Groceries

Groceries

by Richard Wayne Horton

Jamie was cracking up. “Look at him! What is he?”

The street was narrow and steep with wood frame houses, their fronts deeply shaded. The two thirteen year olds on bikes looked downhill. It was about 5:15. On the right, sun-bright trees and bushes jumped in the wind.

Eric said, “Let’s really do it this time!”

Jamie said, “I feel like running him down!”

“But if you run him down, I can’t say it!”

The tall thin man with the black beard was teetering up the hill toward them with a grocery sack clutched to his chest, a silly grin on his face.

Eric said, “Men shouldn’t grin. Oh, god!”

“He’s really one! Kee-rist!”

“Sure taking forever!”

“They’re slow. Got to walk that way, you know. Shake it.”

“Hee! Hee!”

Jamie frowned at Eric. “You aren’t one, are you? I hope you’re not one.”

“Me! How can you even say that!”

The two pudgy, bright-eyed boys were midway down the hill, on their bikes, behind a bush.

Jamie said, “Hey! We’re like cops!”

“Hee! Hee!”

“After you yell it, give him a ticket! Walking wrong on a two way street!”

“No, walking two ways on the wrong street!”

“Shut up! He’s getting close.”

The man was still grinning, wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. They would have to stop that shit. One of his long arms started to rise, and just then, with a grunt, the boys moved. Eric’s bike skidded to a stop in front of smiley. “Like heights?” he yelled with his eyes popping. Surprise crossed the bearded, far-too-gentle face. “Your zipper sure don’t! Hee! Hee!” and he burned rubber get’n outa there. “Pervert!” he yelled over his shoulder.

Jamie rolled out of the bushes, stopped to stare dead-faced at the surprised perv, then turned and pedaled furiously, hooting as he overtook Eric, passed him, and disappeared up the street.

Eric had slowed, looking back, suddenly perplexed. There were other people on the street! He and Jamie hadn’t seen them from behind the bushes. There was a woman in a long grayish-brown skirt, and two kids. They were running down the hill toward the man. The kids, a boy and a girl, were laughing. The man’s arm, which had been rising before the two 13 year olds jumped out of the bushes, rose the rest of the way. The woman returned his wave. She had a warm dark-eyed smile. Old-country.  When she got to her man, she took his grocery sack right out of his weary arms. Oh, what a good husband, shopping like that! The kids threw their arms around his long daddy legs, and he put his hands in their black hair, ruffling it, the long fingers splayed, as if playing piano.

“Oh, shit!” whispered Eric on his bike. The woman put her brown-sleeved arm around dad, and brought her face to his, kissing him.  She left her cheek against his, and her lips moved next to his ear. The kids looked up, smiling, their faces almost wild with love. The man chuckled, and the family turned and began walking up the hill toward Eric.

He scooted his ride around and coasted back toward the happy family. They noticed him, smiled, and kept coming. He stopped his bike, his ears red with shame. He knew what he had to do. The children noticed him and seemed interested.

“Sir…I’m sorry for what I called you. I didn’t know you were married!” His eyes raked across the family grouping and snagged on the woman’s long-fingered hand wrapped around the bottom of the grocery sack. The sack bulged with something wet. Between her fingers, a spider web of dark red seepage showed. When he looked at her face…trick of the light or something…the eyes seemed naked and hungry, her full lips the color of animal guts.

The man smiled warmly at the boy’s obvious embarrassment. “It was fine of you to come back!” he said gently. Then his expression, something about him, seemed to jump nervously forward, as if to appreciate the youth more closely. His long-fingered hand, buried in his little girl’s black hair, the thumb touching one ear, the middle finger touching the other, rose with a refined jerk. Rust-colored stains defined the joints and darkened the pads, of the raised hand. “It shows character! But even if I had really…”

A bird twittered. Sunlit leaves. A breeze.

“been what you called me, even if I had been something…”

Several streets away, a dog barked.

“worse…”

The man’s shoulder jerked. He made a sound like a small sneeze in his nose. He was laughing! He threw out his arms and embraced the tall woman, who also began to laugh, in a high, pretty voice.

Eric noticed the child, the female. She was loose now, and for some reason that disturbed him, the fact that her father had let go her head. She stood beside his long leg, swaying back and forth, her sparkling eyes fixed on his face as if she were looking at ice cream, a sucker, a gingerbread man.

Things went bad fast. The small female made a sudden happy bark, and went for him.

Wanting to make things go back to normal, he said, “Uh…Good-bye!” and fumbled his bike around. Jumping up, he stood on the pedal, his weight slowly pushing it down. The bushes after a long moment began to slide backward. The opening in the bushes where he and Jamie had sat on their bikes snickering and pretending to be the anti-gay police, floated slowly past. His hips jumped up again. All his weight balanced on the other pedal, which began sinking, slow as a windmill on an airless day with dreamy clouds in the sky. His hands, beaded with sweat, pulled up on the handlebars.

The skittering of little feet came closer, but then the bike was gaining speed. He was getting away! Dear God, what had just happened?  The town lay ahead, streets like windy canyons, shops empty and dark, banks failed. Wind buffeted his forehead.

After several blocks of furious pedaling he began to slow a little. He blew out his breath. His throat rattled with glutinous saliva. Tired, starting to smile, he glanced back.

And saw them.

They were ten feet back! When he’d slowed, they’d slowed too, giving each other lugubrious grins. The man waved. Uh…hi, there! The woman laughed. They began dancing around in a circle, tossing the grocery sack back and forth. The children had discovered a new game. They took turns running up to the bike, slapping their hand on the fender, and running back to their parents, screaming with delight. Mustn’t let them get over-excited, now! To quiet them, the mama pulled the head out of the sack, holding it by its long brown hair. It’s tongue hung out, languid and pink. She tossed it to one of the kids, the male. For being such a good boy! Decisions to be made! She looked to her husband, who guided her in all things. A traditionalist! He nodded and pointed his long finger at her.

Then she was there beside Eric, who was puffing and pumping again, his eyes locked on the deserted street ahead. She kept pace easily, her lope so graceful she was noiseless except for the flapping of her skirt. Her face came and floated close to his cheek, hovering there, her soft breath in his ear.

“Pretty boy, pretty boy!” she murmured. The odor of raw meat came out with her words. “What, not even a little kiss for me? A little kiss, haaaaa?”

About the Author

Richard Wayne Horton has just published a book of dark flash fiction, STICKS AND BONES, available at Meat For Tea, The Valley Review.  Readers of Aphotic Realm would really like it, and should order it.  He has been writing flash fiction and longer stories since the 1970s.  He is originally from Austin, Texas, where he was one of the open mic poets helping to create an Austin literary voice in the seventies.  He now lives in Springfield, MA and has published in Southern Pacific Review, Danse Macabre du Jour, Meat For Tea, and others.  He was nominated for a Pushcart Award.

Follow him on Facebook under the name Richard Wayne Horton.

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