Fiction: Grocery Shopping

Riley stands in the condiment aisle because the condiment aisle is not suspicious. Condiments can make or break a dish so no one finds it odd when a person stands for an extended period of time in the condiment aisle. Riley pulls out his phone and acts like someone has texted him. He taps at a screen with nothing on it.

Lea is sick and she needs medicine to sleep. Her second grade teacher has sent notes – “Lea needs more than a granola bar and a pack of gummy candies for lunch. More healthy food: fresh fruits and vegetables.” Apples are twice the price of the gummy candies she likes so much. And NyQuil is $13.99.

(Shannon Cornelius/AQ)

NyQuil is $13.99 and Lea cries when she can’t sleep. Riley has twenty dollars in his bank account and needs to pay rent at the end of the month.

Riley bikes to work. He is a caterer and yesterday was working an event at the university,  he locked his bike on the rack as he always did. Riley has a schedule and he can’t deviate from the schedule, else he loses time. Or money. Or time and then money. The schedule only features him on one square – one event this week.  Three hours in one week and that means the schedule needs to be manipulated. The schedule, and Lea’s schedule, have to fit into what these three hours can give. This means Alphagetti again. Means Lea’s not getting new shoes. Means gummy candies. Again.

Lea has been sick for a week and a half now and she cries every night. When Riley sleeps he dreams of a new briefcase and a different white shirt — this time with a tie. He comes home and it’s a house instead of the flat on top of the Pizza Hut. Lea has pink shoes with straps on them and socks with frills at the ankles. She looks like a princess, and she feels like a princess. She’s happy. She doesn’t need her mother, she has Riley. Riley is successful.

(Shannon Cornelius/AQ)

The schedule only gives three hours this week. This success has to fit into those three hours. Lea looks up to him whether she has those pink shoes or not. Riley is successful, or at least he looks it. It’s a ritual falsity: iron out everything he has and make it nice enough to appear happy and successful, and then maybe be happy and successful enough to be hired at a better job.

Yesterday, Riley walked back from work because someone was hungry enough to bite the bike lock free and ride away full. Lea drew a picture at school and it was a blue stick-man walking across a line attached to two tall rectangles. Blue stick-man is Riley and he’s high up in the world and he’s a showman and Lea looks up to him, but he just might fall. He has a bow-tie. Stick man with a bow-tie.

Leah wants Alphagetti for supper and Riley can do that, Alphagetti is only two dollars. But NyQuil is $13.99.

The condiment aisle is starting to look weird. Riley’s work schedule is looking more and more green, more highlighted “Trainees,” and is threatening eviction. Green like go, like go away to a new job made for someone your own age.

(Shannon Cornelius/AQ)

Riley moves aisles because he is not suspicious. Riley has a fresh ironed white shirt on just like he always does. He’s at Walmart just like he always is. Everything is as it’s supposed to be. It is all according to plan.

He looks through all the cans of Alphagetti because maybe one of them is dented and maybe it will only be one dollar. But every can is perfectly cylindrical and not at all according to plan. He considers dropping one and denting it, but the noise isn’t worth the dollar. Noise is suspicious. He takes one and puts it in his basket.

How much does Walmart pay their employees? Not very much, probably. Riley walks to the pharmacy but the pharmacy has a pharmacist and he makes it harder to be discreet about the NyQuil.

Stick man is a showman, and a magician’s means are not truthful but that doesn’t matter as long as someone is looking up to you. He puts the NyQuil in his basket and walks back to the condiment aisle where he moves the medicine into his book-bag, the same bag he had in university (one of his bigger regrets).

(Shannon Cornelius/AQ)Riley walks through the cash and he charges the two dollars and thirty cents on his debit card and the person on the other side of the register is quiet and named James. James is a quiet sort of name- eerie, like James Bond. James behind the register probably has a secret and much more interesting life that Riley knows nothing about.

Riley looks at James and James nods. James knows and is sympathetic. He understands. He is chewing bubble gum and his jaw cracks with each movement.

“Thanks.” Riley takes the can of Alphagetti. He stands looking at James a moment longer.

James doesn’t look up at all. “No problem, man.”

Riley walks through the exist and sets the alarm off but James waves him through without looking up.

The condiment aisle is not suspicious, and stick-man Riley hasn’t fallen.


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