Shopping Solo

“Are you okay?” I heard it, too. Sounded like collapsing Thomas’s english muffins; happened right in front of ‘um. Can’t see from my vantage point, but whatever happened is enough to get a few people to turn away from $3 Weaver’s chicken breast (with club card). Two, concerned, leave their carts for a few seconds. One leans to the side; leaves two fingers on the steering bar. Serious stuff.

“Are any of these fucking mops under $10?” The candles are 3 for $3—with club card.

There’s some type of delay. Doesn’t look like anybody’s helping…whoever up. The english muffins aren’t on sale today. There’s some silence, thoughts placed in baskets.

“Why are the Swiffers cheaper than the mops? Do they come with the wet pads? They do. $12.99. Na.”

Some kind of stammers, people nod indifferently.

“Yeah, those sandals be dangerous…sometimes, I guess.”

“Anything here will put us over $15; just use the broom. Maybe use that thing Gina’s dad gave us…you, if anything.” I imagine I pour Clorox (I think I have bleach) and water into a paint tray, dip the cloth sweeper into it, and “mop” the wood floors.

“If you mix 1 part bleach and 10 parts water, you have a medical grade cleaning solution.” That’s what he said yesterday—I buy it.

Mom told me to mix vinegar with water. “It makes your apartment smell like a salad, but it’s safe on the floors.” I don’t have vinegar, and these ain’t my floors.

The spill picks itself up.

“Yeah, gotta be careful wearin’ them sandals.”

The crowd disperses. Back to the Weaver. The full-priced english muffins are fine, but they can stay on that shelf. So can the fuckin’ mops, I’ll just use the broom. The carts are rolled away. I take my basket to the 10 items or less lane, punch in my phone number for club card savings, and check out the checkout girl. $14.37. Boo-yah.

“3 more months and you’re out of here.

I don’t want to move.”

“Maybe…”

I pretend not to hear the woman collecting donations, climb into my car, and take off. Look forward to getting back to the apartment, unpacking these three bags, then…

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Last Night

I’m safe here. Mist seeps through a missing pane, one of his ex-girlfriend’s took it out with a right straight. Hard to imagine, I’m a lefty. I don’t want to face the night. I don’t want to walk to my car. From here, I can see it all. The letters, the addresses, the cracks in the street, the empty sidewalk of an unsuspecting town. I don’t need to be out there, they don’t need me, either. My mouth slumps.

I tell people I grew a beard out of laziness. “Didn’t feel like paying $6 for a razor.” Not quite right. I let it scrawl my face to hide the sadness of my lips. Full, pink, they receive remarks. They’re rarely perked. Twangy hairs dangle over their cracks, slip into my mouth, and with my teeth I pull. A condemned house. Overgrown. Useless.

“You have sad eyes all of a sudden, don’t be sad!” She said. There’s no hiding. What I had thought in that moment was beautiful and painful. It bares no recall – a truth whose power lives and dies in me. I stroke the hair on my chin, my eyes begin to droop.

His door locks like some found antique machine forced to life–of course it still works. I wait with the draft, with the mist.

We exit his building; his car is in front, mine a block away. We shake hands, bump shoulders, and I take flight against little wet pincers. He says something. I turn back, laugh and smile. He disappears inside his car and it’s far too late for pedestrians. I can remove my thumb from my mouth now. It’s mostly healed.

Two weeks ago I stopped a grocery store panic attack by chomping on my thumb until it bled. I wrapped it like sliced deli meat, and watched with pursed lips as my stain stuck the napkin to my finger. Too many people, too many. Shopping, doing. Being. No, not me. I can’t. I won’t. Bread, coffee, oatmeal, bananas, yogurt. I ran my fingers, one bandaged, over the paper. Focused on its crinkles. It soothed me enough to weave up and down aisles. To become.

On the corner, I wait for a sports car to droll past before crossing. There’s flecks of black in the blue line, only took 6 months. A block and a half away, a block away, half a block away, a bus charges towards its garage. The mist kneads the headlights like dough, blurs and bends them to form an electric halo. Just as I find the curb, I imagine without effort tossing myself head-first into its grates. There’s a mess, my body parts scatter. It erupts the boulevard with lights and sound. In the next moment, I’m surrounded by sterility and stiff lips. Would my hands land palms-up? Is there anybody on the bus? In the next moment, I’m gone.

Beyond the lights and self-righteous silence of the boulevard, I slink down a side-street.

Be happy, dammit.

