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The Tallywacker Chapter 4
Thefourth episode in the weekly serial
from the fountain pen of Alexandra R. Nyfors
Previous Chapter Chapter Index Next Chapter

Mrs. Hibbert Meets Her Nemesis

Young Tom sighed as he watched Mrs. Hibbert pull into the parking lot. His
father thought he was crazy, but was willing to let him go with it until he
lost a respectable amount of money. His reaction when Tom told him what he’d
done had been extreme.

“That flibbertigibbet?” he’d gasped. “You HIRED her?”

Tom explained about the loss of revenue. His father listened patiently.

“You’ll lose more in breakage and lost time than you’ll gain back in sales,”
he predicted dourly. “That woman is a menace.”

“I think she’s funny,” Tom had replied. “And I bet she’ll always be on time
and will always turn up.” And here she was, five minutes late and had a
police car following her. Mentally, he gave his father props for being right
after all.

It took fifteen minutes for Mrs. Hibbert to drag the bewildered but totally
bewitched policeman through the store loading up a basket for him. She then
introduced him to Tom, who had the pleasure of ringing up one of the larger
sales so far that week. As the gentleman in uniform left, he took back the
points given to his father on his mental tally sheet and added them to his
own, then turned to his new employee in a beneficent mood.

“Well, it looks like you’ve already started work today!”

“Oh no, not really. The poor thing, it was just so sad when he pulled me
over.”

She tapped her forehead significantly. “Obvious trace metal deficiencies.”
“What did he pull you over for?”

“Driving in two lanes at 15 miles an hour. But of course, as I told him, I
was just changing lanes. Now if he’d said failure to use a turn signal, he
would have been perfectly right. But it’s lucky he didn’t because now he’ll
have a chance to get some decent supplements into his system, and that
should make his entire outlook change. If only he’ll follow my advice and
settle down with some nice girl who’ll take good care of him, he’ll do just
fine.”

“That’s nice,” Tom agreed pacifically, not even wanting to hint for her to
elaborate on anything she’d just said. “You need to come back to the office
to fill out some paperwork.”

All he really needed was the personal information form and a W4 form, but he
found the process took longer than expected. It was the emergency
notification contact that she couldn’t make up her mind about.

“I just don’t know who to put there. I mean, I don’t want Carl bothered if I
stub my toe or something. It would just make him so mad to get a call like
that at work, and on the weekend it would just make him crazy. He likes to
relax on the weekend and even though he’d never admit it he would get all
upset and it would ruin everything. So I can’t put in Carl, but who else
should I put in there?”

“What about Sarah?” Tom suggested.

“Oh, that’s a lovely idea! She wouldn’t mind. Now where did I put my address
book? I can’t remember her phone number to save my life.” She rooted in her
purse. “Now when I’m working are you sure it’s alright for me to leave this
back here in your office? I don’t know, it doesn’t seem to be in here. I
must have it somewhere. Excuse me, can I just…” She upended her purse onto
his desktop, which usually harbored nothing more interesting than a few
invoices and a calculator.

First out was the crochet hook that she had retrieved from the glove
compartment. She picked it up and stuck it in the bun at the back of her
head. “I mustn’t forget I’ve got that,” she said to herself. Her wallet
landed with a dense thud, followed by a cascade of hairpins, paperclips,
rubber bands, a lighter, sealing wax, hand lotion, a comb, a hairbrush,
assorted makeup cases, two broken mirrors (half of a regular mirror and half
of a magnifying mirror) with hardened chewing gum stuck to the sharp points,
wadded tissues, two skeins of embroidery floss and a ball of tatting thread,
a tatting shuttle, some silk ribbon samples, a Matchbox car with a lot of
the paint chipped off, scissors, a large pocket knife with the corkscrew
open, a penlight, 15 or so assorted ballpoints and pencils, none of them in
working condition at that moment, a diary, and her address book.

“There it is!” she pounced, and flipped to the H’s. “Oh, this isn’t her
number. This is two apartments ago.”

“It’s okay. You can update it later,” Tom said, anxious to get the clutter
removed from his desk and to get back out to the store before the high
school student working out there did too much damage.

“Well, but what if we forget and it’s somebody else’s number now? I’d be
very upset to get an emergency call about somebody I didn’t even know.
Anybody would. And then whoever was trying to get hold of Sarah would have
to call all over and I don’t even think that she’s listed so they’d never be
able to reach her unless they had the operator put the call through to her
but who knows if they would think of that really because a lot of people
aren’t even aware that operators can do things like that because they aren’t
old enough to remember when operators did everything, especially listen in
to your conversations, but that’s neither here nor there, is it? I’d better
put my home phone number in there after all. I guess I’ll just have to not
have any accidents.”

Tom’s father gained a point.

