after today maybe. Or they would be in liquid form after today.

The last remnants of America. Everyone was taking some. It was the only way to get South. That’s what her mother said. Otherwise, they’d have to go north, where it was even colder. Can you imagine? They were like passports. Bags filled with twinkies and Reeses, and Ben and Jerrys. Wouldn’t it melt? That latter, that is. Maybe it still tastes good if you drink it. Liquidated.

Supermarket-things. A valuable commodity in these times. These were the last supermarkets, her mother said. These, in America. No more anywhere else. Then, what did the people eat in those places? Those other lands. She would find out soon enough she supposed. If they made it south.

And then, once these supermarkets are gone, is that the end of supermarkets forever? Will the people, the people of the future, build them up again? Will there ever be enough stuff again to fill them all? She didn’t see why people would need them. They came here once a month, yes, and now too, to get the last supplies, but during the times in between she didn’t miss not coming here. It wasn’t a nice place, and the things they sold here didn’t seem very useful to her. It was a hassle getting rid of all the plastics and packaging. Better to just live as they were living now, no need for anything more.

But the times were better when there were even more supermarkets, or so they say. So, maybe the supermarkets were the key to that? She couldn’t know for sure. They live more ’sustainably’ now, yes. The things are more sustainable, re-usable, re-combinable, re-configurable, and so on, but their lives were much less sustainable. People died all the time and they just had to keep moving, for ever and ever. Did she really believe things would be different down south? No, not at all. Well, maybe a little bit. That’s why she had to find it, the last item on their list, the one the man who would take them wanted so much. Brillo pads. The kind that a famous artist once painted, or sculpted, or something.

He had been to the museum, found the ’original’ Brillo pads. Or the original boxes they had come in. Or an original copy of the boxes they had originally come in. Something like that. She didn’t understand art that much but she gathered they were worth a lot. These boxes. But the man also wanted the real Brillo pads because, you see, the boxes were empty. The original boxes he had taken from the museum. They were empty. They were just images of boxes, or, not images exactly, because you could touch them and look inside them. They had depth. But they were empty. So, he had this idea he would fill them with actual Brillo pads because, you see, they would be worth even more then? Maybe that was it. They were already worth a lot, because they were ’originals’, the first ones the artist had made, although he modelled them off regular boxes, and they looked just like regular boxes and, come to think of it, didn’t he say that the artist hadn’t even made the boxes? Someone else did, but not the man who made the first Brillo boxes, or the factory that made those boxes. Although, these ones, the ’art’ boxes, were also made in a factory…

Anyway, he had said - she didn’t fully understand him but she remembered everything he said, her life depended on it after all - that if you included possible the last actual Brillo pads that ever existed alongside the empty boxes that were copies of the boxes that Brillo pads came in, then, it would be worth a lot of money. To someone. Some people are interested in those kinds of things. Historical things…or…artistic things?

So here they were, her mother and her. Well, at this point it was just her, in Aisle 67, looking for the Brillo pads. When would her mother find her? It was almost time to go…

Aisle 135

“Walk beside me darling, stay close.” He could sense the fear in his mother’s voice, all the more palpable through her fake smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll find her. We’ll find her. We just need to get one or two more things.”

Aisle 72

Brillo Boxes, a beautiful calming white and curvy red and blue letters across the middle. She had only seen one in the picture the guy showed her. She longed to see one now, in real life, in this supermarket aisle, not only because it meant life or death, but because it looked so fucking beautiful in the pictures.

Aisle 147

“We are getting closer, we are getting closer.” His mother was now yelling his sisters name and at disturbingly regular intervals. But it was no use, the whole shop had become frantic, filled with the looters who must have thought they could get the stuff past the checkouts for free, moments before the whole place went up in flames.

Aisle 76

Only 10 minutes left. If I stop looking for them now and run for the exit, will it matter? Will the man still take us without the Brillo Boxes? Maybe, but the problem now is that I don’t remember where the exit is…

Aisle 156 - Exit

His mother stands by the door, groceries all paid for and screams his sisters name into the chaos. He hears the voice on the intercom, same level of urgency as before, which is no urgency at all, stating that the store will be liquidated in 2 minutes and could everyone please vacate the store.

The boy thought of other times in the MART, about how there were sometimes lingerers that would stay on past the closing announcement, picking up their last few bits and pieces as the store workers who had worked a long shift and just wanted to go home scowled at them and asked them again to move toward the checkouts. But there had been no human store workers for many years, so he wasn’t quite sure where this memory had come from.

Aisle 140

The store was empty now, almost silent, save for some mechanical whirring noises. She held it finally, in her hand, a brillo pad. It didn’t have the fancy box, but it was a brillo pad nonetheless. It said its name clearly on the packaging. She sat down in the aisle, crossed her legs, and gently opened the soft plastic. The pad felt rough on her cheek and in her hands.

Sun Mar 3, 2024 - 2092 Words