Category Archives: fiction

Supermarket Decision

She dragged me in. Physically, I mean. One minute we’re lying sprawled and sated on her bed, and suddenly it’s Hagen Daas Vanilla Bean. “It’s late,” I told her.
“Christ, Tom, it’s only 10:30. Besides, we need more condoms.” She laughed manically and dug her fingers into my ribs. Normally her wicked little nature would have been a turn on — it was certainly one of the reasons we were sleeping together. But not tonight.We skipped our late class to come here, but why hadn’t we just gone to my place? I should have remembered her post-coital dairy cravings — I had a nice private convenience store on the corner. Why couldn’t she be suggesting Friendly’s? The diner? Why Gerard’s grocery, and why on a Tuesday night?
Her point was taken; Gerard’s was just a block away.If I put up too much of a fight, she would know something was up. Sara was smart. She could totally read me. I sat up. “Can you just go — I’ll give you money. I really don’t feel like going outside. It’s cold.”
“Don’t be such a baby. Get off your lazy ass and let’s go get some ice cream.”
I pulled my clothes on slowly. What was I going to do? I began devising weak schemes. Fake a kidney stone? Explain to her that I certainly under no circumstances could go to Gerard’s… for what reason?”I shouldn’t go in with you, Sara. I got busted for shoplifting there recently. They might recognize me.”
“Here — wear this.” She tossed a baseball cap at me and giggled. She didn’t buy it for a second. She smooshed the hat over my spiky hair and planted a big kiss on my mouth. “What’s up with you? You’re being all weird.”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
As we descended the stairs my brain was working overtime, trying to come up with a plan. I got nothing.The lights were bright and I squinted as we entered under the row of hanging potted plants. I quickly scanned the line of registers before ducking into the cereal isle. Sara trounced ahead of me, swinging her leopard print purse, one hand shoved into the pocket of her leather jacket. There was no one at the registers.
The place closed at 11:00, so they probably had one person left, sweeping up in between customers or something. Cara always worked Tuesday nights. But was she closing? She said she switched the shift. She switched. Why couldn’t I remember? I glanced around nervously and then jogged over to catch up with Sara.
She was standing with her hip thrust out, leaning into the dairy case. Her fingers traced the icy tops of the cartons, trying to read the flavors under the frost. Victorious, she held up her pint of Hagen Daas Vanilla Bean. “Nectar of the goddesses,” she told me with a wink. I smiled weakly. Grabbing my hand, she danced toward the front of the store as I tried to hide in the rolls of toilet paper.
I could be out the door in 30 seconds. I walked purposefully behind her toward the register. I prayed that Cara would be gone for the night, or in the back room long enough for me to get out the door. I said a silent prayer that Norman, the pimply faced high school student, would greet us crooked-toothed from register three when we arrived. And he was.
I felt the air escape my mouth in a wonderful gust of relief. She must have clocked out. We’d be out the door in a second. I focused on how good the cold air would feel on my feverish face. How good that fucking ice cream would taste. Sara set down the pint and dug into her purse for her wallet. She stopped suddenly. “Shit! I forgot something. I’ll be right back.” And she trotted toward the Family Planning isle, leaving me stranded at the register.
In a flurry, I yanked out my wallet and nodded to the cashier. “Hey Norm, just ring that up for me, okay?” He was taking an hour.
“How’s it goin Tom? How’s business?”
“Great, fine. Fine. Just ring that up, okay?” I glanced around nervously. My stomach churned.
“Shit. I’m sorry — I screwed this up. Hold on one second.”
“Hey Tom — listen, here’s five bucks. Keep the change. I gotta run.”
“Okay, it’ll just be one second if you want to hold on. CARA! I need a void!”
I would have bolted out the door, but she appeared between me and it instantly, untying her little red apron from around her waist and flinging her dark hair over one shoulder. “Tom! How sweet — you didn’t have to pick me up!” She came over and gave me a kiss over the cash drawer she cradled in her arms as I stood stiffly. “Are you okay? You look a little pale. Here’s the key, Norm.” She stepped around the register and handed it to him.
And then Sara. Running up behind me, tossing two dozen condoms onto the conveyor belt, thrusting her hands into my back pockets.
Time stopped for one second. The thought actually crossed my mind that Cara wouldn’t even notice. That she’d finish with the void key and walk back into the break room and I’d leave like nothing happened. I took Sara by the wrists and removed her hands from my pockets. Cara looked up at us and dropped the cash drawer. Change everywhere. In a surreal moment, no one reacted.
“What the fuck is this?” she hissed.
“Whoa,” Sara laughed. “Service with a smile.”
“Nothing, Cara, nothing.”
Sara pressed a finger to her red lips. “Oh cute — you two know each other?” She looked from Cara’s red teary face at me and back again. Cara just stared at me. Into me.
“Who the fuck is this, Tom?”
“Uh uh uh…”Think of something. Think of something.
“I’m Sara, Tom’s friend from class.” Sara smiled disarmingly and offered her red nail-polished hand. Cara picked up the condoms and held them up. Exhibit A.
“Paper or plastic?” Norm offered cheerily.
“Paper,” Sara returned with a grin. Then something occurred to her. “Oh Tom, is this your adorable girlfriend you always talk about? I’ve heard so much about you,” she practically squealed. Norm handed over her change, fumbling with the ice cream. “C’mon, sugar — I’m going to be late for my date.” She winked at Cara, taking the condom box from her and shaking it before dropping it into the paper bag. “I’m being a little ambitious tonight. You never know — a girl’s gotta be prepared.”
Quick, recover yourself. Get your shit together, man.“So, uh, I was on my way to Pete’s and I told Sara I’d drop her off downtown. You want me to come back and get you?”
Sara interrupted, “Oh hey — I can take a cab if you want…”
Cara looked bewildered. She shook her head slowly. “No, go ahead.” I rubbed one eye with my fist and made an awkward forward movement. Sara breezed toward the door. I kissed Cara on the cheek.
“I’ll call you later,” I told her shakily, and forced a smile. She bent down to collect the loose change.
Outside, the night air felt good on my feverish face. Sara was standing on the curb, facing me, waiting for me. She swung that purse of hers in one hand. I wondered briefly if she was going to smack me with it.She smiled deviously. “You didn’t tell me you had a girlfriend, you moron.”
“I know, I … it’s just…”She brandished the paper bag like a trophy.
“Let’s go eat some fucking ice cream.”

