Barbara Harroun

Toward the Future

I bought whiskey and bacon. Whiskey in my left hand. Center cut bacon in my right. The snow was coming down hard, at an angle, and it made me feel dizzy. Like love does. Or the chemicals that flood your body when you’re infatuated with someone. Or an inner ear infection. The woman in front of me had a cart full of garlic stuffed olives, triangles of brie, and spiny pineapples, but she was talking on her phone, all keyed up– some guy named Kenny. She put one item on the belt at a time, the belt rolling like a treadmill. The checker scanned the item and then waited as the woman ranted about Kenny. She had an audience. People lined up behind me. Their anger was a real thing. You know how you can feel it when someone is enraged, just not unleashing it? I held my breath.
The plastic encasing the bacon was a little greasy, and I was starting to sweat. The cashier was Zen as shit, or maybe stoned. I imagined that the other teenager I saw, in dairy, trying to keep the milk stocked during this first big snow storm, was the cashier’s pal and had just gotten him stoned in the meat locker. When you’re a teenager and have acne like the cashier did, crawling out of his shirt, up his neck and consuming his face, you need friends who get you stoned, and point the way through the smoke to the future. An acne-and-bar-code-free future.
The woman stopped unloading and sighed, defeated, “He left. Just walked out. Didn’t take anything.” I put the whiskey under my arm, and started unloading for her. She looked at me, her face screwed up tight, like an infant getting ready to wail, so I smiled my real smile, nodded, and kept at it. She started back in, only she was doing this little hiccuping cry that was so pathetic and made me think of kittens, so tiny they can’t open their eyes. They make this pathetic mewling sound for their mom. It wrecked me, inside, so I started unloading like I was in a race. Or on a grocery store reality TV show. Rib eyes. A leg of lamb. Mint jelly. 4 bottles of red wine.
“It’s snowing so hard,” she moaned into her iphone. “I found his wallet. He’s got nothing.” She stopped unloading and stood stock still listening. The man behind me came around his cart and began helping me. “Jay-sus,” he said. We met eyes when we both reached for the Kraft macaroni and cheese.
“He didn’t take his phone,” the woman yelled, “Don’t you understand? He didn’t take anything! He was in a t-shirt!”
The man and I looked at one another, then away. Kenny was in deep shit. Kenny could die. The cart was empty. The man shuffled back to his place in line.
“I gotta go. Ma, I’ll call you later. I told you. The police won’t do anything. I’m hanging up, now, ma. Dammit, ma.” The cashier waited patiently as she wrote out a check. It took a long time because she had to stop and wipe her tears away several times. I held my whiskey in my left hand. The bacon in my right. The bagger was an old guy, all the capillaries busted in his nose. He had the decency not to stare as the woman tore out her check, crying steadily, wiping the tears away with efficient anger.
I paid with cash, then readied myself for the wind, the snow, the four blocks home to the apartment that was mine, and mine alone. It felt haunted though because I could see all the spaces that used to house your stuff, when I thought of it as our stuff. And you’re gone.
The woman was putting her gloves on. The automatic door wasn’t working, so I held it open for her, the only kindness I could think of. Then, as she walked past me, I said, “Hey, I hope you find Kenny.”
She didn’t look back, just called out, “Fuck you, asshole” and pushed her loaded cart through the parking lot slush, toward the future.