Neil Leadbeater – fiction

Sudden Death

The strangest things happened at Mr. Slade’s Typing Academy. To begin with, there was the gramophone. He maintained that it was a helpful aid to rhythm. When he put on a record, you could be easily forgiven for thinking that it was a dancing class. He would stand in front of his students and conduct them with his fingers. Everyone agreed that his timing was perfect. To begin with, he played records at rates of speed which enabled the finger movements to be made at one stroke per second and then he built it up to the equivalent of four strokes per second or, to put it another way, 48 words a minute. “You’re movement must be in perfect accord with the rhythm,” he’d say, “until it becomes automatic”. The effect was almost hypnotic. “A relaxed posture is so important for continuous work at the keyboard. Repeat after me.” He was a stickler when it came to the study of rhythm – the rhythm of the beginner and the rhythm of the rapid operator.

On the first night, he took his students through the whole spectrum of commercial abbreviations: everything from A.a.r (Against all risks) to A/v (Ad valorem). They learnt how the ampersand should be used for the names of companies but not as a conjunction in the body of a letter; how accents could be substituted for existing type and he made sure that they had all the necessary typewriter accessories (erasers, cloths, oils and rollers) to hand.

Mr Slade was dapper. He was tall and thin and practically bald. He had a small moustache. He believed in courtesy and punctuality and sharp medium-grade pencils. He had a penchant for Pica type because it was neat and wrote ten letters to the inch with no appearance of cramping.  He shouted respectability.

The second class was devoted to the next letter of the alphabet. Everything from a backing sheet to a button. Nobody dared to step out of line or make a mistake. Mr Slade was not a man to tolerate mistakes. He was far too correct in everything.

After the warm-up and the military marches, everything at the third class revolved around the letter C. Before the night was out, Mr Slade had tutored his students in capital cases, concave keys and the correction of carbon copies. They reflected on how short the class would be when they reached the letter X but this was not to be.

Between the third and fourth class, on a calm summer’s evening somewhere in the London suburbs, Mr Slade died. They should have known that D stood for death and that he was now a d/w (a dead weight). For such a tidy man, it was an untidy end.

Nobody heard the warning bell. The bell-trip had failed to connect. Somehow or other there was a patent need for a word of explanation.

In mourning his passing, his students considered that their education was incomplete. The class of ’59 had only just begun and a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.

 

🍃

 

Neil Leadbeater is an author, editor, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books includeHoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey(Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments(Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014) andFinding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017). He is a regular reviewer for several journals including Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (USA)and Write Out Loud (UK).  His work has been translated into Dutch, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.

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Phebe Jewell – fiction

In Line

Fourth in the express lane at Safeway, you scan the rows of gossip and gum displayed at eye level. The old man in front of you keeps taking the same piece of paper out of his pocket, reads it aloud, then puts it back in his pocket. A little boy in the lane next to you points to the mylar balloons floating above the registers. A blue and gold “Congrats, Grad!” rubs against a pinkly sweet “Happy Birthday”.

You’ve been stuck with this cashier before, the one who whistles “On Top of Ol’ Smokey” as he punches in each code. You glance behind you. The line stretches through the aisle beyond the frozen pizza.

Someone calls your name.

“Hi Marge” you reply, keeping watch on the boy, now begging his mother for a balloon.

“I thought that was you! How are you? It’s been ages. How are Jim and the kids? When does Abby graduate? And Simon? What’s he up to these days?”

Unsure which question to answer, you ask, “How’s work?” trying to remember her new girlfriend’s name, the one who works with disabled kids. The next lane over the mother nods, smiles at her son.

Marge tells you Elise is a miracle worker, amazing and beautiful, and how lucky she is while the cashier untangles strings, finally presenting a green and purple “I Love U!” to the boy.

Marge has never been so happy, so alive. You smile at the appropriate moments and wonder what Marge would say if she knew you’d just left your latest lover, a 24 year old bearded dog-walker who can only fuck standing up, pushing you against a wall, a doorjamb, or a kitchen counter.

“Do you know what I mean?”

“Sorry, Marge…it’s been a long week, and it’s only Wednesday!”

“I hear you!” You remember that little-girl nervous laugh. You want to slap her. Instead you lean towards her, head tilted as if you really care. The guy behind you looks up from his phone and juts his chin. The line is moving.