I move with the wind, a little game I’ve played by myself since childhood. How quiet can I be? I’ve snuck up on friends without trying. Overheard terrible conversations meant for none. I’d like to quietly slip into the fluffy shadows of these hedges, but don’t have permission. I live vicariously through my own shadow. It disappears and pokes out. Grows long and short; knows the rules. I live like a shadow. But I am not literal.

Be happy, dammit.

Between two rows of crane-dropped homes, whose owners pay no mind to the magic and privilege of flipped switches, a stream of light intrudes the road and wanders with mist. Is that my car? I forget my little game and jog towards the source: a dark, almost vanished metal brick in the filtered night. It is my car. I unlock it, turn the light knob while cursing myself out, and plug the key into the ignition with bated breath. It turns on; the fan-belt squeals for a moment. It stays on. I smile for a moment, and roll towards the sign to STOP.

Dredge

A prolonged bout with isolation and God-forgive-mes brought hollow chrome to his temple. Which is to say: people talk. I never met him; only read about his capture and those two boys. He’d found himself in others’ jaws around town plenty: bottom lips flinging front-tooth gristle, spitting foul and his name. And when he was released after two-months because of lost paperwork or whatever-the-case? Ho-oly hell. We were all a raindrop away from rope and torches.

He sunk somewhere beneath town after that. Nobody ever saw him, nobody heard of him. Rumors floated every-which-way, though turns out he did change his name. The two boys, bless their hearts, did well-enough for themselves despite it all. People around town set up a fund for them, collected a nice sum for psychiatric assistance since his guilt paid no settlements. They both go to private high schools, separate—I suppose it can be tough keeping friends with eyes who’ve seen like your own.

I guess he never got too far. Police found him in an old Buick pulled over in the shadows of State St. Lots of people say that’s where he snatched them up, just a block from Columbus Elementary, but it ain’t true. Everyone who knows the story knows he was a child-therapist; well, he wasn’t, but he was illegally practicing as one. Both boys were patients he skipped town with one day. Simple as that. Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to, lots of planning involved. Thankful he never sat breathing on State St. I guess.

Kind of creepy. A guy like him slept under our beds and bathed in our spit for over a decade. Where’d he live? Where’d he get his groceries? Who looked after him? Not a soul around here couldn’t tell you what he looked like. After the boys came home, a whole campaign lit up in his name: town hall meetings, YMCA parent-teacher hysterics, school assemblies, buddy systems. If just one of his hairs peeked from a sewer-grate, somebody’d notice. He stirred quite a many into a boil, and when they spilled over…hoooo. You’d think half the damn town participated in ugliness the way most carried on the fear. Just goes to show: when the bad’s ugly, the good’ll stomp it dead if it’ll make them appear better.

Inside Hector’s Cafe, nasty chatter echoes off of innocent wallpaper for all to hear.

“Frankly I’m glad he’s dead.”

“Just wish I got the chance to pull that trigger.”

Never quite understood bringing the dead back to life just to kill them again. The most painful way to go, to me, is with afterward-silence. Like he never had an effect. Then again, can’t blame ’em for gettin’ last kicks in before he’s underground for good. Helluva thing for a person to do. Can’t imagine what’s dredged up in those poor boys.

I stopped picking up the townie paper years ago so I didn’t have a clue he’d done himself. I wasn’t kept far behind without it; Hector’s was center stage for these kinda offhand meetings. They swooped in with the cold and talked dry-mouthed gossip in line. A seat at Hector’s counter was good enough as reading any daily paper without worrying why people get paid to write 2-hour opinions. From a murky reflection I can see all those printed words network around the cafe anyhow. No need bothering two senses with one type of nonsense.

“…going by the name of Geoffrey Fields before he did us all a favor. What kind of name is that to take? Especially when you got the choice of any damn-name you could think! Thinking about going on over there tonight and askin’ someone about it myself.”

“You hear he’s bein’ laid down in Franklin’s Memorial over on Stationary Drive? Oughta just burn him and send him express to hell.”

“What kind of funeral home offers a pedophile their venue?”

“The same as any that takes money, I’m guessin’.”

Good to hear a laugh between the rambles. Their thoughts linger behind long after they bring in the cold on their way out. Has to be the longest Geoffrey’s been on the surface since. Shit, who would turn out for a pedophile’s wake? Somebody, I’m guessin’, to make it worth the money it takes to display him. What with the flowers and niceties and all that. Franklin’s on Stationary. Shouldn’t be thinking about him at all. Wonder what time? Only damned thing a newspapers good for.