The mail gave me my upstairs neighbor’s yesterday by mistake, so today, once my slot clanged shut and I put on my reading glasses and saw my God-given name there on the envelope, not my neighbor's, well that’s when the idea hit me.
I left my apartment and walked there. It was only a block away.
Inside the store, a lady and her son were staring at two heads of lettuce floating down the first aisle like UFOs.
Her kid was bear-hugging a bag of sweet potato chips.
I remember thinking, these new people will just have to get used to them like I have.
She said to him, "See, Kellan, the people here are invisible. But we're going to treat them with the same respect we'd show the visible, ok?"
I watched one of the avocados in the wicker basket levitate to her eye level. She squinted at it like it was a spot on a mirror. Then she touched and took the avocado. "Thank you," she stammered. This is when I noticed the can of mace she kept in an orange rubber holster on her purse, next to a pink breast-cancer ribbon.
I've tried other ways of figuring out who the people at the BT Corner Grocer actually are. What they look like. I've checked the TV they keep cocked in the corner of their ceiling, waiting for subtitles, or a show in their language. But it's just CNN.
As I watched all of this from behind some dusty instant milk cans, I heard something rake across the shelf behind me so I frowned, exhaled blatantly, and stepped to the side.
I expected the blue broom with the patchy bristles, always on auto-pilot, to bounce past me, or the yellow Wet Floor sign to bank by, but it was just the woman's son.
Before I could say hello, he looked behind me and screamed as a can of peas shot past him.
This is when the woman darted around the corner and saw us.
"I don't know why they think they can do the things they do in here. Scaring kids," she said.
"I know what you mean," I said.
"It'd be a lot different if we knew who they were," she said.
I nodded and we happened to get in line together.
Behind the counter I watched a sheet of bologna tuck itself into a hoagie roll. Two blue packs of Kools crawled overhead.
"I'd like a dozen jumbo eggs, please!" I yelled into the face of nothing. The refrigerator door slid open and one of the cartons they hoard back there sailed over like a marionette. The Styrofoam squealed slightly. I opened the carton and started checking the eggs one by one.
Then I stopped.
"This one's cracked," I said. I put it back in the carton and turned it toward me. "Think I wouldn't notice?"
The woman was watching my every move.
The carton rose and made its way back.
Then I saw it: there on the counter was their gas bill from the Philadelphia Gas Works. I leaned in close. I fished for my reading glasses, but then the cellophane crinkled and the envelope flipped in the air like a kicked pigeon and slid under the register.
I let out a sigh.
That's when I heard the woman speak up. It was a slow rise in volume, where I really couldn't be sure if it was happening, and then it became clear she was yelling. "Just because we can't see you all," she said, "doesn't mean we're going to keep looking the other way."
And they walked out.
A month later I was outside the store counting the change they gave me, as I tend to do, when the door opened and the lady and her son walked out again.
She had a scuffed-looking envelope in her hands. I watched her walk to the corner and tear it to pieces into the trash.
I haven't been back there since.
Perry Genovesi (he/him) works as a librarian in Philadelphia and has had his fiction featured in Mobius, Blunderbuss, Work Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. He plays in the band Bike Crash, serves as a shop steward & delegate in his AFSCME Local, and tweets @unionlibrarian. He used to want a Gertrude Stein tattoo that would've just been the word REPETITION.