What would she say if she knew you and Jim haven’t had sex in two years, that Abby has been cutting herself, and Simon refuses the gender binary? What would she say if she knew  the dogwalker was your fourth fling in three years?

What if she asked the right questions? Would you tell her about waking every night, creeping downstairs for a glass of water, your breath a small animal fighting gravity in your lungs? Would you tell her how often you hesitate by the second floor window?

You time your smile at just the right moment, and Marge beams at you. The cashier beckons you to place your six items on the belt. You plunk down salsa, beans, tortillas, two overly ripe avocadoes, a bloodied pound of hamburger, and a bottle of merlot. The little boy smiles up at his mother, the balloon string wrapped around his wrist.

“See you.”

“Bye, Marge.”

You thank the bagger and slip outside, impatient to devour the candybar you lifted when no one was looking.

 

 

🍃

 

 

Phebe Jewell

Henry Simpson – fiction

Close to Home

 

Nathan’s email contained an all hands notice to attend a town hall in the cafeteria at 0800. He, along with 300 or so co-workers, filed like drones into the big, funky dining hall on the first deck and sat at long, penitentiary-style tables, chatting as they waited for Bobby to start the show and tell.

 

The division chiefs were seated on folding chairs atop a raised dais. They were mostly pale, middle-aged, somber-faced, gray-haired, casually attired, and slightly overweight. Top dog Bobby Bendix, a lunchtime jogger, was tall, lean, and fit, with the handsome, haughty face of a Ted Bundy.

 

Nathan wondered what this so-called town hall was all about. The agency had never had one before. The recently elected president may have started the town hall craze during the election, going from town to town to commune with average citizens and convince them he was the most caring candidate. Other candidates followed his example, and pretty soon Nathan was unable to turn on his TV without encountering one.

 

Now that the empathetic dude had been elected, his minions were imitating him, It seemed like they were using town halls to feign interest in workers but didn’t honestly give a shit; it was all public relations and keeping up appearances.

 

Nathan hated the agency, composed of paper pushers, bureaucrats, and managers for life, but at least he couldn’t get fired, as in private industry, where he had worked before. In that former life, he had grown weary of the recurrent layoffs. He had joined this den of mediocrity for job security.

 

 

###

 

 

“What the fuck’s this all about?” Doug said to Carl, who was seated beside him. Carl was Doug’s best and only friend in Human Resources. A former Marine, Carl always said what was on his mind.

 

“Bobby wants to impress everyone what a sweet dude he is,” Carl said.

 

“You don’t like him, Carl?”

 

Carl snorted. “Fuck, man. Do you?”

 

“I’m working in the shithole because of him.”

 

“It’s town hall, you can complain.”

 

“Maybe I will.”

 

“Don’t, man. You’ll piss him off. You can’t go no lower than the bottom deck on this ship of fools.”

 

Doug did not want to be there. It would be boring and painful having to listen to that asshole talk gibberish into the microphone for however long it took to exert his death grip on the workers. He would rather be roaming the Internet, doing social media, pornography, computer games, and whatnot.

 

He detested Bobby. Once, on an elevator, he had overheard him say to a division director, “Have you ever noticed how human resources departments are filled with losers?”

 

The memory stung, for two years ago, after losing his temper and spouting off to a manager, the manager complained to Bobby, who demoted Doug from programmer to trainer, and reassigned him to HR, where he worked in a cubicle in the basement, the refuse bin of the agency. It was filled with filing cabinets, outdated computers, a supply room, and cast off employees in cold storage because they didn’t fit in or were fuckups, insubordinate, lazy, or too stupid or smart for their own good. His new job was to man the computer help line and train computer incompetents how to use their computers.

 

“Oh-oh,” Carl said. “Bobby’s on his feet. . . now he’s walking to the mike . . . he’s about to tap on it. Shit, cover your ears, Yogi Bear.”

 

A tapping sound like an over amped snare drum at a deafening rock concert filled the hall, then silence, then the nasally voice of the supreme leader said, “Hello, guys. How is everyone?”
Mutterings from the audience followed by a few claps.

 

“You all look fine,” Bobby went on.
Audience laughter.

 

“I bet you’re all wondering why we’re having this town hall.” A long pause.

 

“Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because it gives us a chance to bring you up to date on agency developments and allow you, our talented workforce, to share your thoughts on how to improve our workplace.”

 

A long pause.

 

“I’ll start by saying that the downsizing rumors are just that, rumors, so your jobs are safe, at least for the time being.”

