This is a work of fiction.
The next morning, I check my e-mail. Rachel has sent a payment. It’s half of what I’ve asked for. She’s also included a note.
Thanks again for agreeing to illustrate my book. Here’s the first half of the payment. I know I’ve already said this, but your work is just stunning. I’m telling everyone in my network so I hope you get lots of customers.
I send her an e-mail thanking her for the kind words and the money, and then I remember there’s no food in the house, and I haven’t eaten since yesterday’s breakfast.
I go into the living room and see Dad sitting on the couch, looking exhausted.
“Hi Dad. I’m going to the store. Do you or Mom need anything?”
He shakes his head.
“Is Victoria coming today?”
Has he lost the ability to speak?
“Bye Dad.” He doesn’t answer, so I go into the kitchen and out the back. I don’t use the front for two reasons: the store is just a little closer to the back of our house, but mostly it’s because I don’t want to see Victoria if she’s lurking in the bushes in our front yard.
I walk down the sidewalk and open the gate — or try to. It’s stuck. I give it a good yank, but it won’t budge. Stupid gate. Dad got the back yard fenced when I was six. He and Mom talked about getting a dog, but over the thirteen years since, the gate’s gotten rusty and we never got the dog. This was because Mom and Dad could never agree on a breed.
I go around to the front. Victoria isn’t there. I turn left and walk down our street. It’s just after eight, and it’s quiet. I count the houses as I pass them by. Six, seven, eight, nine. At ten, there’s a guy sitting on the porch smoking. At fourteen, there’s a man outside, but he’s not puffing on anything. He sees me and waves like he wants to talk. I have no idea who he is. He’s short, about forty, with wild brown hair and he’s wearing blue jeans and a red shirt. I stop at the end of his sidewalk.
“Hi,” I say. “What’s up?”
I don’t normally talk to random people, but I’ve been so starved for social contact, what with the pandemic, Dad walking around like a silent ghost, and Mom never coming out of their bedroom.
“My bitch just had a litter. Want one?”
He laughs, and I start to back away.
“Man, you young guys. My dog had puppies.”
“Oh, er, are you offering me a puppy?”
“I was just thinking about dogs.”
“Is that a yes?”
“It’s a maybe. I have to go to the store first.”
He smiles at me and says, “Don’t forget the dog food.”
I smile uncertainly back and continue my walk to the end of our street, without bothering to count the houses.
Outside the grocery store, I wait in line behind an old man who keeps turning around to check that I’m not crossing the line into his safe space.
The door opens and a woman comes out, lugging a few bags. The old man smirks at me and goes in, passing too close to the woman. She gives him a dirty look, which he appears to ignore, and I smile at her and step to the side so she can pass me at a safe distance. This store needs to rethink their entry and exit points. The intake is too close to the outflow.
Five minutes later, a gray-haired lady comes out, and I can go in.
Inside, the place smells great. I walk to the bakery section and see a sign for cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, I don’t actually see any cinnamon buns.
There’s a woman behind the counter, and I approach her, although not too closely.
“Hi. Got any cinnamon buns left in the back?”
“They’ll be out of the oven in five.”
“Can I have a dozen please?”
“Yes. Come back in a few minutes and I’ll have them packed for you. Do you like them with cream cheese or without?”
Mom and Dad love that cream cheese stuff.
“Make that a dozen without and two dozen with.”
I push my cart down the aisles, trying to think what we might need. I can’t buy milk because we don’t have a fridge, and I can’t buy meat for the same reason. I love them, but I can’t live on Oreos and oatmeal raisin cookies.
I walk down an aisle and see dog food. What would Dad say if I brought home a puppy? I look at the food and see a big bag that says “for puppies.” What kind of dog is it, anyway? I put a bag into the cart.
The next aisle over is full of baby stuff. I have no idea if Mona can use any of it. I look at tiny little jars of baby food, and big cans of formula, and I wonder if I should buy anything.
Some of the formula is really expensive. I’d better not buy anything for Mona and risk Victoria’s disapproval.
I hear a noise and look to my left. A woman’s trying to fix one of the wheels of her cart. Through the cart’s wire lattice, I see a large bin. Above it, a sign says: FOOD BANK.
I put a few cans of the expensive formula into my cart.
I go back to the bakery and pick up my cinnamon buns. I want to eat them now, but I suppose I should pay for them first.
I trundle up and down more aisles, and finally see something promising: evaporated milk. I load up a few cans and find some peanut butter, jam, and then go back to the bakery for bread. I find canned meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. I also get cans of beans and tomatos, and a few cartons of juice. I grab a few more things that don’t require a fridge, and then I go to the checkout.
“Congratulations,” the cashier says.
I look up at her and say, “Pardon?”
“I love babies. Can you show me a picture?”
“Um, er, I didn’t bring one.”
“Maybe next time. Do you have a boy or a girl?”
“Oh, isn’t this for your baby?”
“No, it’s for the food bank.”
“Oh, but you do have a baby?”
“Yes, but she’s my sister.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Please bring a picture to show me some time.”
She packs my purchases into about a millioon bags, which, I realize suddenlly, I’ll have to carry home.