Behind my third lid, a face mask, I see things I’m not supposed to hear, notice, repeat. But I do—shoppers making choices, large and small. Testing market truths, I feel like Ovid the Egghead in exile.
Following too close, I’m stalled behind a mannish mom and her kid choosing sprinkles. Chocolate or pastel? Boy or girl? I can’t tell—with a mustache, penciled-in, faint but there. Hairy fun. At that age, I showed out in Frida Kahlo single brow and thick lipstick.
Striding the meat aisle, a beefy giant with a bald torpedo head pushes a buggy, makes choices for an Asian woman half his age. A mail-order bride, I decide, in training. Bowlegs (rickets?) but pretty, she eyes the bagged chicken feet denied.
At the deli, customers thank Employee of the Week for coming to work, a twenty-year career slicing cold cuts, end to end, an easy mile of pink and yellow discs in waiting for sliced rye, Miami onion, poppy-seed Kaiser—blessings breaded with patience.
Awful frosting—I pitch the cake box across the parking lot. Splat! Two slick layers cream the concrete. A tot in a car seat aims a dill pickle to atomize me. I lick my fingers, raise my hands, like I’m scared of gotcha ray gun. Silly, I am. And why? I spy a wallet I’m dying to steal. Better angels prevail. Let heroics tempt another sucker, late for supper.
Back home, yardman brought pal Noah. No-Ah pal insists. Ah like sigh, I reply, or Ah like war-cry? He shrugs, beyond choices, basically a bot. You’re one, too he says reading my mind. Up with the third lid.
Dollar store goods zigzag the Old Silk Road—olive oil from Portugal, spices from Thailand, chocolate biscuits from Germany, marmalade from Egypt, watermelon candy from Turkey—and loop in peach gummies from Brazil. Journey ends in Chinese provinces I can’t pronounce. I crave a caramel and camel caravan. Pig-ignorant of world food distribution, I massage my temples. I sense buzz, but lack touch-tone to round corners, explain spin.
Off the shelf, next week they’ll be gone I know. Black and tan rattan baskets, home décor from Vietnam too nice for this store. There must a local post-war community—guerrillas there, night nurses here—exhausted by global happenstance.
At the register, manager tells me about pine tea like I could use an immune boost. Boil them needles loose. Exact don’t matter she assures me, penny adverse.
Home again, No-Ah reports Raked you a pine straw circle and bagged the green. I nod but make no remark about needle tea. Hard-wired with galactic intel, No-Ah carries two swords in his van. Medieval throwback, he’s at the ready for gargoyle invasion of the Round Table.
Picky, I’m decorating dollhouse furniture with nail-polish posies, floral sprays as is my wont. Pre COVID, a colleague’s dud partner wove patriotic dollhouse rugs. In case dolls vote. Guess what? Big winner, he won a Whitehouse contract for party coasters. So much for rosebuds and ivy.
In distance, a retired Marine recollects his grandmother used to fish on Burnt Island because the owner kept a bottle. They sipped. We boys watched the poles in a leaky rowboat. New moon, no bites, never mind. The white man stowed a cooler of bream.
To keep the peace, the kids walked granny home with a stringer to panfry for dinner.
Touching down, yardman says My ex lost 300 lbs. but biker mama couldn’t ride all that slow skin—she-baggage left behind on a minor moon to forage lunar shores.
Mine is a stranger astrology.
In my dreams, a city gleams with buildings of marble, sea glass, green granite foyers with fine fountains, a staggering skyline of respite—welcome, wealth, ideas.
Sweet stroll in slumber? Or, a case of the vapors, COVID death threats.
With single item, herself, she presents as white, super blonde, pushy in line because impatient for prey—the day’s cashier, princely salt-and-pepper manager subbing for a woman too sick to come to work.
Will COVID force a local manhunt?
Bored in the dollar store, I troll the toy aisle. What’s this? An air gun made in China, a real pistol which I buy so some buddy won’t shoot out eyes, but Bishop Tutu has died.Repeating an African adage, the brave man said I am because you are. Because I rant, air gun stays under wraps.
Headed out, I pass yards littered with dollar store plastic bags. Inside, fellow shoppers sauté with olive oil seasoned with leaves from old Siam. They munch cacao cookies, brew pine-needle tea, sample apricot jam. Their children squabble over watermelon sweets and peach gummies. Weaponized with air guns, they are because I am.
At the dump, Stuck lid gripes sweep-man pointing to a giant stiletto jamming the works. Why not pulverize? Scattered sequins he grumbles—drag queen glitter on a full day of fall warblers pecking twigs, more litter.
China gazing in a thrift store, I overhear a regular with a limp tell the cashier, Sis got the six dacts, six pinkies. I got the no-show extra toe, the lil’ piggy axed. Afoot despite the amputation, she speaks in rhymes. I admire her cheer.
Voilà! I’ve discovered a five-day supply of handsome men—six o’clock shoppers stopping by for creamer, white wine, canned peas—single employed wishful romantics. Might rosy me drop in with candles and advice re: the Ides of March?
And why? Six more weeks of winter. That pill of a Pennsylvania weather rat, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow. Time for female Phyllis to take charge.
by Charlotte M. Porter
Poet and award-winning short fiction writer, Charlotte M. Porter lives and writes in an old citrus hamlet in north central Florida.
Photo credit: Monstera