Virginia succeeded in wedging everything back into her purse and stood up.
“Is there anything else you wanted to do today, or should I just show up
tomorrow morning?” she asked.

“Well, yes. I don’t open the store in the morning, so I wanted to show you
what you’d be doing. That way you can go ahead and get started.”

He led her to the stock room, which was packed floor to ceiling with boxes.
A clipboard against the wall held the bills of lading and invoices for the
incoming shipments.

“Okay. You’re going to be stocking the store. But before you put anything
out in front, you have to put price tags on it. This is a price gun.”

The gun seemed quite simple, and the system he used for pricing seemed
simple enough too. Reading the invoices was a bit difficult, but after a few
tries she learned to figure out the retail prices of most items.

“If you can’t tell what the retail should be, just skip it for now. You can
ask me when I get in tomorrow afternoon.”

“All right,” she agreed. “So I price things, then I take them out front and
put them with the others?”

“Right,” he agreed. “Sometimes there won’t be anything out there because it’
s a new product. In that case, look in the office to see if we have a
display for the stuff. If we do, find someplace to set up the display and
put it out wherever you can find space.”

“And if there’s no display?” she asked.

“Make one up somehow,” he said rashly. “We want people to see the new
products.”

She brightened. Making displays sounded much more fun than figuring out
invoices and putting price stickers on things. “Oh, I can do that!” she
enthused.

“Now,” he said, “just in case, come on out front and I’ll show you how to
use the cash register.”

Virginia felt the first qualms of distress. “But, right away?” she objected
faintly.

“Yes. Sally might need to go to the bathroom or something, and customers
will expect you to be able to check them out.”

“Oh…” she moaned. “I don’t know.”

“Come on. It’s easy, Mrs. H. You’ll love it!” he enthused.

She followed him out to the front of the store. There she met Portia, the
afternoon girl. No customers were in the store at the moment, so she was
sitting staring vacantly into space, chewing gum in that irritating way that
teenagers have of doing so.

“Go dust,” Tom said. “Don’t just sit there.”

“Okay,” she sighed, dispirited, and moved off at the pace of a restless
snail.

“The name suits her,” Virginia noted.

“What?”

“Never mind.” Clearly, she was not going to be able to share classical
allusions with Tom. She stared at the cash register.

“Okay, it’s easy. See these keys over on the left? Those are the keys for
the kinds of things people can buy. Pink is for beauty products. Green is
for produce. White is for dairy case. Orange is for supplements. Red is for
cleaning supplies. Grey is everything else. They say so on the keys, see?”
“Okay, “ she agreed, peering at the tiny lettering on the keys, which was
too small to read at a distance and fuzzed up when viewed closely. It was
time to get her bifocals adjusted again.

“Now, for each item, you look at the price tag. You hit the key for the kind
of thing it is, then you punch in the price. Don’t worry about the decimal
place, the machine knows the last two digits are cents. The price you enter
shows up here on the screen, see?” He entered the pink key and $1.49 for a
random pot of beeswax lip balm from a display on the counter.

Virginia nodded. So far, it seemed straightforward.

“Now you press the enter key. The item gets printed on the tape and the
display clears for the next item. You do the same thing over and over until
you have all the items in that the customer is buying. Right? If you make a
mistake entering the price, you just hit this clear key over here, and do it
again. But be careful – you have to hit the clear key before you press enter
or it’s too late. If you do that, then you have to press this negative key,
the mistake price again, and then the enter key to back the mistake out.”

“Oooooh,” she said, knowing she was going to use both these methods a lot.
There were a lot of keys. Lots and lots of keys.

“When you have everything in, you press the big total key at the bottom.”

“Okay.”

“Then the customer gives you payment. It’ll be cash, a credit card, or a
check. If it’s a check, you take it, push the check key, and shove it into
this slot here, FACE DOWN. If it’s a credit card, you enter the credit card
key, and swipe it through this slot. If it’s cash, you hit the cash key and
enter the amount just like you did the prices. Then you hit the big total
key again.”
“Ooooh, “ Virginia said. There seemed to be slots everywhere. The payment
keys were all blue and were in a row on the left, she was sure to get the
wrong one.

“They’re all blue,” she said faintly.

“Yeah, but top key is check, middle key is credit, bottom key is cash. You’
ll have it down in no time at all.”

“Okay,” she agreed doubtfully.

“Now, if it is a check, the register will frank the check on the back and
pop open the cash drawer. You lift the tray and slip the check under it,
okay? If it’s a credit card, just wait until the register screen says
‘approved’ and prints the credit slip out here. Tear it off, have the
customer sign it and shove it under the cash drawer with the checks. The
copy goes to the customer with the register receipt. If it’s cash, the
register will show the amount of change you should give. Put the customer’s
money into the cash drawer first, then pull out the amount of change the
register says.”

