Repeating “Pepper Spray” Like a Mantra to Employee at Target

Briane ordered it in advance. That was the convenience of the current century, wasn’t it? To be able to finagle whatever you wanted online. Even if it still meant going in-store to pick it up. The “wonders” of capitalistic ingenuity. For this particular item, she wanted to be sure it ended up in her hands instead of somehow getting lost in the translation of delivery. She needed it, badly. Briane had an upcoming road trip that she was slated to make by herself and she refused to take to the highways and byways of California without it. Stopping anywhere felt like a hornet’s nest. Rife with potential for harm and attack if she didn’t come prepared with something. 

Since she was anti-gun (even though she could’ve probably ordered that ahead from Wal-Mart in lieu of Target), pepper spray would have to suffice. Never mind that Briane didn’t really trust herself not to get too trigger-happy with this non-gun. A compact black entity billed as a keychain that everyone (with any sense at least) knew was pepper spray. Some of the other online options included “clever” disguises like a lipstick tube, but Briane didn’t want to take the risk on getting nervous in the situation and spending too much time on “fiddling” with the cap. Her worst fear, of course, was spraying it in her own face. Some form of so-called karma from a misogynistic universe. Of which there was no denying that it was. 

After receiving the email notification that her order was ready for pickup almost exactly two hours after placing it, Briane left her apartment, giving the side-eye to nothing in particular as she muttered to herself about the pitch-blackness stemming from the recent shift in the hour thanks to a little fuckery called daylight savings. Just who were “they” saving all this daylight for? Was it for the rich as well? Did everything have to be for them? Were they holed up in their mansions hoarding all the sun’s rays next to their Olympic-sized pools? In any case, Briane did not care for the darkness’ effect on drawing out the freaky deakies of the city sooner than usual. 

It was enough of a challenge to be a woman in broad daylight, but it was even harder without that vague sense of security that came with being able to fully perceive one’s surroundings. The darkness brought out a bolder side to men. Made them feel, apparently, more entitled and lecherous than they normally were. Briane, like any woman, had her fair share of experience with the all too unique horror that arose from merely having a vagina. It seemed to her that it wasn’t even about overt “hotness” for most men that spurred them to home in on women walking alone at night. Or doing anything alone at night. No, it was more about the sense of power that came with knowing that they were the ones in charge. Aware that a woman alone is at her most vulnerable. And taking advantage of women is the patriarchal world’s favorite unofficial pastime. 

Scurrying to her car, Briane was pushed by a gust of wind, as though it was urging her to hurry the fuck up and get out of harm’s way. Either that, or Briane subconsciously willed it to push her so she could get this goddamn errand over with. Errand. The most odious word in the English language. A word hopelessly synonymous with what millennials childishly call “adulting.” Well, if Briane was adulting, it was in the most languid manner possible. She rarely shopped, and if she ever paid a bill, it was always months late. This little road trip, in fact, was further testament to her inability to fathom that she was not a free-spirited teen or even twenty-something anymore. Yet she still decided, despite her usual dire financial circumstances, that it was essential. She wanted to visit her friend out in Santa Barbara. Melanie was actually someone you could refer to as an adult. She had just bought a palatial property (no, it wasn’t in Montecito) with her increased salary as the VP of yet another corporation posing as being environmentally-friendly. But Briane had known Melanie all the way back from their college days, when Briane was undeclared and Melanie was a business major.

She wouldn’t have suspected gravitating toward someone as “on the path to conventional greatness” as Melanie, but the two hit it off after running into each other at a party and latching on to one another when they suddenly realized they were the only girls left in a houseful of frat boys. The experience was harrowing, and Briane often wondered how they got out unraped, but Melanie was more flippant about the scenario, shrugging the next day, “We could’ve handled them.” Briane didn’t think so, which was why she rushed them the hell out of there before Melanie took another sip of anything. Ever since, they were what could be described as “dear friends.” And Melanie wanted her “dear friend” to check out her new space. So who was Briane to deny such a request? Money restrictions be defied. 

***

The demonic red glow of Target’s circular logo made Briane shudder, and feel even worse about her continued support of corporations such as these, despite everyone’s best attempts at saying, “Things are going to be different” and “We’re all going to do our part to fight climate change.” We’re not. Briane knew that, she just wished everybody else could admit it to themselves and therefore enjoy what little time was left more fully without the continued charade of “societal expectations,” like jobs and propagating. 

Upon arriving at the “Order Pickup” desk, Briane was met with absolutely no one. The whole area looked as though the locusts had descended upon it and, for all Briane knew, maybe they had. These are the times we’re living in, she said to herself. Out of nowhere, a zombie-ish employee with his nose sticking out of his visibly dirty mask half-heartedly assured, “Someone will be with you soon.” His slow, disinterested speech betrayed his level of highness, and Briane would not have been surprised if he actually had no idea where he was. If she worked at Target, she would want to have no idea where she was, too. A condition that she was afflicted with even without such employment. She offered a “thanks” for his “help” and continued to wait for another ten minutes. 

At last, someone arrived. Bearing the name tag “Donald.” She couldn’t help but muse on the irony of picking up some pepper spray from someone bearing that moniker. And oh, how she would have loved to use it on the “real” Donald. But, as most know, dreams rarely come true. As Donald blinked at her vacantly, she explained she was picking up an order (which seemed sort of implied), giving her first and last name as his guideposts for finding it. He robotically went into the “back area” located behind a partition that barely covered it up. After about ten minutes, he returned to ask her what the item was. In this instant, she was overcome with embarrassment, not wanting the contents of her order to be so public, especially with a queue now forming behind her. 

Quietly, Briane described the item: “Pepper spray.” 

“Huh?”

“Pepper spray,” she said an octave louder.

“Pepper? You ordered a bottle of pepper?” 

“No. Pepper spray!” Briane said the last word loudest, informing the entire line of people behind her that she was, in their minds, a paranoid misandrist. 

She could hear the titters mount, particularly from, of all people, the two women that were second in line after a middle-aged man wearing a cowboy hat. They—her supposed “sistren”—were the most ready to judge her for trying protect herself from this cruel, dick-swinging world. 

Donald, meanwhile, had gone to the “back” again to check if he could pull his head out of his ass long enough to find the product in question. Another five minutes seemed to pass until he finally returned bearing the item. 

“This it?” he droned.

“Yes,” she replied tersely as she watched him stuff it into a bag, along with, inexplicably, four bottles of Meyer’s liquid soap. Before she could question the presence of the soap, he stopped mid-stuffing to ask, “Uh, did you order these too?”

Once again, she had to iterate, “Just the pepper spray.”

“Oh weird. It automatically shows up on the scanner to include these, but like, let me check with my supervisor for sure if this is part of the bonus promotion.”

Before she could say, “I highly fucking doubt it—why would soap be included with pepper spray?” he was off. Suddenly more active and alert than he had been during their entire exchange. And all the while, the women kept giggling at her. She turned around and glared at them; they stared right back and kept laughing. One was audacious enough to say, “You’re not that pretty, hon—I think you can live without the pepper spray.” 

Briane turned back around, seeing the keychain with her semi-lethal weapon attached to it resting there on the counter. It took the women too long to comprehend what was happening as Briane ripped open the package and proceeded to test out the merchandise on both of them. In the midst of their screams of agony, Donald returned to inform her that the soap was not actually included as a free gift with purchase. 

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