My car limps to the intersection and dies at a red light. Great. Been here before. Wait until cross signal is yellow, car in neutral, left foot on brake, turn key and giver some gas with right foot. Lucky break, left turn arrow. Putter down the road to grocery store for weekly adulting. Hmm. Parking space right in front. I finger deep through the cup holder for a quarter, get the same 4 bags I’ve used for 7 years and walk to the entrance. A large rather very large woman in yoga pants, sunglasses covering half her face is standing by the door complains loudly into her tablet sized phone. Sounds to annoy to ease drop in. With cart in sleeved hands I enter the store. It appears to be a normal looking crowd size and yet, people always stop at the entrance of a building to talk with a friend they ran into in the parking lot. The store front isn’t your vestibule.
“This is the only place that isn’t a madhouse,” a woman says to who I assume are friends or neighbors.
I inch closer to politely signal I’d like to move forward and she nicely apologizes and moves aside.
“No worries.” Flash a quick smile and move along.
Getting to the end of the i see the first signs. The cereal section isn’t piled high anymore. Most of the high sugar products are gone. I get my usual box of Raisin Bran.
Milk is down to last few racks. I reach in and grab my usual flavor almond milk.
Ahead there’s a young dad with two young boys. One about 7 the other 4 or so walking around trying to help dad. The smallest boy opens the freezer door and pulls the first thing he can grab and hands it to dad who’s trying to find the items they need. “We don’t need that”, and dad puts it back.
I pick out a few squash and one of the 6 last bags of small potatoes. The normally full gaylord of potatoes are gone. I imagine the fun that could be had with an empty box that big.
Fresh meat section picked clean. Only meat juices and a fluorescent lit hollow shell remain. I grab my usual bag of frozen chicken breast. $5.45 for 2lbs. A deal I’ve believed.
“Hey they still have toilet paper!” A woman yells.
Bread area completely empty. I never noticed the color of the walls. There was always bread there. Such an odd yellow orange brown color. I hop two isles over and get the usual pack of flour tortillas. I hear the dad calling for his boys.
“I just don’t know where I’m going to put all this food. My extra freezer is full and the left side of my fridge is full too.” The very large yoga panted woman says to who appears to be a stranger. My stomach turns. The urge to accidentally clip this woman in the heels with my cart creeps into my mind. I wonder who’d help her up. Would she still be there struggling if the cannibals came. An empty store with a tortoise on its back. Cannibal tribe eat for days. What if we resort to that? Should I cage this beast for later? Snap back, move on.
Only angel hair noodles remain. The Christians were so kind to leave behind a box.
The sign says, only 4 canned items per person. We reserve the right to limit quantities. The right? Interesting. Need, not apply I guess.
I collect a few more usual items and go to register. They haven’t installed the self check outs yet. I hope they never do.
I put my items on the belt and the separator piece of plastic at the end. From behind my empty cart I see the littlest boy trying to put up a container of strawberries on the belt. I notice his left isn’t usual. It’s completely white and 3/4 open.
“Looks like you’ve got the helpers today.” I say to the dad. He smiles and agrees.
I pay my bill and go to the counter to bag my groceries. I hear the cashier tell the dad, “We have a 4 cans per item limit.” My stomach turns again. Seems the helpers picked an extra can.
I get to my car and pop my trunk and see the large woman in yoga pants. She leaves her cart in the parking lot. Apparently this may be a sign of wealth or class snobbery. She opens the door of her new Mercedes sedan and for all the years of German engineering the suspension still gives way and creaks. My stomach flips. I feel sickness.
I return my cart collect my quarter I’ve used for years and realize how sick I am. I go back inside and walk past the dad, “forget something?” He asks. I say no and point to the restroom just around the corner behind him. I turn the corner and see the one eyed boy trying to drink from the smallest fountain and crane his neck to the left to see who’s there. I stare into his only eye I can see, the 3/4 white eye. Time froze and the mind continued.
This boy will grow up to feast on the tortoise in an empty store.
By: PARKER FRITZ