Short Stories

The grocery store

I walked down the aisle, list in hand humming to myself. I did it to distract myself from the distant gazes I got from the occasional person I passed or waited to move. I’d look down at my list and mumble to myself so they wouldn’t try to talk to me;
“Let’s see, cheese, oh I better get swiss, I do get tired of pepper jack,” I’d say
They’d act like they didn’t hear me. I hope they thought I was crazy. I didn’t care. I really didn’t want them to talk to me. I’m sure they wanted me to move out of their way just as bad as I wanted them to move away from what I was looking for too. But I always moved slowly when I was close to I wanted. I hoped it would make them come back for what they wanted later so I could shop in peace. I could always feel their eyes on me when they got too close. It felt like peeled grapes being rubbed up and down my skin. I wanted so desperately to run away and hide in some cool dark space away from them. After a while, I would pick up my pace grabbing things on my list as quickly as I could and try not to wander around too much. I would get back home and find that in my hurry to get away from them I would forget two or three things each time. This time I made a detailed list and tried to relax as I strolled down each aisle. I wanted to be more leisurely this time. I looked down to double-check my list;
“let’s see…Bread got it. Cheese got it. Broom…still need it and water, then I should be good.”
I looked up at the signs atop of each aisle.
Aisle 8 frozen vegetables, frozen fish, frozen fruits….
Aisle 7 toiletries, soap, hardware, cleaning supplies…
“That should be it.”
I walked, zigging my cart through a fat woman and her husband arguing about sausage;
“No frank, get two more, we got Dave and Christina visiting tonight.”
“Carol that’s damn five pounds of sausage a piece and nearly three dollars a pound woman.”
I could hear them panting between words. They were both out of breath yelling across the produce stands that separated them. As I passed the man, his pink polo shirt looked like it was about to bust at the seam. As cold as it was in meat section I could already see sweat stains forming under his armpits. I kept my eyes ahead. Glancing up occasionally to make sure I was headed toward the right aisle. I’d look down them, one by one, just to see if I had forgotten something on my list.
“Stick to the list and get out of here,” I thought.
I came to the aisle with the brooms and was pleased to see no one standing in it. I stopped and gazed at them for a moment trying to decide which one I wanted. I broke her broom trying to kill a spider and felt terrible about it. The broom she had was old and worn out, but that didn’t mean I wanted to cheap out and by her dome cheap flimsy thing that was just going to break a few days after I bought it and have to come right back here. I saw one for twelve dollars and one for twenty. I made not be some old coupon clipper who came down south for the winter, but I still thought that was expensive for a plastic stick to push dirt around. There was a red one for six dollars I liked, but the handles had ding and nicks in almost all of them. I kept pulling them off the rack looking for one in the back that didn’t look so beat up. After a few minutes, I realized I wasn’t going to find one in perfect condition so I grabbed the one I thought seemed the least worn and laid the handle down in the cart so it wouldn’t hit me in the face every time I turned the cart. I made my way back into the deli as I strolled down toward the drink aisle. Before I could turn down it to grab some bottled water and go. A fat black man popped out of the aisle before it and stopped right in front of me. He was wearing a wife beater tank top about a size too small for him and a pair of red basketball shorts with a black stripe down each leg. He was looking ahead into the bakery but yelling at a woman behind;
“Where are those damn things at Clare?”
As he said this, he slightly turned his head to the right and must have caught a glimpse of me because he turned with his body forming a profile with his head looking directly at me. I could see the slightest bit of his belly hanging out of the shirt. He looked me up and down for what seemed like several minutes but what couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. I started to smile, and before I could say excuse me, he pushed his cart a little farther ahead all while still staring at me.
“Go on then, man.”
I smiled a little wider and nodded as I passed him and moved down to the middle of the aisle. I heard him yelling again as I came up to the water I was looking for;
“You find it yet? Never mind I’m coming to you.”
I grabbed three cases of different bottle and sparkling water. Enough to hold me over for the next couple of weeks hopefully. I could hear children screaming and running in the next aisle over.
