My shift began just like any other.
I'm standing there in the fitting room, four hours in of my six hour work shift. I don't particularly enjoy my job, but so far the evening hadn't been too bad, all things considered. It was a pretty busy night, which I like, otherwise standing around in there gets really boring, really fast. I like to see what people pick out and silently judge their choices. I try not to look doubtful when someone comes up with a pair of jeans I know won't fit them, and I always make sure to hide my look of "I told you so" when they're surprised to find out they didn't. I'm not always thinking negative thoughts, though. I also enjoy telling someone they look really nice when you can tell they need a little confidence boost. Sometimes I'll make idle chat with someone sitting outside, as they reluctantly wait on their friend/husband/wife/grandma who dragged them here against their will. On that night, I was doing all of those things, so it wasn't a really bad night.
Until the feet came in.
A woman whose name I never learned, let's call her Stacy, walks up, holding the clothes she's picked out in my face. I tap the t-stand I'm standing behind (that says, "Please hang up your items"), and ask her to hang them. She rolls her eyes and haphazardly puts them on the t-stand (we are off to a bad start). I count her items and wonder if her belly will fit into the size 5 dress. Stacy is rather plump, her t-shirt should be two sizes larger, and is wearing visible lip liner. I count the items and hand her a number placard and she goes in. Five minutes later two women come out, hang up their rejects, and are fanning their faces.
"That woman took her shoes off and the whole fitting room smells awful!"
The fitting room is a decent size and I can't smell anything, so I apologize to the women and tell them I'm sure the smell will go away once she's gone. Meanwhile three other women come out, complaining about the same thing. We have been out of air freshener for two weeks. Eventually, Stacy comes out.
And then, I too, can smell the feet that has chased everyone away.
Stacy hands me her rejected dress (where has the hanger gone?) and walks away. The smell is wretched. It is as if you took her stinky feet and left them to ferment with no air flow. It is seeping out from the fitting room and trails behind Stacy as she goes off into the store, spreading her smell to all she encounters. I continue my work while trying to covertly cover my nose. I'm sure the smell will clear out soon enough.
Ten minutes later, the smell is stronger than ever. More customers and coworkers complain as the smell spreads like a virus. I'm being told they can smell it at the front of the store. I use my walkie-talkie to contact the manager on duty, who is safe in her office. Let's call her Janet.
"Hey Janet, do you by chance have any of the air freshener in the office?"
"The smell in here is really bad, like, customers are complaining about it."
"Well, I don't have any. I have some body spray I can bring you?"
Janet comes to the fitting room, Bath and Body Works body spray in hand. I can't even stand at my post anymore, the smell was too strong. She is still ten feet away from me when she stops in her tracks and covers her nose. She pulls herself together, and walks toward the bathroom, spraying as she goes. I tell her it's not the bathroom, and as she gives me a look of surprise as I point to the fitting room. Holding her breath, she goes in. Spray spray spray. Many sprays later she emerges; half the bottle is gone. Now it smells like Midnight Blossom and feet. There is nothing more we can do.
Two hours pass, and neither smell has faded. My nose wants to cry and my head is hurting. It's 10:45 and the night is coming to an end. As we gather our things we hope tomorrow will be a fresh start with fresh smells.