Fuelling ambition | Fiction

"Get the inventory in order!" I heard the manager bark as I busied myself before the long line of customers.

I glanced up at Marianne for a brief moment, in between getting the change for the middle-aged, portly man, who leaned heavily at the counter, clutching packets of Marlboro in his short, stubby palm.

“Fasst…hon…you think I’ve all day?” He winked at me, his breath reeking of alcohol.

Repulsed, I banged the coins on the counter and waved him away.

Marianne held the inventory chart clumsily in the left hand, cradled a phone between her neck and left ear while simultaneously ticking off the items on the list with her right hand.

“Yeah, Sweetie..today’s when we get your baseball cap and gloves” Marianne now spoke breathlessly over the phone. She hung up a little abruptly, pushed a few Coke cans back and forth on the shelf.

“Something’s always missing,” grumbled Marianne, her frown deepening as she counted and re-counted. "Shit, I need the money!" She swore loudly.

I had a déjà vu at that moment when I was the new junior attendant at Costco. I'd patiently wait for salary day and feel a stab of pain to find the already paltry sum reduced, to compensate for the items that would routinely go missing during my shift.

I kept looking for something more than the missing item.

I’d pour the frustration into my cello lessons and draw out melancholy notes that, my faithful listeners insisted, tugged at their heart. I chose to believe them. Music filled out the empty spaces in my life.

When Marianne joined six months back, I found someone I could share the work misery with. We savoured our 15-minute lunch break outside the store. It provided us downtime, enough to simply breathe and recoup for the next few hours of stifling work and humiliation at the hands of the always harried and often entitled customers.

The foil crackled as Marianne tore opened the packet. She frowned as she took a bite of her cold tuna sandwich. Sweat had stuck her front curls to the forehead like a sort of headband. She looked at my box of hash browns and some salad with extra mayonnaise dressing. It wasn’t the usual fare of bland rice and stew. She raised her brow at me and I quickly explained,” made a few extras at the musical gig last weekend.”

“It helps to have some talent or at least brains to escape this,” She jerked her head at the store.

“Say, Marianne…” I hesitated while fishing out a crumpled piece of a pamphlet from my overcoat pocket. “What do you think of this?”

Her eyes opened wide as a saucer and she snorted, her entire body rippling with laughter. “You serious? Had I the patience…would’ve finished high school long back.”

I felt a hot flush rise to my cheeks. “Yeah..bad idea, maybe,” I mumbled and hastily thrust the piece of paper, now smudged with the remnants of cream from my fingers, back into my pocket.

I turned to my cello that night. Every right note spoke to me about perseverance and passion.

My stomach lurched at the smallish farewell gathering on a crisp morning a month later. My voice trembled slightly as I spoke about finding a job as a part-time cello teacher at a high school.

My manager and colleagues clapped like automated robots as I took a deep breath and added to say that I also planned to finish school. I glanced at Marianne and she wore a blank expression. My throat went dry and I wondered if it was too late to laugh out loud and say, “Gotcha!” Yet, hearing my own words gave me strength.

I placed the battered pamphlet on Marianne’s desk, grabbed my keys and dashed out of the station before my knees crumbled under the stress.



  1. The fear of failure, of change, is so real & easy to relate to - you capture it so well. I really like that this ended with hope.

    Something to think about - I would have liked a little clarification on what the pamphlet was for. After a second read through, I assumed that it was night classes or adult education of some kind? I wasn't entirely clear if it had been intended for your MC or Marianne. But then at the end, perhaps both?

    I so very much love the line: Music filled out the empty spaces in my life.

    1. Ah, the pamphlet. Your assumption is right on target. I wanted to incorporate this part subtly without really spelling it out. I guess, it was rather too subtle!
      Thank you so much for highlighting what worked and what didn't. It really helps!
      And, thank you..I loved that line too <3

  2. I really liked the way you captured the narrator's sense of feeling captive and unfulfilled at the gas station. Marianne was also a real clear character. Her scepticism and discontent were vivid.

    A few times you made the choice to replace a personal pronoun with an article, which struck me as an odd decision; "Marianne held the inventory chart clumsily in the left hand," / "Sweat had stuck her front curls to the forehead". I wasn't sure whether this was purposeful, and it distracted me from the flow of the narrative a little.

    I was also confused about why the narrator was putting the keys on Marianne's desk rather than the manager's desk (I'm assuming they're different people, because I wasn't entirely clear on that).

    I really enjoyed the way the narrator sought refuge/solace in music.

    1. *really clear character (that'll teach me to type too fast!).

    2. Thank you for pointing out flawed used of articles in those lines. Yes, Marianne and the manager are two different people and in the end the MC grabs her own keys and places the pamphlet on Marianne's desk.
      Thank you so much the feedback, Asha. Really helpful ones!

  3. Oh Uma, this made me miss my work friends. I like how you've brought forth Mariannes desperation in just one sentence. The only thing that threw me off was the ending. I wasn't clear on what the pamphlet was about and how it would help Marianne.

    1. Ya, looks like it turned out to be rather vague in the end. Thank you, Hema :)

  4. I liked Marianne's character, you've described her well!

  5. Hi, Uma, I think this is the first time I've come to your blog, and this was a great piece to start with. I loved how your characters both showed their personalities so clearly, both through dialog and the things that go unsaid but only suggested. It is such a powerful story as well, something so common these days, where people are struggling to better themselves and almost having to apologize for wanting to do that when others in their position seem stuck. That's how I read this anyway, and appreciated the sentiments. Lovely to find you! :-)

    1. Hi Cheney, your comment makes me feel so good! Yes, you've summed up exactly what I wanted to convey. Also, glad to find your blog. Hope to see you around :)

  6. I love reading your fictions. The characters, story build up, ending - I have so much learning to do and you definitely are one of those teachers who I look upto. Anyway, the similarity between the main character and Marianne and their struggles were well captured. I liked the ending on a hopeful note for her as well as giving a subtle push to her ex-colleague. Great read, Uma.

  7. Lovely, I really like your post,it’s so wonderful details,keep it up.

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