“Kayla! Stop it!” One of them screamed
Then they started to squeal as I heard their feet slapping the tile floors as they took off running. Their squeals mad my hair stand up, and I began to sweat a little. I wanted so desperately to leave the cart there and run out of the store. But I knew that I had everything on the list so I could finally go pay and then I could get away. God how I just wanted to be away from all of them. As I pushed my cart up towards the cash registers, I saw that only two lines out of six were open and both us those seemed filled with old women who had filled their carts to the brim. I stood between both lines trying to figure out which one I wanted as everyone else in the store seemed to be trying to jump ahead of me. I got irritated and went to the first one I’d started towards, and by luck, the woman had already emptied her cart on to the conveyor belt. It was completely filled, and she had already begun bagging her groceries but was fumbling with the plastic bags. I leaned forward on the handle of the cart and tried to let my mind drift to other things. I knew I’d be waiting a while longer than I had wanted. The fat woman from the deli had pushed her cart behind me, and I could feel her eyes drilling hole in the back of my had. After a few minutes, almost half the conveyer belt had been cleared as the cashier kept ringing up the groceries at a steady pace. I moved slowly in front of my cart to grab on the thin plastic dividers lined up by the chewing gum on the far side of the conveyer belt. No sooner did I set it down then did the woman behind me became impatient and moved to the other line. I started to put my groceries down as the cashier hadn’t finished scanning the old woman yet. I filled up half the belt then I had to stand and wait for the cashier to finish. Once she had finished, she immediately turned her attention to helping the old woman finish bagging her groceries. I turned back around and started piling up my groceries for her. I was beginning to feel a little relief as I saw my cart emptying. I knew I would only have to pay and then load the car. After that, I was only ten minutes from home and could be alone again. I decided to wait a moment and let the cashier finish helping. I tried to stare at the gum on the rack, but I couldn’t help but to look at her. She was a skinny, young-looking brunette. But she wore glasses with big frames. They looked like they belonged in the 80s on Steve Urkel. She had beautiful shoulder length hair and fair skin. I kept catching myself staring and decided to pile up the rest of my groceries before she caught me. I turned quickly and reached down in my cart and noticed a tall black woman was now standing behind my cart. I had to lean into my cart to grab the tomatoes and onions that rolled all the way to the back. I kept trying to reach and was distracted by a scar on the woman’s left shin. It was a long white scar, and I only noticed it because of the sharp contrast to her dark skin. I finally manage to grab the vegetables, and as I came up, I caught her staring down at me. She had an intense glare. Her face seemed blank, but it was her eyes that said it all. She leaned slightly towards me as her eyes bore through me. She wanted me to drop dead there and then so she could step around me, pay for the few things clutched in her arms and leave. I started to sweat again. I piled up all of my groceries, and then I heard the children screaming still.
“Kayla! I said stop! Mommy!”
They squealed running up and down the store. It was like a knife to my ears. My hands started to shake, and sweat was rolling down my back.
“This was it,” I thought.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to control myself anymore, but I was trapped. The old woman’s cart blocked me to my front. The tall black woman blocked me to my rear, and the screaming kids were there to tackle me to the ground if I made a run for the door. What was I going to do? My head was spinning, and my hands were damp with sweat, and I had put them in my pockets to hide their uncontrollable spasms. My jaw was clenched so tight I was afraid one of my wisdom teeth was about to crack. After a few seconds of utter terror, one of the cashiers called out to the woman behind me.
“Open on lane six ma’am.”
She walked over without saying a word. I looked over to the old woman in front of me, and the beautiful cashier had just finished helping her load her last bag of groceries. I relaxed my jaw, and my hands stopped shaking. As the old woman pushed her cart away, the cashier turned to me. I saw her eyes for the first time. She looked at me with those big glasses and soft eyes. Her eyes had a look of genuine fear. I thought I had given her a look in my moment of terror that had really hurt her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“What for?”
“I’m out of plastic bags. I’ll have to go get some more.”
“that’s okay, I’ve got nowhere else to be.”
She walked off in a hurry rushing towards the stockroom and pushed my cart up to the register and waited. Not too long later she came running back.
“Sorry to make you wait.”
“No worries.”
I moved over to the plastic bags she laid down and started bagging my groceries. I tried to keep up with her, but she was rushing through them as the customers began to pile up in her line. My groceries were piling up near me as she slid some down to me without looking
“Ow, my thumb,”
She looked at me in pure terror, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.”
“Just kidding,” I said with a chuckle.
She smiled. Her small lips parted as she did showing small white teeth all in a perfect row. They were too neat and must have been the result of braces that couldn’t have been off too long. She looked so young. I don’t think she could have been older than seventeen or eighteen. Maybe she was a senior in high school. I kept bagging, and she kept sliding them down. I was about halfway done when she read off my total.
“That’ll be $153.62.”
