This is my first story for Advanced Fiction. It was to be written from a fraudulent artifact or some sort of restrictive form. I couldn’t follow the rules, so I invented my own–a thought recorder. What would your script say if you recorded every thought and action on just a simple trip to the grocery store? This is my first attempt trying to emulate this:
Walk into the King Soopers on 28th St. Trip over the buckled rug and slip on the snow. Cauliflower. Return glass milk jug for rebate. Forgot it. List. Stick to your list. Acknowledge the lady at the cash register. Why do they have mangoes in February? Grin, but don’t speak when she talks to you. She’s fat. Wonder what she ate for dinner. Probably not a salad. Probably smokes. Not wearing a ring. Poor thing, working the night shift.
Grab a basket. Must be germs all over this thing. Doctor said to stay away from germs. Healthy immune system. Right, when you actually have an immune system. Germs are everywhere. Remember emergen-C. Does that stuff actually work? Drape basket handle over arm and carry it like a country girl going to the market. Stick to your list. No money to not. Open wallet where list is. Where’s my debit card? Must’ve left it in the car. Always leaving that thing somewhere. Terrible memory, least that’s what he always tells me. Grab a plastic bag. Look for perfect bananas. Realize it’s winter and the bananas are never perfect. Decide on six very green ones. I’ll probably never eat six. Break one off. Feel bad for leaving him all by himself to rot.
Why would you ever want purple cauliflower? Or orange? Wonder how they make that. Scratch your neck, switch the basket to the other arm, and watch sexy man with dark hair inspect bananas. Grin as if you understand his dilemma. Did I remember to put make-up on? No. Shit. I look like an orange marshmallow in this coat. Goodwill. Breathe in a raspy breath. Smells like Goodwill. Turn back to him. How can organic cauliflower can be purple?
Pivot to left and see that cartons of blueberries are 2 for $5.00. Get four because that’s a really good deal and blueberries are healthy or something. Hopefully I don’t turn into Violet Beauregard. Glance back at guy who is checking out the onions. Watch him grab six. What could you make with six onions? Some people probably eat them raw. His breath must be kickin all the time. Raise eyebrows in disgust. Walk over to organic section. Is he following me? Sure hope so. Seven bean soup. Gross. Fiber cereal. Cardboard cereal. That’s what they want me to eat?
Glance over shoulder, shift weight to left leg, stick right leg out, as if you can’t decide on Tabouleh and Vegetarian Chili. What the hell is Tabouleh? Why am I in the organic section? God, my neck hurts. Grab neck and massage a little so the sexy man can see you’re exhausted. Because picking out food is so exhausting. Working late, standing so long, all for money. Debt. Big, big bills. Why is medicine so expensive? Or slept wrong on it. Slept wrong from different mattresses. Sleep in your own bed why don’t you, what bed, no bed, anymore. He left me, they all left me. Pick up phone, check it again, even though it’s not on vibrate and it never rang. See the time. Who goes to the grocery store at 11:36 PM? Sexy man who eats a lot of onions. Ew, gross green onion breath. Kissing. Will that make me cry too? Like in Casper when the ghosts breathe green. Money breath, wads and handfuls of money coming right outta his mouth.
Finally, go for the can of organic black beans. Wonder when you’re ever going to eat organic black beans. What’s the difference between organic and inorganic? I thought inorganic was not alive. Does that mean an organic bean is alive? Will that cause cancer? Everyone is eventually going to get it from something. Antioxidants. Blueberries and free radicals and something about Aspartame and Diet Coke.
Switch basket to other arm because black beans are really heavy. Walk past cereal aisle and glance down at the sugar cereals. Turn your nose up because you only eat the fiber stuff because that’s what the doctor’s say. What doctors? Expensive Viper-driving-million-dollar-warm-home doctors. Sugar cereals probably cause cancer. See someone you sort of know, but don’t really know. Keep walking. He’s in my class. Which one? Big nose. Never realized. Run your fingers through your… it’s a scarf day. Flash him the I-know-you-grin. LIST. Man, I really need a stapler. Do grocery stores even have staplers? Pick up speed past the drugs, diapers, and dog food. Who buys books in grocery stores? Ooo, I really need candy. No, you don’t need candy. Yes, you could really use a succulent and sweet and smooth dose of chocolate, dose of deathly stuff that makes me puke. Glance at list.
Luna bars–glorified candy bars. 10 for $10.00. Lemon Zest, gross. In a bar. Ew. Take ten minutes to decide between Caramel Nut Brownie, Peppermint Stick, and Nutz Over Chocolate. Pick ten, and then put seven back, because ten is absurd. You’ll probably get lazy and eat all of them instead of cooking rice and ramen noodles. Do I have rice? I need to stop eating Ramen noodles. Because that’s so much better than Luna bars. Turn back around because you’re probably craving tortilla chips, salsa, and sour cream. If I buy tortilla chips with flax seed, then it’s okay. Must be better for me. Check the label. Three grams of fiber. Toss into basket. Go back to organic aisle and look for organic salsa. Check the label. All organic ingredients. Nice. Race to the regular chip aisle and snatch queso off the shelf. Forget to check the label.
