“Time to go-o.”
His wife’s voice floats to him on a line of irritation. It’s only 10:00am and already she’s annoying. Christ. It isn’t that he hates his wife. On the contrary; he loves her very much. Loves her so much that he even agreed to go to the market with her and Johnny on Saturdays to do the food shopping. Why he did this he has no idea. How it came about is even a more cloudy memory. He supposes it has something to do with reverse psychology or maybe hypnotism. Could’ve been while he was drunk...or...maybe he never agreed at all and all of his wife’s suggestions that he did is nothing but a bunch of malarkey.
“You and Johnny go ahead and I’ll meet you there—there’s some things I need to pick up at the office, first.” She gives him one of her doubtful looks, all curiosity and distrust. Johnny is rocking along with the morning, tapping his feet on the foyer’s wooden floor. He looks like he’s ready to go. He looks like he needs to go or he’s going to have one of those fits. Meanwhile, his wife is stropping her tongue, getting it ready to say something that will surely be very interesting to hear.
“Oh...okay then I’ll see you there, huh?” This surprised him.
“Most definitely,” he says. “I can’t wait.” And he gives her one of his famous we got this deal closed smiles. But it does nothing in the way of relieving his wife’s doubt.
She opens the door and early June sunlight pours in and tightens the screws on his hang-over. Johnny is already standing by the car looking out of sorts. She turns around and looks at her husband, squinting but still smiling. “Okay, I’ll see you there I guess,” she says.
Still smiling his 1000 watt smile, the smile that his wife distrusts as much as his late nights at the office he says, “You know it you lucky lady.” and points a finger at her and winks as if he’s Neil Diamond getting ready for an overture. She distrusts that wink even more and he knows it.
“Mo-om, c’mon!” Johnny’s voice streams inside like a banner. Then she steps outside and closes the door, taking the early morning sunshine with her, thank god.
He sighs, knowing he’s only delaying the inevitable. Better than nothing, he thinks.
He goes back upstairs and babies his hangover with cold water and some aspirin. Then he lies down.
About a half an hour later, he wakes up and splashes cold water on his face; he feels a hundred percent better; feels like he could tolerate some food shopping.
He parks the car and goes inside. Finds his wife in the produce section...without Johnny. This doesn’t register at first. He is too distracted, trying to steel himself for the task ahead. As he approaches her he takes two deep breaths and counts to ten repeating the words it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay in his head like some kind of mantra designed to keep his nerves together for the next two hours it will take to do the food shopping. He smiles and thinks everything will be okay.
But...as it turns out...it wasn’t...
Saturday used to be a day that Kevin Coyer could look forward to after a long, grinding week at Cohen and Son’s. It used to be a day worthy of the wait and all the blood, sweat and tears of a normal five day week of listening to people complain about their personal injuries—both physical and mental—and demand recompense for their losses. Kevin Coyer was a legal consultant for Cohen and Son’s. He would sit down with a potential client and listen to what they have to say. If he believes they may have a case, then he’ll set an appointment up for them to meet with one of the lawyers. For Kevin, there was no sweat, no blood and no tears. Getting annoyed with simple people because they had no common sense when it came to legal matters was about as stressful as it would get, but other then that...easy-cheezy—jap-a-nese-y. Even so, this didn’t mean that he regarded his Saturdays with any less enthusiasm as any other white-collar...or even blue collar for that matter. To Kevin Coyer, his Saturdays were the summation of the five-day-work-week. Monday could be light years away as far as he was concerned—let Monday worry about itself, hell, it’s Saturday! was Kevin’s attitude. But the keyword here is: was. It was. It was a day he could look forward to with excitement. It was a day when he would occasionally go catch some rainbow trout in the creek down by McCullough’s farm. It was a day when he could wake up that same morning and know, just know like the Devil knows no good, that there would be some cool brewskies and barbecuing going on over at Wesley’s that evening. However, that was before his wife came up with a great idea and changed all of that (ruined is more like it); the idea that since all of her friend’s husbands went to the market with their wives, there was no reason why he couldn’t go as well. And once an idea got trapped in her head there was no way that bugger was getting away, especially since the idea, to some extent, had come from him.