I slid over to pay with my debit card as she started bagging groceries. I glanced up to catch another glimpse of her and looked for a name tag On her right breast I saw a worn metal clip with a new label that said, ”GRACE.” Once the machine printed out my receipt, I slid back over to my cart as she handed me the bags to put in.
“We make quite a team.”
She giggled and smiled wide again I wanted to make some last joke and say her name to make her laugh one more time but I knew I’d mess it up or I figured she would be too distracted to get it. So I decided not to. I grabbed my last bag and thanked her as I walked away. She smiled so wide I thought her face would crack and I couldn’t help but smile back. I grabbed my sunglasses from my shirt pocket and put them on as I walked through the sliding doors outside. The humidity hit me instantly and fogged up my glasses, making it damn near impossible to see where I parked. I slid them down on my nose as I made my way through the parking lot and loaded the car up. Once I pushed the car into another empty parking space I got in, and before I started the engine, I put my shaky hands on the steering wheel, gripped it tight and gave a deep sigh of relief.
“Almost home.”
I pulled out to the intersection at the edge of the parking lot and waited for my break in the oncoming traffic. When I finally got it, I turned as slowly as I could so the groceries would flip around and smash each other. I decided I would call the old man on the way home. That way I could knock out two chores at once.
“Hello!”
“What ya doing old man,”
‘”About to have my supper. What about you?”
“Oh, headed home from the grocery store, thought I’d give ya a call.”
“I’m Just sitting here in my chair, waiting for my wife to tell me when it’s done.”
“What ya havin?”
“Whatever she decides to make, she cooks pretty good for a Yankee.”
“I know she does. How ya feelin?”
“With my hands.”
I laughed, “you know what I mean asshole.”
“Doctor says I’m alright. High blood pressure as always.”
“Runs in the family don’t it?”
“Yeah, my daddy and his daddy too. Well my wife’s calling, I’m gonna go eat my supper. I’ll talk to you in a day or two son.”
“Alright dad, I’m pulling up at the house, gonna unload these groceries, talk to you then.”
I hung up the phone as I backed up to the garage and hit the opener on my visor. I put the car in park and unfastened my seatbelt as I looked in the rearview mirror to make sure the garage door was open and caught a glimpse of myself. I looked at my scraggly beard that was so new to my face and thought maybe that’s what made Grace smile so much. Maybe she liked my rugged beard. Or perhaps I just liked the idea that it was my charm that made her laugh and not her just being nice. I opened the door, and as soon as I stepped out, I saw my neighbor’s wife walk out and open the door to her Cadillac station wag. She saw and waved. I had never learned her name, and I don’t think we were ever introduced, but she always waived when she saw me. She was a short fat woman with short blonde hair. She always wore a t-shirt and pants. I thought she looked like the perfect mid-western soccer mom. I waved back, and her husband stepped out and saw me. He was just as fat and bald. He had moles on his face and his nose, and he was always squinting. He came walking over before I would wave at him and stuck his hand out to shake. He always shook my hand, but he still had a loose grip and sweaty palms.
“Where you off to,” I asked.
‘We’re going to grab dinner. What about you?”
“Just picked up some groceries. About to cook mine.”
“We still need to have you over one night.”
“Sounds good to me. Was that you hammering on something the other day about 8:30 in the morning?”
He crossed his arms and leaned back, “wasn’t me, I figured it was someone behind us.”
“I thought you had brought your work home with you.”
“No, I have more than I need at work. No need to bring it home.”
“I know what you mean. Well, I better unload these groceries before they spoil.”
“We’ll see you later then.”
He shook my hand again, and it was just as limp and sweaty as last time. He walked back to his car and drove off. It took me a couple of trips to get all the bags upstairs. When I grabbed the last one, I locked the car and closed the garage doors and then locked the back door. Kicking off my shoes I went upstairs and started to put things away. I always liked to make sure everything fit just right in the fridge and the cabinets, so they were never hard to reach or read. Once I finished and had thrown away. I walked over to the thermostat and pulled it down to seventy degrees. I went into the bedroom, threw off my shirt and pants and then fell back on to the bed. I laid under an air vent and felt the sweat on my chest and stomach turning cold. I tilted my head to the left hard and fast and held it there until I heard three loud pops and gave a deep sigh. The pressure in my body was finally released. My jaw wasn’t clenched anymore, and my hands had stopped shaking as I lay there and listened to myself breath. It was over. Thank God it was finally done. I was free from there glaring wet eyes. I was safe. For a while anyway.

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