 

“How long is that?” someone shouted.

 

“Who asked the question.” A pause.

 

“Please stand up.”

 

No one stood.

 

Audience murmurs.

 

“Well, if whoever asked the question won’t identify themselves, I won’t respond.”

 

Someone whistled. Scattered clapping echoed throughout the hall.

 

Bobby turned to the seated division directors and they carried on a brief dialogue.

 

When the audience quieted, Bobby turned back to the mike. “Ahem. Moving on, in the next three months, contractors will be removing walls on floors six and seven to convert the private offices to open space with cubicles.”

 

“Cubicles suck,” someone shouted.

 

“Studies have shown that cubicles increase interactions among employees and enhance teamwork.”

 

“Distractions, not interactions,” someone yelled.

 

“The decision has been made,” Bobby said forcefully. He cleared his throat, and continued, “Moving on, Ryan Fox is a former FBI agent. He will be coming aboard next week as Security Officer. His office is located on the first floor, opposite mine. I encourage you to drop by, introduce yourself, and make him feel at home.”

 

Doug stood up and shouted, “Hey, Bobby. I got a question for you.”
Bobby looked at Doug. “What’s on your mind, Douglas?”

 

“When are you going to fix the climate control system in the HR spaces?”

 

“Is there a problem?”

 

“Yeah. It’s freezing down there in winter, and sweltry in summer.”

 

Bobby turned to Ellen Sparks, Doug’s supervisor. “Is there a problem with the climate down in your neck of the woods, Ellie?”

 

“No, Bobby.”

 

Bobby looked straight at Doug. “Sorry, Doug. Ellie doesn’t share your opinion.”

 

Doug said, “You should come on down there sometime, Bobby, find out for yourself.”

 

“Moving on . . .”

 

Doug remained standing.

 

“Was there something else, Douglas?”

 

“Yes, sir. We already got the federal cops. Why a security officer?”

 

“Ryan’s a special investigator, on temporary assignment. When he finishes it, he’ll leave.”

 

Doug flushed, feeling a sudden sense of panic, and sat down.

 

“Nice work, Dilbert” Carl said. “Now you’re in for it.”

 

Sitting there in the cafeteria, Doug felt an amalgam of emotions. Anger at Bobby’s dismissive response and his supervisor’s lie. Anxiety about that FBI guy Ryan. Fear because he and Carl had a money-making scam going. Carl ran the supply room. The scam was, instead of shipping all surplus property to a federal warehouse, he took the good stuff to Doug’s garage and they sold it on eBay and Craigslist.

 

Doug wondered if someone had caught on to their scam and the FBI was coming to investigate.

 

He felt like mentioning his theory to Carl, but had second thoughts.
Carl had said the scam was undetectable, but he was not the brightest guy.

 

The FBI always got the bad guys, and if they busted Carl, he would incriminate Doug as his accomplice. Stealing from the government was a federal crime. If convicted, Doug and Carl would spend hard time in Leavenworth.

 

“Get up, man,” Carl said.

 

“Huh?” Doug said.

 

“The revival’s over, man. Time to get back to the shithole.”

 

Doug got up, and looked around. The cafeteria was almost empty. They walked together toward the stairwell.

 

“What’s wrong with you?” Carl said.

 

“You were sitting there, like in a trance.”

 

“Got a lot on my mind these days, bro.”

 

Carl checked his watch. “Shit! It’s only eight forty-seven. It’s gonna be a long fuckin’ day.”

 

 

Continue reading

Larry Smith – fiction

Professionals

 

Sorrowing face nothing to sorrow. Not like. Or the other so beautiful that one was. Half-Chinese half. Done from Day One. Too bad so sad brave until she wasn’t. But brave as long as. Remember what Arlen said at the dinner. This one pissed. Exercised pissed at me. The wicked messenger. What doctors do for a living asshole? Blushing mother thing of sorrow blushes while she sorrows and vice versa. Ugh. Arlen at the dinner. Arlen said the hardest thing I as a doctor have to tell. Tell.

“What questions do you have?”

“What if the treatment doesn’t work?”

Right in front of his mother. Asshole. Mother face pale how pale can it. Tell.

“The latest research shows better than an 80 percent likelihood of success and in your case we’ve got time on our side and the fact that you’re young and strong.”