But they go shopping on Sundays, like normal people.
Saturdays is when it is less crowded—and that’s that. If you don’t like it, you can do the shopping your self on Sundays.
But Sundays are when I have my bowling practices.
Well then, I guess it’s settled.
And, so it was...
Sure, he could still do all those things he liked to do on a Saturday, like as not...but it wasn’t the same; the sacred day was now tainted with a dark cloud that came in the form of a supermarket, and this cloud blotted out all the anticipation and excitement of a day he once held in high regard, it put a stump in his weekend rhythm and it smeared the rest of the day like a bad cold would put a damper on your energy. Now all he could think was: Saturday is shopping day, Saturday is shitty day, Saturday is the day where I get the wonderful opportunity to go to the market and spend a couple of hours looking like the Domestic Idiot of Paragon Stupidity.Com.
This is bullshit, Johnny boy. Kevin Coyer wanted to say this to his four year old son, but he was too busy in aisle four checking out cereals, most likely, or maybe he was in aisle three where he sometimes confused the doggie toys for real toys, the kind of toys that soar and sing when you pulled a string or pushed a button. And why shouldn’t he? This was a place for women and their four-year-old sons; women who were tolerant of their well-to-do husbands, when they knew all too well that it would be only a matter of time before they would have to don the magic cape and once again save hubby from his own undoing. Couldn’t have saved me from this, though, huh? he thought. It always has to be a family thing, going to the supermarket. The bland lighting, the ignorant cashiers, the disdainful music pouring out of the inter-com—it taxed the nerves. Marty’s Market had always held a high place on his list of contempt. And the fact that it was well out of the city limits didn’t make it any better. To Kevin, if there was any reason to cross the city limits it should be for either alcohol or to visit a relative who is not doing so well. Marty’s Market. Marty’s Market. Why does it always have to be Marty’s Market?
Because they have the best buys and the freshest cuts of meat. Did you know that there meats come straight from the slaughterhouse out at Bucks County?
Really? Wow, that is the most incredible thing I have learned today.
Kevin could name quite a few friends and acquaintances whose wives didn’t make them go to the market.
Yeah, but that’s them, and this is us. Besides, didn’t you want to spend more time with your family? Weren’t you the one who was talking about doing more things together as a “cohesive unit”? So don’t go bitching to me about it when you are the one who wanted this in the first place.
That was the one thing about his wife which amazed him—she could literally put words in your mouth and actually have you believing that they were there all along; all she did was just pluck them out one buy one and lay them on the table for you to see.
“I still think it’s evil of you to make me come here,” Kevin said and tried one of his dogged face expressions—pouting lower lip, downcast eyes. This was supposed to merit sympathy and concern; instead, it pissed her off.
“Okay. Go. Go ahead, leave if you want to—I don’t care.” She went back to inspecting cucumbers; tossed two in a plastic bag. He knew he couldn’t leave, now; doing that would only make things worse. And why was it that he was feeling bad all of a sudden? Wasn’t she the one who was supposed to feel bad?
This was common to all their shopping days. He could always find something to complain about; would always give a little friction at first, a small resistance to the flow of things, maybe an argument or a well placed rhetorical question designed to abash his wife’s sense of propriety, but never a full fledged fight where they would both try to hurt each other, calling each other names and aiming for the softest spot on their immutable armor of love. They were past that point in their marriage. But...eventually he gives up after a few tries (never hurts to try), and goes back into the isn’t he a wonderful husband mode, and things are good again.
Pushing the cart along, Lisa Coyer moved down to where the lettuce was; her wonderful husband followed.
Here was a man walking past him, now—his wife in front, kid sitting in the cart, snot running down his nose. The man had this look on his face that announced that he wasn’t having the time of his life either. A small knowing look passed between him and Kevin; I feel you, this look said.
