Clean-Up on Aisle Sixteen2
June 7, 2011 by The Citron Review
by Mureall Hebert
I spotted him at the back of the grocery store. I’d been poring over steaks, trying to figure out the difference between flank and round and whether four or six ounces made a better single-serving size. He stood across the aisle from me, in the produce section, his hand on a cantaloupe, poking the end to test its ripeness.
He reminded me of Atticus Finch. The Gregory Peck version. Fragile, trusting eyes. Lanky cheekbones and a mellow-lipped smile.
He turned toward me and set the cantaloupe down. I felt a skip inside my chest and glanced back to where the chickens lay, plucked and crammed inside their plastic casings. Had he noticed me staring?
I felt my cheeks flush with self-consciousness. I grabbed a steak and threw it in my basket, then hurried away, the wayward wheel of my cart smacking against the vinyl floor.
I entered the cereal aisle. Oatmeal had become my mainstay since Jason and I had broken up. It cooked quick and filled my stomach, comforting me from the inside out. Besides, it came in individual packets, reassuring me there were others out there eating alone.
I reached for the variety pack when my cell phone rang. I fumbled for it, my heart racing under my tee-shirt. Could it be Jason?
The cart protested my jerky excitement, skewing from underneath my arm and jetting across the aisle where it collided with a display of Scooby Doo fruit chews. The boxes skidded over the floor in front of me.
I knelt, flinging my purse to one side, and clamped the phone between my ear and shoulder. “Hello?” My hands grappled with the Scooby snacks.
Dead air. I’d missed the call. Shit. I blew the bangs off my forehead and slid the cell into my pocket.
“Can I give you a hand?”
My eyes traveled from the litter of cardboard into the gaze of Atticus Finch. My breath caught in my throat. Drop dead go-go, as I liked to say.
Dimples, a cleft, everything a girl could want.
I smiled and tried to forget the fact I hadn’t changed out of my sweat pants or washed my hair since yesterday.
Atticus leaned in to help. Except he wasn’t Atticus. His name was Trevor. He worked as a computer programmer, age thirty-two, and blessedly single.
Thoughts of Jason fled my mind, replaced, instead, by Trevor.
When the boxes had been neatly stacked, he slid a pen out of his back pocket and jotted his phone number along the length of my shaking arm.
“Call me,” he said and all I could do was nod dumbly.
I collected my purse and wheeled through the rest of the aisles, collecting the remaining items from my list. I caught myself humming as I lifted a roll of paper towels.
The woman behind the register smiled as she slid my items over the scanner.
$36.58. I reached into my purse for my wallet. Emptiness greeted me. My hand fished through the space. Nothing.
I turned. A heavy-set man in a white shirt and tie hurried toward me. His nametag read “Petro.” My wallet dangled from his outstretched fingers. He slid to a stop in front of me, short gasps bursting from his lips.
“This is yours?” he said in clipped English.
I nodded and slid my clutch from his hands. “Thank you so much. I must have left it on the floor.”
The man shook his head. “You not understanding. I’m the manager.”
A crease deepened between his eyes. He raised his finger to point beyond me, outside to the parking lot. “No.” he said. “The man steal this. I call police. You have to go to police building and talk to them.”
I turned my head. Lights strobed against the panes of the windows. Red, white. An ominous sight. A police cruiser angled against the curb. A cop stood positioned with his hand on the back door, speaking into his walkie talkie. Another officer strode towards the car, leading a man before him, his hands linked with shiny handcuffs.
I stood rooted to the spot, watching. As he passed, he lifted his head and stared into the grocery store window. Our eyes met and he shrugged, his dimples peeking with a final smile.
Quick as that, he was gone and I was left standing alone, a bag full of steak and oatmeal draped over an arm that had been decorated with useless, ballpoint-scribbled numbers.
Mureall Hebert lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children. Her YA novella, In The Light of the World There Is a Tree, was published in the anthology, StereoOpticon by Drollerie Press. Her work has appeared in The Journal Newspapers, Northwest Baby & Child, and Aribella Magazine. She’s enrolled in the Whidbey Writer’s Workshop MFA program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.
Nice work Mureall! This story took a twist I had not anticipated and was fun to read. Thanks!
Hey Mureall…happened to stumble into this while looking for something else…congratulations on your on-line presence! Bev (remember me? )