Sitting mother. Brings her. Brings here. Dickhead. Arlen. The hardest thing I have to tell besides going to die. Sonny boy’s pissed still. Go ahead file lawsuit. Sue sickness. Sue disease and me co-defendant. Asshole. She wants to hold his hand. He’ll puke. What would she if it were me? Gene said Mom was a dowager hot to fuck. She was Gene’s mother too. Had him moved on had me. Me. Mi mi mi mi. I miss Gene should go. If I ask mother if she has any no would piss him for sure. Gene Chicago Crystal Park Sherwood Park something like. Up and coming neighborhood. I’d like to go. Something like. When Sonny gets blue eyes get something something. Easy piss him off. And?

“Am I going to have to take these pills for the rest of my life?”

Say thank you you have a. What it was like for Gene seeing her me. Ten years or so old he was. Have a life. Smile.

“For now, the answer is yes. But the research being done is very encouraging. We learn more every day.”

Accept. I think Gene torture. Always ever since. But brave too. Pride I think. I like pride. Yes?

“So when should I expect them to come up with a total cure?”

Damn such asshole what did Jackson say oh yeah. Mother pale now blushaway. Or what Arlen said hardest thing besides die is tell them they can’t drive anymore. The lost Lenore. Second-hardest thing I get that. It’s easy. But comedy is hard they say. Explain.

“We can’t know that. The important thing is that you’re able to live a full and rich life.”

“I’ve never done that in the past. You think I’m going to start now?”

What? What do these? Mother like a platypus. Is that it? Platypus? Assholes expect us to say? Rabbi Hillel led full rich life so should you. Or what. What Jackson said said she gave a bad. Said the patient gave suffering a bad name. Wrap this up…

I assumed Lurleen was her professional name just as I figured Crystal and Julieta were their professional names. Doesn’t matter to me one way or another although I never bother with a professional name. I like Cindy, my real name, all the more because it has the sound of “sin” in it and that certainly says it all, doesn’t it? The four of us were chatting in the lobby waiting for the limo that would take us to the party when the old lady and I guess it was her son walked by, the way she looked at us was kind of cute but the way he looked at us was a downer. Anyway, not just us, there are a lot of girls in town who admire Lurleen and envy her too, that’s for sure. She has a masterful way about her that gets her the best clients and I didn’t doubt she’d do so again tonight. The president of the rubber company – that joke didn’t get past us – was probably going to be there, that’s what Beth over at the agency told us, and unless someday else really spectacular turned up, like maybe somebody from the Browns, odds were he’d be the one Lurleen was going to wind up with. Word about her had spread around town and guys were talking about her but not like they talk about other girls. I don’t think she does anything sexual that the rest of us don’t do just as well; I don’t think that has anything to do with it. In fact, my sense is, the way they talk about her is kind of respectful. It’s the way she carries herself. Like I say, she’s masterful in certain ways, the way she looks at men when she meets them, a kind of message she sends, that there are limits with her, limits about how she expects to be treated, that kind of thing, and that, if you talk to her at all, you’re going to need to talk to her in a certain way. Guys respect that. I’d say it’s damn good for business from her perspective. Definitely, we treat her with a certain respect though I’ll bet some bitch does take a shot at her someday because that’s the way things are. Anyway, his mother seemed kind of sweet but the guy looked so angry when he looked at us, Julieta asked “What’s his problem?” after they’d gone past and couldn’t hear us, but Lurleen just shook her head and Crystal and I shook our heads too…

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Bruce McDougall – Fiction

Wishful thinking

 

 

He’d pushed his cart along three different aisles of the grocery store, through personal hygiene, paper products and crackers, and she’d appeared every time in the same aisle to look at items on a shelf right next to him. He felt sure the woman was stalking him.

It was Tuesday. His wife had gone away for the week with her book club. He’d driven to the store just before noon, when no one but old-age pensioners went grocery shopping. He had a list with him. He’d scribbled it on the back of the note that his wife had left yesterday on the kitchen counter while he waited outside in the car to drive her to the airport. “I love you,” she’d written. On the other side of the page, his grocery list began with broccoli.

He saw the woman for the first time as he was deciding whether to buy broccoli with stems or broccoli without stems, wondering if the inconvenience of slicing and disposing of a stem was worth an additional twenty cents. He saw her from the corner of his eye, examining carrots.