The wife was telling the husband that maybe if he smiled occasionally, then perhaps nobody would take him for an idiot. “Thank you, dear,” the man said, and then he sighed and rolled his eyes at Kevin. Kevin nodded in consolation...I feel you, bro.
He saw the man flinch back as the wife suddenly turned with a sickening speed, her red hair swinging wildly, eyes on fire, hand poised in front of her as if ready to strike out like a cobra. Then, just as quickly, she pulled back, looking embarrassed as she caught Kevin’s eyes.
It wasn’t everyday that he could find other men who have it worse than he; those days were few and far in-between. But when he did come across one such as this, his heart sometimes filled with such gratitude that he thought he could almost thank his wife for not being such a be-otch. He watched as they disappeared around the next aisle, the husband’s shoulders slumped, his walk barely a tired shuffle, his head bowed.
That gratitude, more strong now, was filling Kevin’s mouth; standing next to his wife in the produce section, Kevin said, “I love you.” Lisa Coyer was rubbing a tomato and holding it to her nose. Kevin had no idea why she did this but it always drew a laugh from him.
“Love you too, dear,” she said absent-mindedly, taking two more tomatoes and tossing them in a bag, but not before holding them to her nose and taking a huge whiff.
“What’s for din din tonight Babe?”
“I was thinking of making a tomato pie,” she said as she continued to inspect tomatoes. Kevin Coyer hated tomato pie as much as he hated her aunt Betsy.
She sensed rather than saw his grimace. “What’s the face for?”
“You know I hate tomato pie.”
“Okay, how about Porterhouse steak and mashed potatoes?” His face lit up with a wide smile. He licked his lips. “Now you’re talking,” he said.
“Good. Make mine medium rare—okay hun?” she giggled.
His face went from animated glee to sagging dejection. “Whatever,” he mumbled, and looked around.
Johnny boy, he thought. And with that thought came the idea and the promise of momentary relief—he’d go find Johnny. Sweet little Johnny boy, who took after his Daddy boy—yeah…
“Baby, I’ll be right back.” Now his wife was prodding a huge cantaloupe. She’ll rub it like a magic lantern, Kevin thought, and then she’ll hold it to her ear as if it could whisper to her.
“Hurry-up,” she mumbled, and started rubbing the cantaloupe in wide, counter-clockwise circles.
Aisle four was tile to tile with wives and kids and the persecuted hubbies, not one of them smiling; a few stood like lighthouses among a sea of confusion and brain-rattling debates of what was the best cereal for their kiddies. “Too, much sugar,” he heard one say. Another one said, “As long as he likes it. What difference does it make?”
“—No, he likes the red stuff.”
“—Because there ain’t no toys in that one. Here get this one.”
“He loves the blue puffy things--”
“—But there’s kiddy crosswords on the back he can do.”
And some that stood like zombies, nodding their heads, eyes vacant; they had given up arguing a long time ago and were agreeing only to save their nerves.
From the ceiling speakers, a string version of Hey Jude was pouring out like a foreign molasses.
Here was a man who looked like he was about to have some kind of a seizure or a stroke; his face was a knit of pain; Kevin imagined his nerves were like downed power lines, sparking and arcing, fizzing. A small boy was standing in front of him and pointing at his funny looking face saying, “You look like a poopy you look like a poopy you look like a poopy.” And the kid laughed while snot ran down his nose and he licked it with a tongue that was unnaturally long. Nevertheless, the man was comatose to all of this; he just stood there and stared beyond the aisles, beyond the walls, beyond the parking lot. He looked the way Kevin did the night Lisa told him she was pregnant. He had gotten so drunk that night that when he came out of his blackout he had found himself on a freighter halfway to Nova Scotia. He had to stifle a laugh, but at the same time his heart went out to the poor man.
But where was little Johnny boy? He craned his neck and stretched on the balls of his feet, looking over all the heads. Not here.
