I peered into the damp crate. Is it... alive? With gloved hands I reached into the dark and pulled out a round, blue, squishy lump covered in pockets of hair and discoloration. I groaned. It moved.
I've never seen so much mold in my life.
I once did a school project on mold--I intentionally grew it on oranges, bread, and leather, to see what kinds grew on what, differences in color, form and function, and how long it took. I looked at it under the microscope. I kept each specimen in a closed container, away from my nose and mouth. Yes, I intentionally grew mold, watched it, encouraged it to grow bigger. And yet I had never seen as much mold as I did today when cleaning out the back cooler at work.
Drip, drip, drip. The vent leaks in one corner. Lilies, probably from March, quietly rot next to oranges that had cemented themselves to the back of the shelf. I smell pickles, but I'm not sure where they are. Perhaps there are some cucumbers hiding somewhere in the dark.
I start with the trays of pots on the ground. Their contents have been shriveled up for far longer than I've been employed here. The soil on the top is bone dry, yet when I take the foil off the pots I find wet mush in between the pot and foil. Forgetting that I recycle everything, the entire tray, pots included, are placed carefully, slowly, into a garbage bag, so as not to splash mush on my face. Trays and trays of plant slime mingle with opened, half-chewed brownies from June, muffin wrappers, and expired bags of opened chips. I toss it all out. Garbage bag one, bag two, bag three.... Water bottles are scattered across the floor, strewn about the moldy pots, and some have rolled to the backs of the shelves. I hold my breath and dive in after them.
I sort the remaining empty pots, trays, and baskets that I was able to salvage. I sweep the ground and discover a cement floor under a thick layer of dirt, dried petals, and wrappers. The garbage bags go out to the dumpster, and I look at an empty and (mostly) mold-free room.
I run to the front of the store, breathe, and tell everyone I can that I'm done I'm done I'm done. I take someone back to validate my work, walking proudly to the back. I open the cooler door, smell the putrid air, and stop. I never did find those cucumbers.