She had a mane of black hair, olive skin, dark eyes, dressed in black. Black stockings drew his eye to her legs. She looked fit, competent, probably good at her job, whatever it was. Judging from her appearance, he thought she might have come from a nearby office: run in, run out, so she wouldn’t have to waste time at the end of the day.

Moving past the apples, he reminded himself, as he did often these days, that he was twenty years older than he’d been the last time he’d become casually involved with a woman, and now he was married. Though he flattered himself that he was still endowed with a remnant of sexual credibility, he also knew that no woman would feel transported by the sight of a geezer of his vintage unless she was his wife or thought he was rich. On impulse, he dropped a six-dollar basket of raspberries into his cart. They weren’t on his list.

He advanced with his cart past slabs of cod in a freezer and turned into the personal hygiene section in search of hair and body wash. It came in a container that resembled shampoo, but he remembered from the last time that he’d done the grocery shopping that he’d found it, after a long fruitless search, in another section altogether, with the soap. His wife mocked him for buying it. She said it was hard on his skin and left a film on his hair. He said it was cheap and convenient; she said it was lazy. There were only three choices, and today one of them was on sale. One of them was always on sale, always much cheaper than shampoo or soap alone, probably because the store couldn’t get rid of the stuff unless it reduced the price. His wife was right. His skin felt dry, and he was losing his hair.

He looked down the aisle toward the deodorants, and there was the woman again, studying the top shelf. He wondered if she’d misinterpreted the raspberries in his cart as a symbol of disposable wealth. Perhaps in her mind, such lavish extravagance distinguished him from the poor economizing grunts in cheap nylon jackets who calculated the cost of broccoli stems. He reminded himself that raspberries weren’t on his list. Women go for spontaneity, he thought.

In recent years, he’d had a hard time telling a person’s age with any accuracy. He was often astonished to learn that men and women who hardly looked old enough to drive in fact were high-school teachers or partners in law firms, with children in the third grade. When he walked through the university campus downtown he wondered if he’d wandered into a class of visiting high-school students. This woman certainly looked older than that. She also looked as if she might have listened more than once to Marianne Faithful’s album, Broken English, in which the singer directed a compelling torrent of bile at the unscrupulous men who’d contributed to her suffering. Albums, he thought. Kids at university wouldn’t know what he was talking about. But she would.

He imagined their conversation as he fixed his eyes on the three brands of hair and body wash. He considered deviating once again from his list so that she wouldn’t think he was penny-pinching on his personal hygiene. He looked at the vast display of soaps and reminded himself that the companies that peddled these products spent a fortune on advertising. How much were you paying for the product and how much were you paying for the woman up to her neck in bubbles telling you to buy it? Of the three brands of hair and body wash, he grabbed the cheapest, tossed it into his cart and moved on. Decisive, deliberate and without hesitation: women liked those qualities in a man, too. He drove onward into paper products. The woman hadn’t been pushing a cart or even carrying a basket, and she was already holding a bag of carrots. With a tube of deodorant, her hands would be full. He’d likely not see her again.

Through the store’s sound system, he heard a song called Happy Together by The Turtles. He’d first heard that song in high school, driving in his mother’s car with a girl named Joanne, whose salesman father traveled every week to Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was the first time he’d heard of Kalamazoo. His sixteenth year was a good year. Whatever happened to Joanne?

He could have gone directly to the next items on his list. He’d shopped here enough times to have memorized the layout of the store. But today he wanted to break free of old routines, explore new worlds, live on the edge, cast his fate to the wind. Buoyed by the happy melody, he sailed through paper products and headed into cookies and crackers, grabbing a package of Oreo cookies to compensate for all the wasted years when he’d allowed caution and convention to suffocate his spontaneity. He placed the cookies in his cart, looked up and saw the woman in black, studying the Saltine crackers.

From her features and the way she was dressed, she might have run her own business or managed the loans department of a bank. He sensed that she was single or at the very least, available. Her features seemed composed like a model’s, with no deeper purpose than attracting a man’s attention. He sensed no foundation of commitment that would lend gravity to her flirtatiousness. Was she flirting? Or was she seeking revenge, Marianne Faithful of the Saltines, waiting for a chance to drive a pair of nail clippers into his eye?

