Wednesday 8 May 2024

Pomegranates - Flash Fiction by V A Wiswell

 





Pomegranates




Flash Fiction

by V A Wiswell

       

The grocery store’s fluorescent lights bounce off the shiny floors and into my eyes. It’s jarring and a bit painful. I squint, ignore it and keep moving. Except for the ballads serenading me from some corner of the nineties and the hum of the coolers, my thoughts are the only noise in the store. I can picture the rest of the town at home, sipping coffee at their kitchen tables, enjoying the cool before the July sun turns their houses into ovens, looking the same as when I drive by at six a.m. They know well enough to save their shopping until afternoon, when the industrial-grade air-conditioner turns this store into a temperature-controlled refuge.

The milk and Chex Mix are already in my cart. If I wheel straight to the produce section for my limes without stopping to read Car and Driver, I’ll have time to swing by The Caffeine Stop for the espresso my brain is begging for. I hate living in the zombie-fog world of the late shift, but I like the higher wages and dental insurance, so I siphon gallons of coffee and keep signing up.

Getting home to plow through the yard work before the heat’s snare grabs hold isn’t why I cut into my sleep for an eight a.m. alarm. Mowing sweaty and shirtless doesn’t scare me. That’s what showers are for. Not finishing in time to plop my butt on the couch and enjoy an ice-cold gin and tonic made with the limes I’m fixing to buy before opening pitch at noon, now that makes me shake like a five-year-old in a Halloween fun house.

Sorry, Car and Driver, we’ll catch up next week; I’ve got limes to get.

Two wheels into the produce section, I pull to a halt.

She’s leaning over the pomegranate bin, face inches from the fruit, sniffing and inspecting them. Her pale legs, dangling from her mini skirt like loose shoestrings, set an alarm off in my head. Turn around, it says. Forget the limes. It isn’t worth it.

But a gin and tonic isn’t a gin and tonic without lime. All week, I could taste the magical blend of sweet and sour and feel the cool of the glass in my hand. I’m not leaving.

I maneuver around the apple bin until I can see the front of her faded Minor Threat concert tee, the roots of her bleached hair, and the whole of her face. She’s attractive, a bit cheeky in her style for my taste, given we have to be side by side in age; nice looking, though, just the same.

If this were any other day, I would stand a polite distance away, wait for her to finish whatever she’s doing, and move her cart out of the way.

Today isn’t any other day. Today, the Rangers play the Marlins. Today, I have to mow, weed, and water the garden. Time is the enemy. And her cart, blocking access to the lime bin, is working against me.

Still, I can hear my mother reminding me, She was here first, Scott, that counts for something.

Sure, it does, Mom.

I lean on my cart and take a deep breath. A loud, deep breath. Loud enough for her to hear.

She keeps going, squeezing and rolling pomegranate after pomegranate in her hand, nearly slicing their skin with the blades of her black fingernails before placing them into her cart.

It’s okay. Be patient. She’s nearly done.

Wrong.

The longer I watch and wait, the more it all gets to me.

Maybe, eventually, I’d get past the hair and the nails— people are more than their looks, if anything, long term, that counts the least—but the pomegranate obsession, a food miserable to eat due to the wildly out-of-whack seed-to-fruit ratio, no way. Sucking on seeds for a tease of flavor might be her idea of a good time, but it isn’t mine.

It would never work. We’re too different. Together, a train wreck. Exhilarating to watch, but likely no survivors. I need to get my limes and go.

I tap the handlebar of my cart. An unignorable, You’re in my way!

No reaction.

It’s like she’s in a pomegranate trance, enchanted by the fruit, oblivious to the world.

I want to shout, “Hey, mind moving your cart so I can grab some limes?” but it seems

risky, like waking a sleepwalker. She might startle. Then I’d waste precious minutes talking her down.

It’s eight-forty. The game clock is ticking dangerously close to opening pitch. Everything I still have to do before noon makes my chest tighten like it does when the production line at the plant backs up.

Sorry, Mom, but politeness isn’t cutting it today.

I wheel next to the apple bin, sidle as close as possible to her pomegranate train, lean over it, and willy-nilly grab two limes. It’s not how I like to select my fruit, but with her executing a military-grade blockade of the limes, it’s my only option.

On my way back, I bump the northeast corner of her cart. Two pomegranates topple out of an overstuffed bag and bounce onto the floor.

I freeze.

My sprinkler goes off, spraying my hairline with sweat.

The thud of the fruit breaks her concentration. She stops sorting and spots the terrified, maroon orbs snuggling together on the grocery store floor. Her eyes dart from the fruit to the sweaty stranger standing too close to her cart, holding his hastily selected limes.

“Hey, I’ve seen you here before,” she says, eyes narrow.

Not prepared for a conversation, I step back.

“You’re always buying limes. What do you do with them?”

“I—I make juice,” I say, sounding like a semi-lucid moron.

“Nice,” she says, smiling. “I’m making pomegranate punch for the game today—for the neighbourhood block party.”

“Oh.”

“You should come. Have some punch.”

“Yeah, I’m free.”






V A Wiswell - lives outside Seattle, WA, with her human and animal family. Her work has appeared in The Lake, 34th Parallel Magazine, Sad Girls Literary Magazine, Ignatian Literary Magazine, OJA & L Magazine, Front Porch Review, and Five on the Fifth, and Panoplyzine Magazine as the Editors’ Poem of Choice. She has work forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, Luminal Journal, Spry, and Figwort.

You can find her on Instagram at @vawiswell and www.vawiswell.com.

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