Winter, spring, summer, or falllll, alll you have to do is calll and I’ll be there, oh, yes I will. Gilmore Girls. When was the last time I saw that? No cable. No T.V.
Look at list. Steak. Am I really going to get steak? Can’t believe I was a vegetarian for three years. Stuck on all that cardboard stuff. Yes, doctor’s, I was a vegetarian. I was healthy. Really, healthy. Let your eyes get bigger when you see the filets. SPECIAL. On filets? Come onnn. Marinate in a little bit of lemon juice, little bit of olive oil, some soy sauce, dash of cayenne. Lots of black pepper. Mouth waters. Verge of drool. Actual drool. Wipe mouth with back of hand. Look at the pool of spit on your hand. Sick.
See your Calculus teacher from high school. Remember when she lost twenty something pounds, and looked great. Tell her she does. She asks about your major. Stutter. Who cares about my major, it’s definitely not calculus. Mutter something about literature, tell her to have a nice day and move on. She stares at your head, but moves on as if she hasn’t really noticed anything. Can’t believe she gave me a B. Stare, stare, glare, wonder, weird, nervous.
Need another job… no jobs, no time. Walk past seafood counter. Sneaking into movies probably isn’t the best thing to do. Nobody ever says anything when they see my head, but I love movies. How did he learn to act and stammer so well. This shirt is too thin. Winter, spring, summer… all you gotta, callll oh yes, I’ll be there. Shiver, hug yourself, pull arms into chest. He just stammered so well. Learned from a real stammerer probably. Shiver again, ignore fish guy when he asks if he can help you. The marshmallow doesn’t even keep me warm. Fish sucks. Eyes drift to floor. Coupons, where are my coupons? Did I cut them out? Keep walking, shuffling, slowly. Tired. Baskets cutting into my arm. Skinny. Pull sleeve back and massage arm with other hand. Thin. So thin. Look down at the red shapes on your bone. Where’d the fat go? Even the muscle. Just bone.
Meat guy. Looks like a meathead–appropriate. Why is he staring? Eyes still penetrate. Smile still contagious. Ears still delicate. Eyebrows still dark and arched. Nose, petite, small, cute, still. Still pretty. I’m still… nothing. Can I help you with anything ma’am? Ma’am? Can I help you find something? Grin. No reply. Ma’am, I’m no ma’am. That’s my mom. Where is my mom? Somewhere beautiful. Somewhere nice, ashes sprinkled. I did that. What did she do for me? Left me here. Man, I’d love a beer. Champagne. Mimosas, but I don’t have orange juice. Clutch basket closer to side. Yeah, you could help me find a damn stapler. Documents spread everywhere across my floor. I just need some order. Just give me some kind of order, space, room to think clear. Maybe, the insurance, the companies, maybe just maybe they will help. If I just find the stapler and get my life together, they might. Quarter falls to the floor from open wallet. Watch it fall in slow motion, rolling, weaving in and out of the tiled floor, like a game, running away from you, hopping. Stops at the feet of a little boy dressed in clothes from Goodwill, just like you. Kneels down without letting his heels off the ground. Legs short because he doesn’t have a long way to go. He looks up to your head. Does he notice too? Doesn’t say anything to his mom, but she’s looking at me too. STOP staring.
Get up to cash register, open wallet. Oh my gosh! Where’s my debit card? Someone stole it. I’ve been pick-pocketed. Pick-walleted. Where did I have it last? Act panicked so sexy man can see you whose in the other line. My scarf. He sees it. Thinks I’m fragile. Breakable. I am, breakable. Pick me up like a toothpick, a wishbone, that’s all I have left is a little wishbone, and break me in half and make a wish, because I’m nothing. Withering away.
At cash register, panicked. Starving. Set basket down full of groceries, and no stapler, and no order or life, and the cornucopia of should have cauliflowers and luna bars and the things you used to eat. The should have, could have would have beens. My body, withering, attacking itself. No one to help or look. Glance down at magazines briefly. See the skinny models on the covers. They’re withering away too. We’re all going to die. Ashes, like the sprinkled ashes on the mountain. Where’s my mom now? No money, no help, no hair, no nothing. Disregard the rich skinnies, bonies, on magazine. Grab a Twix bar. Walk through automatic doors, trip on same rug. Slip on same snow. Damn rug. Enjoy dinner as and you walk home in the snow, without gloves to an apartment in the crappy neighborhood without heat or bed or table or refrigerator. Empty. Listen to the cashier yell from the automatic doors. His voice is muffled from the whipping, raging snow, wind. Realizing that you just stole a candy bar. A seventy-five cent hunk of nothing. Barrier of snow and warmth, outdoors and indoors, rich and poor separates us. Walk free, smugly grinning with chocolate and caramel stuck in stuck between teeth. Stomach growls. Ignore, ignore.
Undo scarf from head, reach arms wide, tilt head back and free scarf into the wind. Free, free, freeze, freezing.