Slime Brain – Jon Berger

I’m the best book balancer at my job. I can balance almost any book on my head. I work at a book store. I can run the cash register and talk to customers and get books for customers and talk on the phone with customers all with a book on my head. Usually the nice thick paperbacks are the best. They have weight to them and form to the shape of my skull. It is a tossup between War and Peace or Infinite Jest on which balances better.

I like doing this because it gives me something else to focus on while doing my job. It keeps my feet on the ground. Like if I have to just do my job without balancing a book on my head then I’d get bored and freak out.

 Some of the managers get pissed. I’ve been told I will be written up someday. I’ve only worked here 5 months but it’d be the same shit anywhere else. I’m 29 and am used to this shit. My car is falling apart, I live with my parents and my bedroom is the size of a shoebox. I am used to all of this too. 

My register is short most of the time. I have to sign off on it and it goes in my file. I have a learning disability in math. I’ve learned to never tell anyone this. When people find out you’re subnormal they act like you did it on purpose and you just offended them. Sometimes I don’t think they know they’re doing it but they sure do.

The cash register does everything and tells me what money to give back to the customer. And most customers pay with credit card. But I’m slow with cash because I have to count by using my touchpoints. My brain gets choppy when I count, like if you were playing ping pong with another version of yourself in your head and every time you hit the ball the ball goes into a black void where the net should be. And then the other person, who is still you, is just standing on the other side of the table like an asshole wondering where the fucking ball went. 

But the thing about my head is that I want to blow it off with the .870 Remington shotgun in my basement. I have it all planned out and I’m ok with it. I’m going to use a 12 gauge slug because I don’t trust buckshot to blow my stupid brains out the back of my head. I’m going to go into the woods, in my back yard, sit down crisscross-applesauce style in a nice shaded area on a sunny day and I’m going to put the barrel in my mouth and pull the trigger while looking up at the blue sky with white clouds. 

I called my psychiatrist that I went to when I was a kid. The one that diagnosed me with everything wrong with me. I don’t have any insurance and his secretary told me it was $160 an hour. I make minimum wage. 


Our bookstore is not doing well. It is in my hometown. It is a town that you would not think a bookstore exist in. Everyone’s hours have been cut and we’ve started selling toys. We are taking books off the shelf and putting toys in their place. My manager said this is because the big toy store chain closed and we are filling the toys sales gap or some bullshit like that. So half our store is toys now, they keep selling and we keep getting more in.

I was standing at my cash register and had a headache from looking at the screen all day. It started behind my eye and wrapped like a throbbing rope around the side of my head to my ear. My jaw hurt from grinding my teeth and my mouth was dry from talking and saying the same thing over and over again. I was thinking about having an aneurysm. Thought maybe I could give myself one. I closed my eyes and focused on the throbbing in my head and imagined it being a giant blood vessel snake hiding in the deep swamp of my brain. If I fell over dead the customers would be so pissed because they couldn’t buy their dumb stuff. Then my manager would come over and see my dead body and get pissed and fire my dead body but I’d be dead so I’d just keep lying there on the floor behind the register all dead while the line got longer. So my co-workers would have to get a cart, load my dead body on it. The dumpster out back has a side door that opens up so my dead body would have to be squeezed in the dumpster that way. 

An old lady came up to the register. I was thankful that there wasn’t anyone behind her. It was dinner time so the store slowed down. This lady was dressed up with bright makeup and big shiny earrings. Her hair was short and puffy. She had big rings on her fingers. She was wearing a long tan trench coat that had fur around the collar. The worst person alive. The type of person I spot waiting in line long before they reach me because I know they’re going to act like I owe them something when they get to the counter. 

“Excuse me,” she said, placing her hands on the counter.

“Yes, how can I help you?” I said. 

“Can you show me where the slime is?”


“Yes, it said on your website that you sell slime here.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I don’t think we have any slime.”

“Well, is there any way that you could check for me?”

I wore an earpiece walkie-talkie that made me look like a secret service agent in a comedy where the president getting killed is the punchline. 

I pressed the button on the microphone on the wire and asked if we had any slime in the store.

“CHECK IN THE BACK. WE SOLD OUT. IT SHOULD BE IN THE EDUCATIONAL TOYS SECTION,” my manager said over the earpiece with loud static because our earpieces sucked. 