Still though, just to be safe, he plunged into the aisle, negotiating it with the courage of a lion, skimming past the Poopy Man, around a few carts and through a maze of children. But when he got to the end of the aisle and turned around, there was still no Johnny. No big deal.
He walked over to aisle three—dog food, paper plates, charcoal…
There were only two people in this aisle: a fellow sufferer and his wife. The poor man. He must be at least seventy. He wore glasses that were thick, black plastic things covering half his emaciated face. At first, Kevin thought the old man was bending over, but then he realized that that was his natural posture. This man was a warrior who was holding on to the last strand of endurance; till the bell should toll…and for whom? For what? The poor fellow. His back was permanently hunched, from all the times he had to bend over with a hand cupped to his ear and ask his wife what it was she said—what’s that? Oh, let’s not make a scene? Oh, okay, dear, and after all these years he’d finally shrunk down to the same height as she. And now he was going deaf. His wife was poking a thumb in his back, forcing him up the aisle. Every time she poked he would jump like an electric shock had gone through his body.
There was no Johnny. Where the hell was he?
Kevin scratched his head. He didn’t want to have to explain to his wife that their kid was lost; that could be very dangerous. He could imagine what would happen. First there would be a moment of silence as she processed the information. Then she would ask a few simple questions—where were you when he was getting lost? Jerking off? Twisting your thumb up your ass? Scratching the cheese on your crotch? Pulling your nut-sack up over your head? Then they would start fighting, opening up old wounds and making some fresh ones. And when he’d go to sleep at night he would never see the morning because there would be two knitting needles protruding from his eyes...
He walked to the next aisle over—baby stuff, hygiene stuff.
The next aisle…
And the next…
Kevin was very worried; there were no more aisles. He returned the way he’d come and again walked past each one, gazing intently for a little boy with light brown hair and a careless bounce in his four year old step. That was the one thing that Kevin always got a kick out of no matter what kind of mood he was in: the way his son walked. It was an energetic stride, a seemingly non-purposeful gait that announced to the world that there isn’t a worry or a care that my mommy or my daddy couldn’t handle. His hair would bounce lightly on his head as his legs carried him stridently, palpably, his arms describing a wide arc, swinging in unison. Kevin smiled at the thought.
Returning to the produce section, hoping with all his might that Johnny would be in the shopping cart, sitting contently in the passenger seat, talking with his mommy, maybe having a Saturday chat about where stupid daddy could be. It was possible. Johnny could have returned while Kevin was looking for him; could’ve slipped on by easily enough. Kevin stood at the end of the produce aisle, watching his wife hold an orange up to the light as if she were trying to see what was inside. She turned it in her hand, tossed it back and forth from hand to hand and put it in the plastic bag with the others. There was no Johnny.
A terrifying image came to Kevin’s mind: his son’s face wrapped in Saran Wrap, mouth frozen in a silent scream, eyes bulging, sightless—he pushed the thought away.
He turned around and went back the way he’d come, paying particular attention to the candy displays next to each of the check-out counters, his eyes frantically darting up and down each isle, hands entwined in a tight knot of gristle and white knuckles.
He was actually considering calling it off...too many alarms going off in his head...got to tell the wife, the woman he’d been married to for the past—he had to think about it...
He stopped and froze. He let out his breath. Thank God; there he was standing on the bottom shelf and tiptoeing, trying to reach a pack of diapers, stretching his hand as high as his short arm could send it. Why he was trying to reach the diapers, Kevin had no idea; it didn’t matter anyway. He started down the isle. Thinking about how close he’d came to sheer panic he laughed aloud, rubbing his mouth. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to find that his relief stemmed from the fact he wouldn’t have to tell his wife anything about this little occasion. We’ll keep it our little secret, and what Lisa don’t know can’t hurt her.
