The Empire Always Wins This One – Daily Story Project #12

Inspired by reality but this is entirely fictional, as far as I can tell. Another short one, I hope.

He opened the video store for the last time on a Thursday afternoon.

Not a Friday, not a Sunday, not a Monday. It was because he had announced that the store would be closing at the end of the month, because that’s how the bills came in, and the last day of the month was a Thursday.

In retrospect it seemed off-kilter to him, but once he’d announced it, and posted the giant “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE” and notified the landlord and talked to the phone company and the internet company and the electric company, it seemed like such work to change it to a Friday or stay open through that weekend that he decided not to.

He had a wife at home, taking care of their child, and he had spent the final month feeling torn in two. He’d had the video store since he was a bachelor, and it felt like his first love. The shelves packed with hand-selected titles, DVDs of movies that were hard to find elsewhere, jammed in with a lot of more common stuff. Most customers had wanted the new releases, but every once in a while, he’d get a customer looking for something obscure, and he had taken a lot of pride in being able to show that he got it.

But then, running the store after the first year, when he’d finally built up a reputation and a regular clientele, his new confidence had attracted the woman who was now his wife, and their courtship had been the catalyst to him finally hiring a second employee, and then another one when they’d wanted to plan and carry off a nice wedding.

His personal life had blended with his professional life in the sweetest way possible.

But as time had gone on, his sales had dropped. Customers were avoiding mentioning the N word around him. Netflix. Netflix had first threatened him by offering simple home delivery of DVDs, from a much larger selection, and then had dipped into streaming over the internet. Customers didn’t have to leave home for those obscure titles. He’d gotten some diehards to stay around. But he couldn’t keep the lights on on a handful of customers once or twice a month.

So it had come to this. The final month, and the final day, and now the final hours. He’d seen a few customers come in to return their last, guilty rentals. Some had even been able to look him in the eye, stay and chat. He tried to be positive and welcoming. He still lived in the neighborhood, he still saw his customers when he went to the grocery store or got coffee or went out to dinner. Even after he closed this store he wanted to be friends, or at least friendly, with these folk.

With two hours left until his closing time, the store as empty as it had been on his first night, he put in a movie to pass the time: The Empire Strikes Back. It was the Special Edition, with windows at Cloud City, but it was still a great film, the one George Lucas had altered the least of the original trilogy. It distracted him from the empty aisles, but as the ending wound to its conclusion, he realized too late that it was not a conclusion at all, but a cliffhanger, and that made him sad.

When midnight rolled around, he had already counted up the till and gotten his final deposit ready. $6.00 total income. Three rentals. At least it wasn’t the slowest night this week.

He tucked the cash bag under his arm, made sure he shut down the computer, and turned out the lights. In the dark, he walked to the front door, and moved the basket so that it would be under the return slot when he closed the door.

Then he walked home. It was a warm, late summer night. He almost wished it was raining.

The next morning the baby woke him up. He offered to check the diaper and feed her. He let his wife keep sleeping.