She looked perplexed, as if she couldn’t make up her mind whether to buy crackers with salted or unsalted tops. He noticed that her hands were free. Whatever she’d carried from other sections of the store, she’d abandoned. She must be one of those people, he thought, who fill a bag with cashews in the bulk section and then, when they see in the confectionery section cashews in a jar at a lower price, simply discard the bulk bag on some random shelf, relying on an underpaid, beleaguered shelf stocker to retrieve it and put the nuts back where they belonged. He felt disappointed in the woman. He had little respect for people who make life difficult for others.

In the yoghurt aisle near the far end of the store, he realized that, in his moment of liberation from the tyranny of his list, he’d forgotten to pick up paper napkins. The price you pay for freedom, he thought. He parked his cart in front of the six packs of single-serving yoghurt. He figured no one would mind if he left his cart there. He’d never seen anyone buy those things. They were too expensive for most people’s budgets. He hurried back to paper products. When he returned with the napkins, the woman was standing near his cart, examining kefir through the glass doors.

Even then he resisted jumping to conclusions. She could be following a path similar to his through the store. It happened all the time. Two people entered the store, started their expedition in fruit and vegetables just inside the door, passed each other at the canned tuna, reconnected by the spaghetti sauce, made eye contact near the soda water and, by the time they reached the yoghurt, they felt as if they knew each other. They might not be friends, but they’d shared intimate details about their preferences and tastes that remained unknown to all but a few other people. Maybe she had her own list. He glanced again at the woman’s empty hands. She could have kept it in her pocket. Her hands looked sensitive and experienced.

He told himself to get a grip. Women didn’t dress up in attractive clothes so they could wander around a grocery store picking up strange men. He’d heard of men and women having casual encounters, but they happened in bars, not in the dairy aisle. Years ago, on a trip to Chicago to attend a medical convention, his friend, a doctor, had encountered a woman and her mother on a hotel elevator and ended up minutes later having sex with the daughter in a linen closet. When his friend told him the story, he hadn’t known exactly what to think. It sounded adventurous, spontaneous, kinky, unpromising, pedestrian, desperate, thoughtless, cavalier, aberrant, indulgent, perfunctory, silly and rather dog-like, all at the same time. Complicated, he’d said. “Complication’s all in your head,” his friend said. Such occasions had never presented themselves to him, or perhaps they had, and he hadn’t recognized them. Maybe this was such an occasion.

He pushed his buggy all the way to the back of the store, past the meat counter and the fresh fish, to the far corner where fresh-baked bread was stacked on wooden racks in front of a swinging metal door. The door opened into a dimly lit storage area. He seldom went to this part of the store. He didn’t eat much bread. He lingered for a moment beside the pumpernickel, feeling mildly disappointed that the woman hadn’t followed him. He turned and chugged past the over-priced organic produce and the shiny green root vegetables that cost less than a dollar and would feed a family of six. His wife once brought a durian home, where it sat for days on the kitchen counter like an organic brown Sputnik, until she finally hacked it apart and baked it in the oven. It smelled like a smoldering gym bag. He dropped a durian into his cart. A woman would have to be truly interested in a man who bought one of those things.

He made his way to the check-out counter. He’d loaded far more items into his cart than he’d put on his list, but he’d forgotten sparkling water. The store wasn’t busy. The cashier told him she’d wait while he went to fetch it. He returned quickly. After the conveyor belt transported the last of his groceries past the cash register, the cashier helped him stuff them into the canvas bags that he’d brought with him. He hoisted the bags into his cart and went back to the cash register to pay the bill. And there again was the woman in black, waiting for him to insert his credit card into the terminal. He tried not to look at her, but he noticed on the rubber conveyor belt a solitary bright green package of sugarless gum. She looks after her teeth, he thought.

Years ago, in the third grade, he’d ridden his bicycle up and down the street outside the house of a girl in his class named Oksana, hoping to draw her outside with the sheer force of his animal magnetism, but even then, he’d known that his magnetic force extended no further than his own imagination.

He took his groceries to his car, imagining that the woman was nearby. Perhaps that was her SUV in the parking space two away from his? He pushed his empty cart to the buggy corral and returned to his car, resisting the urge to survey the parking lot. What in the hell did he want to happen? He was a married man.

He drove away feeling relieved, disappointed, unadventurous and foolish. He couldn’t count the number of times in his life he’d felt the same way. If Oksana had burst out of her house when he was nine years old and pursued him down the street like an intoxicated groupie chasing Mick Jagger, he wouldn’t have known what to do. Now, as always, he doubted that he would ever find out.

 

 

🍃

Bruce McDougall