“Hey,” he said to his son’s back, “you’re coming with me little man.” Little Johnny turned around. Kevin ‘s smile slowly fell away, drifted off, drowned in confusion and surprise. Then there was this high-pitched whining, kind of like the sound of a whistling tea kettle; the kind aunt Betsy always had singing on the stove and she could never hear it shrilling it’s high pitched squeal because her hearing was going at the same rate as her sight. At the same time came the fierce realization that this little boy was not his little Johnny. And the boy’s mouth opened wide as a dark canyon and the sound that spilled out filled the world; it rattled Kevin’s teeth, making him bite his tongue. The kid was screaming so loud he couldn’t believe all this noise was coming out of this little tyke. “Mmmmmoooooommmmmmeeeeeeeeeee!”
Out of nowhere came this...hulking woman. And at first, Kevin thought it was the boy’s father...had to be, right? Because women didn’t come in this size and bulk...do they? Two-hundred pounds if she was an ounce; and it wasn’t the soft kind of bulk; it was the hard, compact, tight, knotty, no-curves, kick-your-ass slabs of meat type. Paul Bunyan’s sister, he thought. Her huge head was pointed like a bullet, chin tucked to her breast, eyes blazing, intense...Here I come, they said, and I am not messing around. When Kevin saw those eyes, his balls shriveled up into a tight little fist. She wore a plaid shirt pulled tight across her huge sloping breasts. Blue dungarees. A pair of Timberlands on her feet brought thunder as she bore down on him like a locomotive, her arms curled tight to her body and driving like pistons. Her mouth, a small scar above a hard, square chin. This is it, he thought. this is what I’ve been waiting for all my life...a man with breasts.
He held up his hands beseechingly, shaking his head back and forth saying “No, no no no no no,” but he knew it was too late.
First, he was standing there, in a world in which there was order, a world with laws of physics, a world where things made sense, where things were what they seemed to be…and then suddenly, that world was altered forever. Things had changed in the matter of seconds; the shift of leverage was unmistakable. What happened next would color his perception of the world for the rest of his life.
Kevin caught the faint scent of fresh laundry. It was a warm scent; it gave him a sense of home -not -too -far -away. It left him feeling like he was falling, before she yanked him off his feet like a doll and tossed him into the adjacent shelves. Luckily for him he connected with something soft. But still, the lower side if his back twanged against the metal edge of the lower shelf, dislodging it from its supporting brackets with a loud clanging of metal. His back flared up like a bon-fire as he tumbled to the floor in a shower of falling paper towels. Dazed, he looked around and saw two ha-yooj boots marching towards him. Two thick arms decending, grabbing him by shoulders and flipping him on his stomach, pressing his face to the tiled floor ( despite the pain, he couldn’t help but notice how clean and shiny the floor was), one knee in the small of his back, pinning his left arm, one hand gripping his shoulder in a paralyzing grip that felt like pain he’d never known.
“Poolliiiccce!” she shrieked, before Kevin even knew what the hell had just happened. And her voice—my god! It was hard to imagine such a screech coming out of the likes of her. He expected an enormous, bellowing trumpet of a voice; Moses calling out to the people of Israel, telling them to stand up and believe...stand up and be counted.
...Meanwhile the little boy, whom he at first thought was Johnny, was now kicking him in the ribs and saying, “Poopy face poopy face poopy face.”
Several of the customers wandered over to see what the commotion was all about, whispering and pointing. By the time one of the management had entered the scene, there was a pretty good crowd. He weaved his way through the throng saying, “Excuse me, excuse me,” with the air of someone who had been through it all, had seen it all.
“Back up folks. Please give me some room; I’m the assistant manager here.”
Lisa Coyer was reading the back of a can of Chunky Beef Campbell’s soup when she heard someone yelling for the police. Then she started to notice the way everybody was flocking over to aisle two. She shrugged her shoulders, decided it was probably worth seeing. The whole store seemed to be teeming together in one place. She tried to spot her husband from among the crowd, but she didn’t see him. Standing behind a short man with a baby in his arms (she smiled at the baby), she peered through the crowd, craning her neck whispering to herself, “What the hell is it?” She could barely make out the huge bulk of some woman or a man wearing a plaid shirt, squatting on the floor.
