She spoke as if she knew them. As if they were something other than three-dimensional cutouts standing at their posts behind their service counters, doughy and forgettable faces hopelessly attached to black nametags with white, etched lettering that spelled names which may or may not have been theirs. These were the names she used when she wasn't there, talking about them like they were friends, calling them Shelby and Dick and Morton, not understanding that each of them had lives beyond the store and that Morton, whom everyone called Pronto, had just taken three weeks of sick leave.
But no one understood how lonely she was, how desperately she needed someone to recognize her and wave to her in passing. Every night that she stopped by the store, she could count on Shelby and Dick and Morton to be there, to greet her with cheers when she walked through the doors, to wish her a good night and possibly mean it, and to tell her they'd see her next time, Dick always doing so with a goodbye salute. But even after these pleasantries and even after using their names in front of friends or family, she returned home to a cold room. It was a virtually empty house, the people who were supposed to be living there only asleep when they were ever home. She never saw anyone, though food would sometimes disappear from the kitchen and her things would sometimes move from place to place between her going to bed and waking.
She sat there now, alone in the kitchen, staring at a loaf of bread and wondering where the hell it had all gone. Not the bread, her life. The taste of bread was something she hadn't thought of in years, was something that reminded her of innocence, of childhood. Of happiness. She wanted to have a piece and remember swinging from the rope swing in her front yard, now overgrown, the rope long since rotted through. She wanted to remember sitting on the front porch, drinking juice with her cat, her teeth now as rotted as the rope swing, the cat dead. She wanted to remember riding her bicycle down the streets of her neighborhood, all bicycles now in disrepair behind the shed, the neighborhood deserted as its residents grew old and died. She couldn't bring herself to open the bag. Couldn't even reach for it.
Staring at the new teapot. It didn't whistle like the old one. Nothing was as it was when she remembered being happy. Perhaps that was the problem. The faint strains of a song she used to know caught her ear and she turned, half remembering a moment when someone she loved had mumbled the words to her over the din of a crowded restaurant. But that someone, always loved but never a lover, had stopped writing to her months ago. It was as if all had ended when the letters stopped coming; she couldn't remember having breathed since then. All she could remember were the white letters spelling out Shelby and Dick and Morton, and that each of them worked the night shift. They were all she could cling to. And so she did, hoping that calling them by their names in front of others would somehow conjure them into being, that one of them would become real for a moment, more than a tired face on a body dressed in red. That maybe, if she convinced someone else that she actually knew them, she wouldn't feel so alone. Wouldn't feel so numb. And maybe, if she began to feel things again, she wouldn't worry that her life was happening without her.