Two People, a Bridge & an Orange

“You want some of this?” he eyed me carefully, and I felt like my response would answer some larger question. His cheeks and nose were pink, blushed by sun and wind as we stood on the bridge, leaning over the edge and watching the boats trail through slowly. He could peel an orange top to bottom, easing the rind off in one continuous spiral. I’d seen him do it. But now he lifted the skin with an artist’s fingertips, pulling off small curls and dropping them down to the river. We watched them float for a minute and then sink, disappearing as fish grabbed the bright orange bits and then regurgitated them.

“No, thanks. I hate when my hands get all sticky.” He raised his eyebrow, but returned his attention to the water.

Faded brush strokes of cadmium red and azure blue still stained his fingers. “Oranges aren’t really travel food, you know. Apples, okay. You just eat it, toss the core, end of story. But oranges — you’ve got the peel, you’ve got the seeds, and the whole thing gets everywhere. Juice and stickiness between the fingers. It’s gross.”

Shrugging, he continued his methodical peeling, digging into the skin, the pieces coming off in various animal shapes. Dog. Turtle. Seagull.

“So I ran into this guy yesterday, and he said he knows you,” I offered.

A boat ducked beneath the bridge and emerged in front of us, tooting its horn in greeting. The slim speedboat was operated by two young, tan cruisers and a cooler of imported beer, the couple straight out of a J.Crew catalog; khaki brimmed hats, Item FH201 Fisherman’s Cap. Colors: sand, lagoon, forest. I imagined the product description, watching them smile in the afternoon sun, tortoiseshell sunglasses, breeze blowing pieces of hair from her loose ponytail, his suntanned nose protected by Origins oil-free SPF15.

Stylish and functional, this 100% pure cotton hat echoes visions of fisherman who used them to stow lures and shield their eyes from the glare of the water. Wrinkle resistant; packs easily. Versatile for boating on rivers, lying by the pool, or grabbing a Margarita at the local watering hole.

Seeing us hanging over the edge, they waved, blinding us with perfect white teeth.

“Where did you run into him?” he asked me finally, uneasily.

“The bike shop on Elm.”

He exhaled. “Does he work there or something?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I went in to get a Kryptonite lock, and he was standing looking at tools behind the counter. He saw me, and he’s like, ‘Are you Jordan’s friend, the one in the paintings?’ I guess he recognized me from those strange portraits you did. Isn’t that weird, that he’d recognize me from a painting somewhere?”
“You’ve got a very distinctive look.”

“Still. Anyway, he said that you painted a mural for him recently. He’s a teacher at the middle school.”
“Was he happy with the work?”

“I don’t know. I imagine so. He didn’t say, ‘Tell that motherfucker to come fix the wall in the cafeteria’ or anything.”

He turned back toward the bridge, arms dangling, letting the carefully peeled orange roll off his hand into the river, watching it bob like a tiny buoy. The fish rushed up, boiling to the surface, jerking it about as it floated. No wonder they were so easy to catch. I doubt I’d eat the fish in this river. I read that book about the chemical dumping. Might turn my organs funny colors.

“That was a good job,” he mused. “I liked that mural. The zebras and shit. Savannah theme.”

“That was good. I mean, based on the Polaroids. You know, you should give me a tour some time. We could go to the schools and places you painted. Maybe show me the cafe downtown where those weird portraits of me are and grab some coffee.”

“Yeah. We should do that.”