Victoria Saltz

 

“No harm done, am I right?” That was the third time I had been wrong that day. I smiled earnestly at the cashier in the green apron bending down to pick up the bruised apples. It’s funny how fruit bruises the way people do, but on people, bruises heal. They’re gone in a week or two, once all the platelets and damaged tissue are gone. I picked up an apple and held it in both hands, running my fingers over the waxy pesticides. “This one’s not bruised. Take it.” The cashier smiled, revealing a missing front tooth, and put it back on the shelf. It was a pity smile, I thought. In her head she was thinking “stupid kid” or “how pathetic!” But that’s what’s great about being able to talk in your head, because no one else can hear you. I know that, ’cause if they could I wouldn’t be here at the grocery store picking up bruised apples.

I wonder if anyone can really read minds, like in those movies where the guy just looks at you and knows exactly what you’re gonna do next. I don’t think I’d like to read people’s minds—too much clutter, and I’m not good with books. I picked up the last apple and stacked it on top. They looked nice and sturdy, a pyramid made up of shiny green spheres sort of like the blocks we use in math. I’m not too good at math, but I like to build.

By the time I looked up, the cashier had moved on, and I spotted her from across the store ringing up chocolate milk for a customer. Her eyes were soft brown, and her blond hair framed her face like the border of a still life trying to move free.

***

I picked up a carton of eggs and peeked inside to make sure they were brown. We never buy the white ones—dad says they’re too generic. The eggs all fit perfectly into their little holes like the carton had been made for them. I wonder what it’s like to have something made for you. I noticed one of the eggs had a crack in its shell and slimy liquid had oozed out the sides, but I took it anyways so it wouldn’t feel neglected.

***

That was the first thing on the list dad gave me: eggs, then butter and milk. Butter was always kept opposite the eggs, with the drinkable yogurts and snack cheese. It took up half an aisle, just for butter: butter in cans, butter in containers, butter in cellophane paper. Then salted or unsalted took up another row and on the shelves: yellow boxes that read “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” I bet I’d believe it. I believe a lot of things. I used to believe in time machines, but now I know those only existed in the ’80s, and they were banned because no one would wanna go back there anyways. If I did have a time machine I wonder what I’d do. Well, first I’d find out how a group of entrepreneurs got together to try to pose hydrogenated vegetable oil as butter, and then claim you wouldn’t believe it.

Next item, but I’m already in the dairy aisle. “Milk,” it says, so I turn to my right. Only three cartons left of Stony Brook Fields. The list says two, but I can’t just leave one all alone. Anyways, I drink milk fairly often these days. My mom used to tell me every time I drank a glass of milk an angel would visit me from heaven; I wonder how many more glasses I’ll have before I ever see her again.

***

“Jasper!” A lady pushing a cart of cereal boxes waved across the aisle. She smiled, lifting her chubby arms, reaching out for a hug. She ran towards me, enveloped in her black bulging coat. Her face was soft and her plump cheeks seemed to flow gently to her neck to her chest to her stomach and then fell with a thud on her waist, sitting above her comically skinny calves. I liked the way her little legs ran; nature didn’t intend it that way. “Jasper, I almost didn’t recognize you.” I thanked her for the compliment. “Jasper, how’s your dad doing?” I don’t like to respond to questions I can’t answer.

She looked familiar but there was a new-fallen sadness that clouded her eyes. It’s funny the way emotions change your looks more than anything. “The two of us should get lunch some time. I miss her, too.” I hate when people try to relate.

***

I took the long way around to the checkout line so I wouldn’t have to pass the fruit. Knocking over two shelves in one day seemed a little much, even for me. There were two lines, so I got in the longer one to give myself more time. A woman stood in front of me, grasping her child’s sweaty hand, and the little girl tugged and twirled to get loose. I felt my palms get hot the way they do when I become angry. The little girl pried, my hands burned, no one was happy.

***

The walk home was cool and I thought about the child and how she kept trying to pull away from someone she might never see again. I thought about how I wanted to lean over and tell her people leave without a warning and you have to always be ready. I rubbed my hands together to create friction and felt the hot flesh sear. I watched the cars zoom by, leaving flashes of color too fast before I could see them, but their lights imprinted in my brain forever. I heard the moans of the horns, angry city people who don’t know how to handle their own issues. One man in a grey Mercedes honked at the cabbie ahead. I thought about how horrible the sound was and how peaceful the city might be if horns sounded like people’s voices. What if every time you honked the other drivers heard “Excuse me, please,” or “Would you mind moving forward?” or “My wife died and my kid’s a big idiot,” because that’s what they’re really saying.

***

I walked the rest of the way home with my four plastic bags and thought about the size of the universe. I thought about why people care so much about getting to their business meetings on time when supernovas are exploding and asteroids are circulating just outside our solar system. I like to think about the big things because it makes the little things seem small. I walked down the sidewalk and felt a gust of chilled air tear at my bony fingers, and I gripped the bags tight. I thought about the broken eggs and the bruised apples and the lonely Stony Brook milk. I thought about sunlight and why it ever left New York. I thought about margarine and butter and the fat woman in the silly coat. I thought about the red shift, the microwave background, the infinite area of space where everything came and everything went.

 

Victoria Saltz is a high school junior from New York City. She writes for the Columbia Preparatory Journal and has won her high school’s creative writing award and Scholastic Writing Award’s Gold Key. Her other interests include the sciences and track and field.

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