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Fiction

A supermarket story
Everyone else’s blood was 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit

 

January 31, 2006
iranian.com

Sunday meant sales at the supermarket on Stone Street.  The street itself was a wide, sunburned strip of asphalt that ran along the shore of an ordinary town that happened to be by the beach and was passably busy, and on Sundays the store would swell with the ranks of Everyone, who was looking for a bargain.  But it was today that Someone, his swagger unduplicable and his name Iraj, sauntered through the rows of fruits and vegetables in the “fresh” section (or so the sign said).  Iraj, four days unemployed, unshaven, unkempt, and holding his dinner in a shopping basket, had been stopping here and there to inspect the various fruits on display before he came to a standstill directly in front of the mound of peaches, which he had been craving for months and had unfailingly neglected to buy.  That would not come to pass today, however.

He scanned them with his discriminating eye for good color and unbruised skin.  The first batch of candidates, no more than three or four (for there were few truly worthwhile fruits in the supermarkets of this country), would be picked from the larger pile and then, one by one, sniffed at their navels to see which one exuded the sweetest perfume of all.  The consistency of the peach wasn’t of paramount importance for Iraj, as long as it was not too hard or, on the other hand, almost muddy to the touch from the atrophy of age.  His father had shown him many years ago in the open, claustrophobic markets of his hometown in Iran how to select excellent produce, versifying and animating for Iraj the grower’s science of vegetative maturation, as if he was the proprietor of a renowned vineyard passing down ancient wisdoms to his heir.  It was in those days that the sights and smells of his father’s memories drifted into his son’s consciousness like a morning mist that both nurtured and clouded his now vast and convoluted imagination.

Luckily, what Iraj managed to pull from his memory in front of the peaches today was not nostalgia, nor was it the tired, stubbly faces of the bazaar venders.  He remembered exactly what he needed to know: the best fruits to buy were the ones which could and would be eaten and fully enjoyed on the way home, the ones that were perfect for the day they were bought, and not a minute more.  And now that he would have only a small amount of funds available after this month’s rent and other essentials, taking just one or two fruits home to eat that same day had suddenly become his default method of shopping.  Shit, that’s convenient, he smirked to himself.  I wonder if being broke is going to end up resolving the number of women I take home every day to one or two.

It had come down to two peaches.  He held them up once again to savor their aromas for another moment before placing one into the basket amongst the loaf of bread, the Goya strawberry soda, the frozen chicken thighs, the hot peppers and the onion; the other one, having earned Iraj’s respect, was placed atop his mediocre cousins.  Tonight he would feast on grilled chicken sandwiches and later, his stomach stuffed and his breath smelling of the contents of his stomach, take a walk with his peach along the shore off Stone Street.

The lines out of the store were long, and the employees, their faces slightly strained but mostly expressionless, were working furiously to get everything scanned, bagged, and paid for as quickly as possible.  This was, of course, with the exception of the supervising cashier of the do-it-yourself area, who didn’t do much of anything except hit the “override” button on her master computer for the numerous human-electronic device miscommunications that took place at the four self-checkout stations.  Something about her, probably the pair of chins that buttressed her impassive face, made him furious.  Iraj had been waiting for twelve minutes and he still hadn’t been able to set down his items anywhere near an auto-checkout lane.  Everyone else’s blood was 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  I can’t believe they fucking fired me.  He took five strides through the crowd of checker-outers and grabbed hold of the cashier-supervisor girl, who up until then had been scratching the excess facial foundation from the chin under her chin with the nails on her right hand and hitting buttons on her master screen with the nails on her left hand.  Despite her bellows of distress, the entire population of the packed Sunday supermarket only watched with mounting befuddlement as (with one arm) he dragged her, kicking, screaming and churning her whole body in resistance, from the store, without paying for any of his items and taking the store basket with him besides.

It was hot outside, but neither Iraj nor the supervising cashier noticed.  They slowly traversed the insanely busy parking lot like the top half of a chimera, lumbering and writhing all about, but with a clear sense of direction.  The supermarket had resumed its usual breakneck Sunday sale pace.  They were upon Stone Street, the four-lane border between asphalt and freedom.  Never one to be deterred by danger, he gripped her tighter with his abducting arm and began to haphazardly cross the intersection.

“Stop screaming!” Iraj screamed to no one in particular.

“Aaaaaaaah!” screamed the supervising cashier, watching bug-eyed as cars alternately screeched to a halt in front of them, zipped by them, and inched around them.  She gripped his abducting arm even tighter than it was gripping her.  This woke up Iraj’s senses.  The adrenaline had clearly begun to wear off, and just then he awoke to the hot sun beating down on his sweaty frame.

“Shit, it’s taking forever to cross this intersection,” he gasped between breaths.  “Can’t you just stand up and walk with me?”

The supervising cashier looked at him from the grip of his arm with a steadily growing sense of reality.  The drivers, mad that they were still in the road, were honking and yelling out ‘get out of the road you fucking idiots’.  He returned her stare, sweat pouring from his crown of tousled black hair.  The sun was directly behind his head and illuminated him like an Abrahamic prophet.

“Please stand up,” he said in a resolute voice.  “I’m afraid I will drop you if I have to hold you up for another second.  I’m sorry that I dragged you out of your job like that.  If it’s any consolation, I got fired three or four days ago.”

Iraj sighed as he felt the tremendous weight find its legs underneath herself and move with him off the road to the sand-covered sidewalk, and he immediately began to massage his abducting arm.  She began to smooth down her uniform, unable to see that it was not that but her rapidly congealing makeup that required urgent attention.

“Are you going back to work?”

“Yes.  No, actually, I don’t think I will.  I don’t know right now.”  She continued to smooth down her uniform without looking up.

“Are you pissed off that I dragged you across the street and stuff?”  He waited for an answer.

“Sorry, dumb question, I guess.”

Her shirt was as smooth as it was going to get.

“Yeah, I’m pissed that you did that.  In fact, I could call the police now and have you arrested.  You didn’t even pay for your groceries,” and she pointed to the basket in his non-abducting hand to illustrate her point.

“ ... You’re not going to call the cops?” he asked, sweating and shining like Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad.  Or Zarathusthra to the east and before all of them.

“No.  I’m not gonna, mainly because I’m pissed that nobody did anything about it when you were attacking me.  Everybody was standing around like a bunch of stupid cows.  I can’t believe it ... you even look like a terrorist with that nasty beard.”

“Oh,” he responded, a little irritated, but thoroughly grateful.  “Look ... thank you for your generosity.  Have this peach.”

She was ready for this.  “I don’t want your -- I don’t want the store’s peach, and you should buy it or return it anyway.”

“Don’t be so irrational.  It’s the best peach you guys had in that whole building.  Just smell it,” and proffered it to her, holding its navel toward her nose.

“It smells fine,” she retorted without smelling.  Not to be deterred, he continued to hold it in front of her face, while she continued to not smell it.  However, the sweet aroma came to her nose in spite of her iron determination not to inhale, and once it did, her senses disarmed.  She smiled for the first time all day and took the peach in her hand.

“I’m going to take a walk along the shore.  Please don’t follow me.”

“I was going to make dinner first anyway,” he offered reassuringly.  “But put in a good word for me in case I try to get a part-time job over here.  You need help on the weekends anyway.”

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