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At the Grocery

by Peter McMillan

An old guy wearing a gray plaid fedora and a khaki jacket raises his walking stick to point at an empty space in the dairy case. A tall skinny kid in a grocery apron re-stocks the adjacent yoghurt section from a precariously-stacked trolley.

“How can you have a special and run out on the first day?” complains the old man. The kid rolls his eyes and nods his head, not so much in agreement but as if to signal to the old man that he should find someone who cares. Meanwhile his movements between the trolley and the dairy case do not slow at all.

I wait, but nothing else is said. Looking ahead, I sense something familiar in the old man, but I can also still remember not long ago being the kid. Anyway, I don’t say anything. Never do. It’s complicated. I was once contemptuous, young, and ageless; and soon I’ll be irritable, old, and finished. Besides, what could I say?

“Razor Cotton? Wicked percussion, man!” I hear myself say to the tall skinny kid who, with his back towards me now, reveals a gruesome picture on his t-shirt.

“How about a couple of those Yoplaits?” I add.

Reaching towards the shelf, he opens his hand flat as if to make the entire display available to me and then turns abruptly to run after the old man.

“Hey, Sir? Lemme see if we’ve got that special somewhere in the back.”

“Don’t bother, son. Not supposed to have it. Clogs the arteries. You may have just saved my life, kid. How ’bout that?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to —”

“Save my life?” interrupts the old man.

“No. Never mind. I gotta get back to work.”

“Have a good day, kid,” says the old man with a satisfied smile.

As the tall skinny kid comes back to the dairy case, I catch his eye. “So this special, you have some in one of the coolers in the back?

“I must have been mistaken,” answers the tall skinny kid, shrugging his shoulders. “We’re completely out.”

“But I just heard you say...”

The tall, skinny kid recoils: “Say? I didn’t say anything. Listen, we’re out of stock, OK? Talk to the manager if you want. He just walked in. Over there by checkout 16 talking to the blonde cashier. The big guy in the black leather jacket with the chopper half-helmet under his arm.”

“Frankie!” yells the tall skinny kid. “This guy wants a raincheck, and he’s really pissed — er, upset — that we ran out on the first day.”

Standing frozen in place I watch a much older Frankie the Fist on his approach, praying devoutly that he won’t remember me — now bald and wearing an eye patch and a very crooked nose — as the welsher who took him for five grand at the races.

Barrelling in my direction, Frankie puts out a great big arm to embrace me, or so I think until he pushes his way by me, making his way to the old man in the fedora.

He calls him Cy as he crunches him in a friendly but painful-looking hug, and then I remember. This is Cy, the guy from the murder trial who walked on Frankie’s alibi.

* * *

There’s the door buzzer. It’s my groceries. I have them delivered now.

Copyright © 2009 by Peter McMillan

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