(This story came to me yesterday, and I’d already decided to use it, regardless of the prompt. How handy that “what’s a superpower you’d love to have” fits into the plan so nicely.
I’m enjoying moving beyond the mental illness navel-gazing I’m prone to, though I try to make my essays somewhat life-lesson applicable. I’m also enjoying not completing the challenge one hundred percent. Giving oneself permission to be imperfect is no small thing, and for someone still working on their recovery from an eating disorder (shameless navel-gazing, shameless book plug), it’s a miracle.
I’d love to have the ability to write fiction well. And yes, “novelist” is a superpower. I’m an idea machine: I stumble, however, with execution. I think it’s completely unfair that we’re not perfect from the get-go at what we attempt.)
Kelly didn’t figure having tacos on Tuesday was caving to a trend: she’d been doing the grocery shop on Tuesdays forever, and tacos after that was a natural choice. It was an easy meal after grocery shopping sucked out her will to live, and there were vegetables in the fridge, important when it came to prepping taco toppings.
She looked at the tomatoes. So many choices! The cherry and grape tomatoes were out: dicing those was ridiculously complicated. The hothouse one looked red and juicy, but she knew from experience they were tasteless. Roma or ‘on the vine’ then, though the former looked pretty picked over.
She smiled at the little girl standing in front of the peppers with her mom. She listened in that serious way children have as mom explained the mechanics of fresh pepper selection. Kelly curled her lip a touch, though no one could see that under the mask. One thing she liked about wearing them was it hid resting bitch face. But it was warranted: so far, mom had said nothing about peppers with wrinkly skin, and cutting those was the worst.
Kelly grabbed ‘fine on the vine’ and headed over to choose from the smorgasbord of lettuce with a shrug. Cheaply-priced iceberg was the right choice for tacos, and people who said otherwise were wrong, end of story.
The mist started spraying the stacks of vegetables just as Kelly pulled her cart up. Kelly rested her forearms on the buggy with an eye roll, waiting for the shower to taper off. She let her eyes close and took a few deep breaths, micro-meditations, as she liked to think of these forced stillness moments.
A series of staccato cracks had her eyes popping open. “Hammering?” People’s terrified shrieks put paid to that hopeful thought. Kelly looked toward where the little girl had been standing. There were more shots now and more screams, moving closer to the front of the store. There. In her mother’s arms, both crouched behind the display of Florida oranges.
Navel oranges are my favourite, Kelly thought, as she watched the little girl pat her mother’s shoulder. “It’ll be okay, mama.”
Kids. They’re amazing creatures at times.
Kelly grabbed the lettuce at the front of the bin: she’d been eyeing it before the spray started raining down. It was big, but not too big and green, but not too green. She added it to the child seat/produce holder and took the few steps necessary to bring her alongside the frightened mom.
“Watch my buggy,” she said with a half-smile as she headed towards the commotion. “I’ll be back.”
She rounded the hot food island – They should close down: no one buys the food. Not that I blame them: it looks under-hot and over-greasy – and saw the problem.
“Hey there,” Kelly called, interrupting an uncreative and grammatically-challenged rant about face-busting and “gimme all your money” or something similar. She could see on the ground behind the normally pleasant but currently terrified assistant manager (definitely not paid enough for this), splayed out in front of aisle five (I wonder if they have pretzel Goldfish crackers in yet?), the unmoving body of somebody or other. Just beyond that, a child leaned what she presumed was his father, holding a pressure bandage to his arm.
“It’s time for you to go,” Kelly said in what she hoped was a firm and calm voice. She didn’t hold out much hope that this would end well, but one must try. “She can’t get to the big money, and you don’t have time to empty all tills before the police come. Grab what you can and go.”
The boy, because he was under thirty and everyone under thirty is a child, turned her way and spat on the floor. Meth teeth. She’d seen them before. The ending was going to suck. Conversations with people who’d turned their brain into Swiss cheese were doomed.
“Fuck off. I’ll fuck you up. Fuckwad at the back thought he could tell me. Dead old fuck now, isn’t he?’ The boy laughed as he said it, dead eyes, broken in so many ways.
How we fail.
Into the silence of what might have been her response, sirens wailed, coming closer.
Times up, thought Kelly and sighed again. Then jumped back, startled at the snarl. Who knew deep breathing would be his trigger?
“Fucking bitch,” the boy shoved the woman he’d been holding hard to the side. She cried as she fell – that stuff must be involuntary – then started scrabbling backwards. She needn’t have bothered. He’d found a new target.
The gun rose from his side as he continued. “You bitch. This is all your fault.”
“I don’t think so, Kevin.” Kelly gave a half-smile, the sirens drew closer. “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” Kelly paused and then looked him hard in the eyes.
“Don’t do something you’ll regret.”
And then everything got slow.
The “fuck you, cunt” from Kevin wasn’t unexpected. Honestly, Kelly thought, I’m surprised that it took him so long. Nor was the arm swinging in her direction unexpected. She’d hoped he’d choose otherwise, but this wasn’t her first rodeo. His lips pulled back in a snarl, and she could see his teeth clench as he pulled the trigger.
Hear the screams as the exploding gun destroyed most of his hand along with a good portion of his chest and face.
One of the customers/hostages started to vomit. Kelly could hear wailing and crying, but it seemed muted, as though from another room or behind a closed door. Everything had turned to shadow. All but Kevin.
Kelly squared her shoulders, then walked forward and crouched down. He was quieter than she would’ve expected, all things being equal. I’d be screaming my head off if my hand had suddenly become absent, Kelly thought. She pulled the towel she’d tucked into her bag on a feeling out and crouched down beside the mangled boy, wrapping it around his hand.
“Don’t bother,” he said, though he let her continue. “I’m going. I feel it.”
“I know,” Kelly replied, “but I still have to.” She finished the makeshift bandage and rose, looking down at him, not turning around even though she heard the police come through the door. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“I don’t understand what went wrong. I planned everything. I practiced it. It was perfect.
What went wrong?”
Kelly stood, giving way to the paramedics, thinking about dinner again. She smiled down as she continued to back away and then gave a shrug: “you never know where karma will be.”
Maybe soft tortillas?