[This story was my attempt to take my interest in writing and have fun with it. It is the longest short story I have ever written. It is also the most fun I have ever had writing. Maybe it is because I have written a shit ton in the last two years, or maybe it is simply because I was just trying to have fun, but the words simply flowed here. Now, I am not saying that this is AMAZING or anything like that. In fact, it would be wonderful if you thought it was mediocre. What I am saying is that there are people here, and even though the story is not a story that is particularly interesting or exciting. It is alive!! Or it is at the very least as alive as I know how to make something.] -Jaime
From the interstate comes a rusted Rav 4 bucking amongst the shallow potholes that line the entrance to the Q’s Market parking lot. It grunts to a stop within the white slants of a designated parking spot.
The sun hung high in the way that could only mean that summer was coming early. Waves of heat bounced from the blacktop and stretched the entirety of Q’s Market into impossible shapes. Inside was nothing much. Assorted food items organized themselves in five rows spaced evenly on the linoleum floors that shined with the unnatural intensity of fluorescent light bulbs, which ran the length of the market perpendicular to the shelves themselves. The cashier sat behind the counter backlit by the blue light of a cellphone as two of the market’s only customers sifted the endless options of processed foods that were presented to them.
From the driver’s side drops a man, weak in the knees from a very late night of drinking. His mouth is sour and everything is sharp. He takes tentative steps forward as if to test the strength of the blacktop like it were made up of dubious wooden planks instead of the wholesome aggregate of sand, stone, and cement. Confident that he won’t fall through the surface of the world into nothingness the man swings the door shut. The sudden movement drives a dull pain through his head from the back to the front.
Alan picked through the handful of flavors of M&M’s unsure whether to get the ones with peanuts at the center. Or the ones that boasted the ‘limited time’ flavors that ranged and fillings that ranged from mint to pretzel. Dani seemed to be decidedly uninterested in anything chocolate and painstakingly surveyed her options of Nerds, Mike and Ike’s, and other candies that always seemed to be made up of the same stuff that glue was made up of. Perhaps that was part of the appeal. It was a tough thing, selecting candy and Alan knew it.
Rough hands push the large plate glass double doors open rolling cool air over his face. It feels good. He looks to the cashier in effort to pass an obligatory smile, but the kid could care less. The man frowns, but manages to keep his personal opinions to himself. He travels the spotless linoleum floors tracking the endless rotation of fluorescent light to the Beer Cave at the back of the store. It is then that he realizes that his thoughts about the cashier were not restrained by moral fortitude, but by the sickly sweet bile rising up the back of his throat. If he spoke, he would most definitely vomit.
“Can I get two?” Dani asked, her words stressed with the want of a child. Alan looked to her with a face that was trying to be stern.
“Oh, I don’t know.” He said, “I heard once that…sugar makes kids…bounce off the walls.” Dani’s face slumped in disbelief, yet a smile crept to the corner of her mouth.
“What?” Alan chided, “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt, hun.”
“I won’t. Please?” She pointed to a green box, “I don’t know what these are, but I want to try them.”
“Then get them.”
“But I…” Dani paused abruptly in effort to gather her thoughts. “What if I don’t like them?”
Alan shrugged. His movements were large and comical. The man’s shoulders drew up to his ears and his lips are pursed pressing dimples into his cheeks. Dani sighed, shifting her gaze from her father to the shelf unsure of what to do. Alan laughed, charmed by blatant confusion she bear.
“Yeah, hun. Just don’t tell your mom aright? If you do she’ll put me in time out and she always forgets who she puts in the corner.”
“Yes!” Dani exclaimed pumping her fist in a tight and powerful motion. She grabbed the green box from the shelf before sprinting down the isle towards the installment of industrial grade freezers on the back wall. Alan smiled in her wake, he liked to see her happy. This way too, he could skimp out on the overpriced movie theater candy. It always cost an arm and a leg.
“Really don’t tell her, Dani!”
“I won’t daddy.” Dani swung around the corner at full speed like a racehorse on crack wildly pumping her arms in the way that young children do.
From behind him there is the pitter-patter of feet, so loud and piercing. The man feels the bitterness of reproach begin to rise thick from his stomach. Choose one. Get out, he thinks. Choose one. Harsh white fluorescents beam down. Get out. Today his taste is different, today it is sour.
Dani took the isle at a trot. She stopped at the mid point of the shelf and continued to look through the candy. Together they were perfect reflections of one another moving in absolute synchronization. Dani chose her favorite candy of all, Hot Tamales. Dani grabbed the box and ran back around to the other side of the shelf, this time going up and around the front of the store. All the while the Hot Tamales and the mysterious new candy shook violently in their boxes imitating rain.
He thoughtfully surveys the legions of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and Heineken. Then he smells it. Through the fog of intoxication comes the recognition, slow like the pressure one gets in their ears with a descent from a higher elevation. It is the smell of youth sweet and fair. The smell that only a girl can have.
A lump is in his throat, his vision verges on double, and the bile in his throat takes on the substance of glue. It can’t be her. He knows this. He also knows that he is drunk, but not that he is one.
