In which Katy bakes in the sun, damages a customer’s vehicle, and stands up for herself.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
↩️ Chapter Five
“Let me go!” I scream, but each of Tom’s steps brims with purpose. I look around me, for someone, anyone, to help me, but I’m hit once again with the terrible truth: I’m alone. That’s the story of my life. Every horrible moment, every funeral, every challenge has left me on my own. And when I die, which apparently may happen any moment now, I’ll have to face that alone too. It doesn’t matter how many friends I make, if I marry one day and have children, or become the famous poet and author I’ve always wanted to be. My life is in my hands.
After a lifetime of cowardice, bowing to the whims of others, and second-guessing every decision, these thoughts bring clarity like the first gasp of air that fills your lungs after holding your breath underwater too long. I scratch and tug at his fingers with a ferocity that makes his march stutter. He grabs me from behind and around the waist as if to toss me into the trash compactor. I use my weight and drop to the floor like a sack of potatoes, and he crashes to the ground. I attempt to crawl away and launch into a sprint for the exit, but he grabs my ankle and pulls me towards him.
“Katy, Katy, Katy. If you behave, we can leave together, right out that door.” For the first time, I can see past his soothing voice. His words, no matter what they are, can only promise pain and degradation, and frankly, I’m done. With every ounce of strength I can muster, I kick him in his perfect set of teeth. “You bitch!” He cradles the blood that drips into his hand as I escape through the exit into the dark night.
The sun bakes my brown skin, and sweat drenches my face, neck, and back. I take a row of grocery carts from a corral and feel the burn in my calves and thighs as I push them up the slight incline of the parking lot.
“Thanks for helping,” I say to Guy through my teeth.
“No problem.” He walks next to me without a care in the world.
I’m the only girl who volunteers to push carts, a badge that the vainer part of me wears with pride. On the other side of the parking lot, James pushes his share, probably redder than a tomato. I giggle at the thought, somewhat delirious from the heat, and don’t see as a pickup truck backs out to my right. It nudges the carts, and my heart stops. A string of curses fills the air as the driver slams his door. We stare at each other for a few seconds, and the familiarity boils to the surface. The Racist’s eyes drill into me before they flicker over to his tailgate. He runs his finger over a small scratch.
“I’m so sorr-”
“Look what you fucking did. This is a new truck.” He takes two steps in my direction. His slight southern accent reminds me of James, and on a superficial level, his looks are similar to the dads I see on Sundays when the church crowds come in to shop. Sweet older men with fanny packs and tucked shirts who can’t help but make puns while their kids groan in embarrassment. “Who’s gonna pay for this, huh?”
“I can get my manager if you’d like-”
“Listen here, you little wetback. People like you take jobs from real Americans. Can’t even do a simple job right.” His face is red, and he looks like a bear ready to rip into his prey. All I can do is shrink into myself, that is until Guy breaks his silence.
“Katy, tell him to fuck off.” Guy paces back and forth like a panther on the other side of the carts. He stops and grips them like he’s hanging on for dear life. All I can do is gape between the Voice and the man who don the same animalistic rage. “You need to stand up for yourself.” I hear and understand what he asks me to do, but I continue to stare like a deer in headlights. What if the Racist gets angrier? What if I lose my job? What if he hurts me?
“Lazy fucking beaner.” The Racist continues to spout slurs at me, to the point that I realize this might not even be about me. Behind him, I see a young Black girl pull out her phone. The Racist follows my eyes, turns around, and starts to yell at the girl while I recover from my shock. What do I do, what do I do. Think. Think. Think. I see Guy push off from the carts, walk around me, and stalk towards the Racist. Even if I think this man deserves a punch in the face, I have no idea what Guy is truly capable of, so I snap at him in my head.
“Guy, WAIT.” I walk past him and plant my feet a few steps away from the quarreling duo. “Sir.” He continues his tirade. “Sir.”
“What!” The Racist snarls, sweat and spittle going down his face.
“You need to stop. You’re acting like a child, worse than a child.” I swallow my fear down. “I made a simple mistake, and you think it’s ok to insult me and say hurtful things. It’s not ok.” My plea isn’t eloquent, and as much as I want to go full Shakespeare or MLK, I don’t have it in me at the moment. After all, life isn’t a perfectly plotted movie or book where the main character comes up with witty one-liners, and everything turns out fine in the end. I search his face for humanity and any amount of compassion. Maybe there’s a mental illness I don’t know about? Or he lost someone? I wasn’t doing great when my dad passed, and I’m sure I took it out on other people.
Before I can come up with another excuse for his behavior, the Racist comes at me as if to grab my arm, and I instinctively take a step back, squint my eyes, and put my hands up. Guy moves in front me of me at the last second and shoves the Racist into the truck. His body slams into the closed tailgate, and he grips the side before he can fall to the floor. He looks around in confusion. Phone Girl’s mouth is open, and her eyebrows rise. The Racist waves his hand through the space in front of him, but it goes through Guy effortlessly. Oblivious to the being in front of him, he slowly makes his way around his truck. He jumps back into his vehicle, drives forward through the empty space in front, and his tires squeal as he leaves the parking lot.
Phone Girl stops recording and comes up to me. “You ok?”
“Ya, just a little freaked out.” She puts her phone in her pocket. “Thanks for stepping in like that.”
“No problem. There was something wrong with him.” She circles her right temple. “Do you care about me recording everything? It was live.” I freeze. This may cause me to lose my job if I’m not careful.
“Can you delete it? I just don’t want to get in trouble with my managers.” She nods and swiftly taps her phone a few times, and the video is gone. We commiserate over similar past experiences and laugh at the Racist’s obvious clumsiness for a few minutes before she goes into Luna’s, and I finally put the carts back where they belong. I take a quick break as the sun sets and sit against the wall of the store to the side of some potted plants where no one can see or hear me. I look over at Guy, who’s standing next to me.
“Thanks, by the way.”
“You don’t have to thank me. I should have bashed his fucking head into the tail light-”
“I meant for getting me to say something. But I guess saving me was cool too.” It felt good to set a boundary, to carve out my space and have someone respect it for once. Well, maybe not respect it exactly, but it felt good to stick up for myself.
“You’re worth it, you know.” Guy kicks a squashed soda can, and I wonder if I have litter duty tomorrow. We stare at the best view in town as the first tendrils of a summer cold front blow in and whip uncut grass and pecan tree limbs into a frenzy.
“Maybe,” I laugh. Hope colors my words.
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