“We have an education toys section?” I said into the wire.


I tore off my earpiece and it dangled at my feet where it would stay. My ear rung like I just shot a gun. 

“I’ll look in the back room and see what I can find, ma’am.” 

We walked to the back of the store. I was walking very fast and stopped a couple times to wait for her. I had to get back to the cash register before another customer came along to check out or I’d get in trouble even though I still had to find the slime. 

We got to the door that led to the back room when she grabbed my arm and with a very serious look in her eyes said, “It has to be the tubed slime. It comes in a big long tube. It’s the best slime.” 

“Okay. I’ll do my best.”

The back room was made up of carts that we piled toys on so they could be taken out and put on the shelves. Todd was working the backroom. We had this great wall of boxes that UPS dropped off that we could never keep up with opening since our hours got cut. I couldn’t see Todd over all the boxes but I knew he was there because I could hear his techno music coming from his phone. 

I walked around the wall of boxes and Todd was standing at his desk pulling stuffed animals out of a box. 

“Yo, you know if we have any slime that comes in tubes?” I said. 

Todd’s round glasses reflected off the fluorescent lighting just like he was a serial killer. “Um, maybe check the education cart. We sell out of that one pretty quick, but if we had any it would be there.” 

I went to the education cart. I saw the slime tucked beneath some science kits. I pulled it out like a sword stuck in a stone. It had some real happy kids’ screaming-laughing at drooping slime that was all different colors. See: the slime was divided up into a bunch of little mini slime packets, each packet being different colored slime. It was $50. Nobody needed this. Why did this slime exist? Where did it come from? What did it want? How did our store decide to sell this slime? I got real angry. I didn’t like someone like this lady coming up to me and telling me that I had to find them slime. I wanted to tell her to seriously just kill me instead please. 

I came out of the backroom without the slime. She looked up from her phone at my empty hands with panic on her face, her eyes twitching from side to side, searching to see if the slime could magically be somewhere else.  

“Sorry ma’am, I couldn’t find any of the slime.”

“Really?! This is so horrible. What am I supposed to do now?”

She sighed deep and stared into the floor. 

I always liked this part. When a customer was pissing me off and I couldn’t do what they wanted and then they had some type of breakdown. This gave me some sort of rushing feeling in my chest.  

But then this lady started to cry. She had big tears down her face suddenly. She was breathing hard with her sobs. Her lips went into this huge frown. The biggest crying frown I’d ever seen. She breathed so hard when she cried her body shook. 

She started to shake her head and apologize. People were staring at us. I didn’t know what to do.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that my grandson has autism and he only likes this type of slime. He isn’t doing very good and I know it sounds stupid but I want to see him happy. I’m sorry to bother you with all this, young man. I was just really hoping you’d have this in stock.” She wiped more tears from her face and was starting to settle down some. Mascara was all over her nice white, fur lined gloves. She continued to wipe. 

I kinda reached out to maybe touch her shoulder to comfort her but I pulled back. It wasn’t my job and I’ve learned that if something isn’t your job you better not do it. 

She got a text and looked down at her phone shaking her head sadder than ever. 

“You know what ma’am. Let me go back in and take another look. It could be in overstock or something.”

She nodded and sniffed without looking away from her phone. 

I walked into the backroom and grabbed the tube of slime off the cart and walked back out. 

She took the slime from me and we walked back up to the cash registers. There were some people in line waiting. A guy was being an asshole and throwing his arms in the air and shaking his head saying, “does anyone even work here.” 

I had lady cut everyone already standing in line, which pissed them off more, which I loved.

 I checked her out. She left mouthing the words thank you to me and it felt good.

I stared down the line of people waiting to checkout. It was a horde. There was a big juicy book sitting next to me on the counter. It was a book that someone wanted to buy earlier but changed their mind when they got to the checkout. I picked it up and carefully placed it on my head as the next person in line walked up. I went through the line like shrapnel, scanning their items and bagging them with the weight of the book on my head. I had to move in a certain rhythm to keep the book balanced on my head. I was super-fast because of this. My shift ended soon. I was just thinking about driving around my shitty car after work looking for where I could go, what I wanted, who to talk to and what I could do to make me happier even though I wasn’t doing very good.