Plastic bottles stuffed with sterile pills lined the shelves. Labels promised improved cognition, stress reduction, better sex. Plants extracted from their land of origin filled vegetable capsules. Goldenrod grew from the floors, yellow flowers cracked through linoleum.
Doris sobbed over the register.
“How do I get more customers?” She choked. Her cellphone sat on the counter. Social media pictures of yogis drinking smoothies and workers holding colorful produce lit up the screen. Blue skullcap blossoms curled around a rack of gift cards. Their purple cups shivered in the forced air. The store was being overtaken by greenery.
Millie bit her tongue and brushed her hair out of her eyes. Doris, with no experience running a business, inherited the natural food store from her mother. Millie watched the worker turnover rate grow. The store haemorrhaged money. Would-be clientele was comprised of former employees Doris had alienated from her business.
“If we don’t get our numbers up we’ll close,” she wailed.
Millie stopped mopping, and pushed a cluster of evening primrose to the side. The papery lemon flowers bowed on green stalks. Smells of citrus, sweat, and gray water suspended in the air. She adjusted her “Doris’ Market” apron in the dim light of the freezer.
Although she was standing there, she knew Doris wasn’t really talking to her. Doris didn’t really talk to anyone. Millie continued mopping, pushing water around a cluster of white yarrow.
As a seasonal worker, Millie was detached from her job. She didn’t need it, she just liked the free smoothies. She watched Doris fume each summer when kitchen staff didn’t work harder, all the while refusing to compensate them adequately.
Vegetation creeped into the shop. Goldenseal, milk thistle, uva ursi sprouted through the floors and foundation cracks.
It was as if Doris and her loyal customers didn’t see them. They preferred the aseptic herbs, processed and powdered in plastic bottles. In capsule form, they could be anything, sand, canola oil.
“What’s the difference between these?” An older woman asked, shaking a pair of bottles at Millie.
“I don’t know, I’d have to see what you’re holding,” Millie replied.
Customers asked employees for recommendations eager to purchase their suggestions.
“I’m not a doctor, so I’m not qualified to say,” Millie would tell them. A large number of people were willing to put their trust in a stranger and an ambiguous jar.
The dwindling clientele would describe their woes, low-energy, dermatitis, insomnia. Sleeplessness was common among coffee drinkers glued to their screens unwilling to give up caffeine and technology habits.
Millie read that a plant could only help if they were asked first. Judging by the labels, none of the plants had been asked, if they were plants at all.
Over the years different roots and shoots would gain popularity. Sales of ginseng, turmeric, and other spices rose and fell. Layfolk read about celebrity diets or an actress would describe her eucalyptus enema practice. Kits with smiling athletic-looking women promising to improve digestion and “boost” the immune system flew off the shelves.
Demand for patchouli incense remained consistent.
Millie read the tabloids. Women came in asking for jade eggs. All the while slippery elm trees gnarled their way through the foundation, their pink flowers and sinuate leaves blossoming with spring. Doris didn’t see the advantage of the herbal cornucopia. Elderberry bushes grew over the pipes. Purple berries stained the floor.
“What do I do?” Doris cried. The boxes kept coming. Plastic containers full of flowers, vegetables, and nuts that had been dried, fried, and concocted into face creams were shelved by employees.
Millie shrugged. The trunk of a willow groaned outside. Its branches overshadowed the windows. She wondered what the land looked like before the downtown was erected. They were about to find out. Birds had started to roost in the boughs. Animals once eradicated were starting to return.
Even if Doris had to close the store, the local flora and fauna, many of which were on the shelves, would overtake the structure. It was better than sterility.
When the season ended, Millie would fly south and enjoy days in a warmer climate with her husband. She’d been around the store for over a decade, living off the inflated currency she earned in summer. She had dual-citizenship and a dispassionate attitude, watching capable employees shrivel and blow away.
Even if Millie did offer advice, Doris would spit it back as soon as it left her lips. She’d seen it a thousand times.
“I think you should get some rest,” Millie replied, nodding and wheeling the mop bucket towards the hallway. She dumped the gray water. Purple echinacea spilled from the sink. Ghostly hummingbird blossoms reached through the eaves above a carpet of clover and mullein.
Millie clocked out and took off her apron. Scarlet bergamot petals fell from the pocket. As she walked along the refrigerators and out the side door she looked back at Doris. Her tear stained face was illuminated by her phone. Greenery curled around her, fungal hyphae had started to grow, ready to decompose an already rotten venture.
Gabrielle Griffis is a mutli-media artist and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she has also worked as an affiliate of the Juniper Writing Institute. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from XRAY Literary Magazine, Gone Lawn, Cease, Cows, decomP, Ghost Parachute, and Blue Lake Review. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod.
Image via Pixabay