the short story project


Sarah Gerkensmeyer | from:English


I’ve started grocery shopping at one of the new, big places that takes up an entire city block, but claims to support the envi­ronment and our health and world peace and all of that. It’s one of those multi-billion-dollar chains that claims to be making a difference in the world, but you still feel just as lost in the glare of the floors as you would in any other grocery store. I can barely afford to walk away with half a bag of groceries each week, but it’s a habit I can’t break. I go there for the produce. They’ve got a woman there who cries over all of the produce—row upon row upon row of all the organic stuff that they ship in from across the world (and perhaps the galaxy). African Butternut Magpie Berry Fruits. Japanese Dancing Mudpie Banana Nuts. Okay. So maybe I’m making those particular names up, but the names are outrageous all the same. And this woman that’s been hired to cry over all of this crazy expensive produce wears one of the stiff- collared shirts with the tight company logo stitched right above the heart. She seems pretty efficient, scurrying from row to row.

She cups her hands beneath her eyes when she’s walking from one display to the next so that she doesn’t waste any of her tears. She lets them fall gently between her fingers and rain down onto the butter lettuce and the red kale. I’ve never seen a single tear end up on the gleaming floor. I guess someone could slip and fall and sue the place if that happened. And I bet it hasn’t, because why would she still be working there? She cries. And each of us has our own little modern looking cart with smooth, silent wheels. We move around each other silently. But she’s always making noise, the woman who cries on the produce. Usually it’s just soft, little sounds. Lots of sighs. You get the sense that there’s some kind of melancholy and longing in her heart (just below the store’s logo) for something distant. Maybe something that she’s forgot­ten about in a way. But then there are days when I shop there and she is standing over the flawless tomatillos or the crisp sea beans just wailing and letting out gut-wrenching sobs and little shrieks and screams. On those days, she’s crying about something specific and raw and very real. We all push our silent carts and pretend not to notice. We brush by her shuddering shoulders in order to get to the choicest kumquat, the most perfect star fruit. Those are the best days. I swear you can see the stuff growing more beau­tiful right before your eyes. Firmer or softer. Plumper or tighter. I have to fight the urge to fill my cart to the brim on those days. I make my choices and then I head toward the checkout area as slowly as possible. I hate to rush it. Sometimes I browse new, ex­pensive products that I’ll never buy or understand. I take my time scoping out the free samples. And then I look for the longest checkout line. But, oh, the feeling. The cloth handles of my de­signer shopping bag (no plastic in that place, of course) press into the crook of my arm during the long walk home, leaving behind a woven indentation that I wish would never fade away. When I get back to my apartment, I take my time. I really do try to. I put things away. I wipe down the counter, even though it is already clean. I sharpen the sharp knife. If I could, I would press pause on the entire world before slicing into it. But I can’t. I slice into it, then, when there is nothing else to do. The magnificent glisten­ing there. The deep, sweet smell before you even see it or touch it or taste it. The very center of her grief.