Some man who was going on about how he was the assistant manager was asking folks to step aside and make room. He had an annoyed look on his face and he was breathing heavily through his flared nostrils.
A few people parted to let him through, and that’s when she saw the sneaker, lying on its side, over by the shelf. It was the same kind of sneaker as the pair that she had gotten for Kevin just before spring, about three months ago. His old sneakers were making his ankles hurt and they gave him stress fractures he’d said. These new ones were comfortable and gave more ankle support; though they were more expensive, it was worth it. There was no mistake about it; the same exact sneaker. He had raised such a whirlwind about them, saying that everyone was wearing them these days; they were the latest technology in sneaker design. She had her own ideas about his stress fracture and ankle problems.
She threaded her way through the crowd to get a better look, hoping, praying it wasn’t Kevin. Please don’t be Kevin please don’t be Kevin please don’t be Kevin please don’t be Kevin.
Now she had a perfect view of the whole scene…or whatever it was. “Oh my god!” she said, putting a hand to her O shaped mouth. Her husband looked as if he were being forced-fed the floor.
She ripped the rest of the way through the crowd, nearly knocking over a perpetually hunched over old man. “The hell,” he moaned.
“What are you doing to my husband? Let him go, now!”
She looked up at Lisa and Lisa said again, “Get the hell off my husband unless you want some missing teeth.”
The crowd was really into it now, awaiting the outcome of this delicious development. They stared avidly, amazed, confounded and most importantly—entertained.
“He tried to abduct my son, Ma’am.”
“I hardly doubt it.” And she grabbed the hand that was pressing his head to the floor, and flung it aside. “Get up Kevin. What the hell.”
He raised his head and looked at her, the one half of his face splotched red, a thin line of blood trailing out of his left nostril.
The lady’s expression was one of uncertainty as she looked back and forth from Lisa to Kevin.
“Get off of him,” Lisa said and bored her eyes into the lady’s. Slowly the lady stood, looking ready to pounce on Kevin should he try anything fishy.
“Now let’s just calm down here…” the assistant manager said, and held his hands up. “Let’s not get out of control here—”
Lisa ignored him as she helped Kevin to his feet.
“Ahhgg,” he said as he rubbed a hand on his arm.
“Okay folks. Let’s get back to shopping, huh?” the assistant manager said. He waved his arms in a sweeping gesture. “It’s all over, now. Let’s go.”
“Well what was you doing with my son then, mister?” the lady asked Kevin. She had her hands on her wide hips and a doubtful look on her face. A small southern accent. South Carolina maybe? Tennessee?
“I’m sorry. I thought he was Johnny, my son. You didn’t even give me a chance to explain.”
As the crowd broke up and dispersed Lisa said, “What happened?”
“I was looking for Johnny, and this kid looked just like him. I went up to him and told him to come with me. When he turned around and I saw that it wasn’t him, it was too late. I ended up on the floor.” He was rubbing his shoulder and wincing.
A surprised look rounded the features of her face; and then her brow furrowed. Lisa said to the lady “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding—”
“No, no I’m sorry, too. I guess I get—”
“—My husband is really quite harmless.”
“I get too protective, I guess sometimes.” She shrugged and turned to Kevin, “Sorry.”
“I guess,” he said still rubbing his shoulder.
Lisa gave the lady a wry look.
“Well then where’s Johnny?” Kevin said.
“Well mister. If you’d a drove out here with me and Johnny, instead of insisting that you’d meet us here cause you wanted to drive to the office first, you would’ve seen me drop him off at Tommy Felton’s before coming here—they wanted to watch The Incredible Hulk together.” She arched her eyebrows, offered a derisive smile, turned to the woman in the plaid shirt—the one who had just kicked her husband’s ass—and gave her a look that said, you see what I have to put up with?
Lisa laughed first—a small giggle, and then it expanded and spread from a chortle to full hearty laughter, tears streaming down her face. Then the lady joined her and people were looking at them as if they were crazy.
It was so annoying...
By D.M. Francis