So, he pulls open the freezer (it’s blue jut like the box says, tastes like dirt) and chooses the Pabst Blue Ribbon. It doesn’t matter what he choose, he thinks. What matters is that he leaves this place and that he leaves it soon.
“Stop running you goon. You’ll fall or something. These floors look slippery.” Alan smiled at Dani showing his straight white teeth. “Did you find it? The one you were looking for?”
“Good, we’re gonna be late.” Dani pointed her index finger, and erected her thumb to form what she had recently learned was a gun. Her eye clamped shut and she giggled as she made a clicking sound with her mouth.
“Let’s blow this joint.”
From his pocket comes exact change for his purchase. The cashier thanks him in the shallow, careless way that all cashiers are taught to do. The man stands rooted to the floor long after the conclusion of his purchase, haggard. He understands this but only marginally as the boil of anxiety has cinched his chest so tight that from him only comes the metallic sheen of sweat and the strength from his knees.
The pair made there way to the register.
“Do you want to pay this time?” Alan asked with disguised hesitation, because he knew that she would, but wished that she wouldn’t. Only big kids paid for their things.
“Yep. Yep.” Dani said. She looked at he father to see if he really meant it. Paying for things is one of her favorite things to do. He meant it.
“Alright,” Alan reaches into his right side butt pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Cash or credit?”
“Okay, let’s see.” The two stopped for a moment as Alan guestimated the total amount needed to pay for the candy. Confident that he was close he handed Dani five one-dollar bill and a five-dollar bill. Dani took the money excitedly and practically burst in to dance.
“Thanks, daddy!” Alan nodded in response, but she was already gone. He almost laughed at the expression of the cashier who looked weary as she approached skipping.
The parking lot opens up to him as he nearly staggers out of Q’s Market. A feeling flushes its way through his body loosening his bowels as he approaches the Rav 4. He climbs in and flips the engine.
“Hey buddy,” said Alan as he placed the items on the checkout counter. The young man behind the counter nodded curtly.
“Will this be all?” The attendant asked, his words catching just a little.
“Okay, your total will be,” The attendant looked to the display reading the amount, then off past the wall of plate glass windows that housed the dingy double door entrance. Alan followed the young man’s gaze to see a gaunt older man staggering towards his car.
“How much is it?” Dani asked. The attendant snapped back to reality and smiled at her.
“Sorry. Your total is seven dollars and eighty-seven cents.”
Dani smiles and looked down to her pile of dirty green dollar bills. Alan watched ready to step in and help, but he also ready to let her try it herself. She studied the bills carefully.
“Um, I have ten.” Dani said. The attendant smiled.
“Hun, you have five ones and a five dollar bill. Forget the change, how many whole dollars do you have to give him?” Alan asked gently. He could see the cogs turning in her head. Dani looked up to the display.
“Good, so give him seven of those dollars.” Dani counted seven dollars from the stack and handed them over. “Now, how many cents are in a dollar?”
“Sixty.” She replied immediately.
“Close…” Said the attendant, his patience remarkable. Dani was quiet for a minute.
“One hundred.” She answered.
“There you go!” Dani looked back to the display and looked back to the money.
Hangovers are bad, he thinks as streams of sweat crawl down his face. The man also thinks that today he will die if he doesn’t get away from this tiny store of the interstate.
His mind thunders…
Dani smiled a toothy grin that exposed the pink gum where her teeth were only just growing in. Her teeth had come out later than most of this kids her age. She handed the attendant a one-dollar bill.
“ Thank you,” He replied with a grin of his own. “That was very impressive.” The young man reached over the counter after digging through the change compartment of the cash register. “Your change is thirteen cents.”
Dani opened hand, palm flat out. Her eyes tracked the coins like they were the most beautiful treasure. She looked to her father with her lip sucked in. The cashier dumped the little coins into her hand. Her eyes bubbled with joy.
“Thank you, have a nice day.” Alan said with an appreciative smile.
“Yeah, you too.”
Dani and Alan left the store and entered into the early summer.
You WILL be caught…and they will take you this time…THEY. (Gray cement walls and tiled floors shiny with pubic hair and soap) WILL. (Testosterone, close quarters, sharp edges) TAKE. (Swollen eyes, red irritation and blood, flesh) YOU. (Board games with missing pieces, pockets outturned, the cold smell of body odor, second hand books, and gruel, and hands rough around the edges)…
Follow your nose.
The two climbed into the car. Alan turned on the A/C full blast and checked the time. Dani, who is too young to sit in the front, climbed into the back seat and buckled in. Curious about that man he had seen from the checkout counter. Alan tapped his fingers along the driver’s side door, then walked out into the parking lot. Maybe he needed help, Alan thought. However, by the time Alan went to look the rusted SUV was already gone. Only Alan and Dani remained, parallel to what could only be the cashier’s car, which rippled with gaseous heat waves.
“Daddy we’ve got to go,” yelled Dani from inside the car. She had rolled her window down. Alan opened her door determined to buckle her himself. He pulled the length of the belt from the wall until it refused to extend any further, Thoughtfully, he led the belt back into its mounting so that the belt sat tight, but not too tight, across her chest.
“Ready?” He asked excitedly. Dani nodded. The next thing she knew they were on the interstate headed into town.