Virginia was feeling faint. It all seemed so complicated. She was sure she
couldn’t do it. How could she possibly remember all those keys and what they
were for? And with customers standing staring at her too, it would be just
awful. She blushed just thinking about it. A customer, who had come in while
Tom was explaining things to her, approached with a bottle of water and bee
balm.

“Watch,” Tom said. Almost more quickly than she could follow, he’d rung in
the two items and was making change from a twenty dollar bill for the
fellow. It was so fast that she was sure she’d missed something vital.

“You do the next one,” Tom said, beginning to feel, from the look on her
face, that this was not going well. In general, he really disliked seeing
that look of baffled doubt on the faces of people he was showing the cash
register. It did not bode well for a friendly relationship with the
technology.

A woman came in and the two of them waited impatiently while she wandered
around the store for ten minutes putting things in her basket. Finally she
approached them.

“Did you find everything?” Tom asked her.

“All but the B-complex. I like the Nature’s Way brand because it isn’t in a
yeast base, and you seem to be out.”

“I’m sure we’ve got some in the back,” Tom said. “A shipment just came in
this morning. Would you like me to go check?”

“Oh, that’d be lovely,” the woman said. “The big bottle, if you have it.”

“I’ll see,” he said, and left. Virginia stared at the cash register
foolishly for a few moments.

“Would you like me to start ringing you up?” Virginia asked. She had steeled
herself to this eventuality, and would face it directly, with courage, like
a woman of substance.

“Sure,” the woman agreed.

The first item out of the basket was a bottle of vitamin C complex. Clearly
it was a supplement. She stared at the blurry keys below her, vainly trying
to remember the color for supplements. Blue, she thought. No that was for
payment. Orange? She pressed orange, and entered the price on the tag, then
pressed enter. The cash register obligingly printed something on the tape.
She proceeded to the next item, which was a carton of acidophilus milk,
remembering that white was for dairy, which actually made some sense, and
succeeded with it as well. Feeling she was getting the hang of it, she
slowly rang up everything in the basket.

“That can’t be right,” the woman said.

“What?” Virginia looked up from the register keys, surprised to find that
she wasn’t alone with the machine in some alternate universe.

“The register. It says the total is $407,959. 67,” the woman pointed out.
“Without the B-complex.”

“Oh, dear,” Virginia said. She peered at the tape. It looked like she had
forgotten to hit enter between two items. She said so. Now what had Tom said
to do to back something out?

She remembered something about a negative key, but couldn’t quite remember
the color for it, and couldn’t read anything but the numbers on the keypad.
It was so very annoying! At length, because there was a black key that
seemed to be assigned to nothing else that she could remember she tried
that, then hesitantly pushed the numbers for the enormous amount out and
then pushed the enter key and the total key.

The cash register went crazy. It began to print out an enormous list of
numbers. Tape came spewing out of its’ maw as if there were no tomorrow. The
woman and Virginia stared at the machine together in surprise.

“Wow!” the woman said at length.

“Oh BAD WORD!” Virginia said. “Oh, oh, oh!!!”

Tom returned with a large bottle of B-complex, properly priced. He gazed at
the spewing register in amazement.

“How on earth did you do that?” he asked. “You’ve got it closing out for the
day!”

“I don’t know, exactly. I forgot to enter between two amounts so it said she
owed us a lot of money and it wasn’t right, so I was trying to back the
wrong amount out and I tried to do like you said with the negative number,
but when I hit the black key everything seemed to not be negative but then
when I hit the total key all this just started. I don’t know what happened!”

“You mean it’s closing out with a huge over-ring in it?”

“I don’t know!” Virginia wailed, anguished.

“How long is this going to take?” the woman asked.

“About ten minutes, I’m afraid,” Tom said. “I’m sorry ma’am.”

“Well, I’ll just look around a bit,” she said.

“Let me know if there’s anything we can help you with.” Tom smiled at her
gratefully, then turned to the distraught Virginia. “It’s okay. You shouldn’
t have tried it for the first time without someone here with you,” he said.
“I’ll just have to do some hand adjustments to the tape, and I’ll have two
tapes for today is all. It’s not that big a deal.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. The cash register gave a final frenzy and shot a
foot of tape directly at her, as if it were sticking its’ tongue out at her.

“I’m sure,” he said kindly. “Maybe we’ll just keep you stocking shelves for
right now.”

“I can do displays too,” she said. “I know I can do that.”

“Good,” he said. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the register okay with some
practice.”

“If you say so,” Mrs. Hibbert agreed, far from sanguine.

The cash register, it’s daily duties finished, said DAY CLOSED – THANK YOU
in big letters prancing across the screen. They were green letters, and they
seemed to be more than faintly mocking.

Previous Chapter Chapter Index Next Chapter

Legal stuff: Please do not print, copy or distribute this without prior
permission from the author. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2001 Alexandra R.
Nyfors. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

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