Hi guys.

I work at a grocery store doing fairly menial work.  This gives me plenty of time to do what writers do and ask “What if” questions.  What follows is one of those questions.

On a side note, I’ll be attending my first college class this coming Wednesday.  For some reason, I’ve decided to take Latin.  Pretty masochistic, huh?  Wish me luck!

Here it is, this week’s #FridayFlash, “The Grocery Run.”

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Powered By: J.M. STROTHER!

Powered by J.M. Stother!

THE GROCERY RUN

Jerry’s palms were sweating.  That was to be expected.  He was pushing a shopping cart that had maybe three hundred dollars worth of groceries inside and he had maybe thirty-two cents in his pockets.  The only other thing of any value on his person was his driver’s license but that was technically property of the state.  Jerry was nervous.

This was the Val-U-Mart’s peak hour of the day and he went more or less unnoticed by everyone there.  Of course, they were watching him.  Those black half-globes on the ceiling, surely they were watching him.  He tried not to look up because if he looked up then they’d know that he was looking at them and they’d look at him even harder.  He knew they were watching him.

They weren’t actually.

He passed by the stockboys and people with Val-U-Mart name tags.  He smiled at them—not too much, because then they’d know, just smile Jerry, just smile—but most of the employees passed him by with not much more than head nod and a perfunctory greeting.  He might actually get away with it.  Then again, this could be a sham.  This could be trick to lure him into a false sense of security.

“That’s crazy,” he thought.  And then thought, “That’s…basically crazy.  Sorta crazy.  Kinda…crazy?”

He got an urge to shake his head as if that would clear it and resisted.  Doing something like that would attract attention.  Instead, he walked slowly down the frozen food aisle, looking at chicken potpies, microwaveable dinners and, eventually, ice cream.

“It’s not too late to back out,” he told himself as he opened a cooler door and plucked out a box.  “It’s not too late to just…just…park this cart somewhere and walk away.”

But then, what happens when they find it?  Full of all of this stuff.  They’d be angry, wouldn’t they?  They’d want to make sure whoever did this wouldn’t do it again, right?  And how would they do that?  They play back the video tape.  And then they’d have him for sure.

“It’s too late, I’ve committed,” he told the anthropomorphic chicken that was printed on the box of chicken nuggets he held in his hand.  “I can do this.  I can do this.  Right?”  The chicken didn’t respond.  He just smiled back at him, one wing presenting the picture of chicken nuggets to him like a model on a game show.  Jerry nodded as if this were an answer.  He tossed the box into the cart, took a deep breath, let it out and started pushing his cart with confidence.  He was headed for the front door.

His eyes were hardened. His jaw was set.  His palms, though damp, gripped the shopping cart firmly.  He passed the occasional Val-U-Mart employee but paid them no mind.  He also ignored the ceiling cameras.

“You just have to be confident,” he told himself.  “If you look like you’re up to something then they’ll get you.  But if you look like this is all perfectly normal, you’ll get away with it.  If you look like you’re stealing, that’s what they’ll think.  Just be cool Jerry. Be cool.”

Of the many things that Jerry didn’t think of that day was the fact that, when people buy groceries, there is usually someone who bags them.  Groceries, in other words, leave the store in bags.  This, however, wouldn’t have been a problem, being that the store was so busy and no one noticed.

Twenty feet now.  “Be cool Jerry.”

Fifteen feet.  “You can do this.  Don’t lock up.  Be cool.”

At ten feet, the song “Eye of the Tiger” started playing in his head.  He hummed it lightly under his breath at what was probably twice its normal speed.

As he was at the door, everything went wrong .  There was a Val-U-Mart employee standing there, greeting people as they went in and out.  The man’s name was Stan.  Stan was in his seventies and had silver hair, rosy cheeks and all the brooding, intensely threatening qualities of a marshmallow.  Stan gave his standard, “Have a good day, sir,” and that was all it took for Jerry to start running, screaming and jabbering nonsense as he went.

The plan (what precious little Jerry had worked out) was to simply throw everything in the backseat of his car and leave.  He had to abandon this part and simply run like hell, pushing the cart in front of him.  Where would he go?  It didn’t matter, he’d figure that out later.  What mattered now the getaway.

He weaved in and out of people, between cars and looked up to see the yellow line that marked the parking lot’s exit.  Hard, sick determined will overcame him and he ran the cart toward it, body leaning forward, head down, his salvation somewhere just on the other side of the line.

As the front wheels cleared the yellow line, he had just enough time to feel a pang of triumph.  Then, the shopping cart’s wheels locked, his sweaty hands betrayed him and he ran head first into the now immobile cart.

Lying sprawled on the ground, everything spinning and going black, he said, “Fuckin chicken lied to me.”  He passed out.

***

The Val-U-Mart’s manager would later explain to the police that the shopping carts have a device akin to an electronic dog collar.  Once the cart passes a certain point (that point being the yellow line surrounding the parking lot), the wheels lock up.

The responding officers took quite a long time before they stopped laughing.  Once they did, they got back to business.

“So how much booze was he trying to make off with?” the older cop said.

“We don’t carry liquor,” the manager said.

“Beer then.”

“No beer.”

“Cough syrup?  Antihistamines?”

The manager shrugged.  “Five or six loaves of bread.  Rice, instant potatoes, toilet paper.  Pretty standard stuff.”

The cops exchanged a glance.

The manager shrugged again.  “Guess he’s got a family to feed.”

No one laughed at this.