Grocery Shopping on Mt. Doom

The story you are about to read is almost fiction. Any similarities to persons, places, or things, living or dead, is, more than likely, a nearly coincidence-like occurrence.

Grocery shopping is hard. Really! It usually begins with that rainbow framed, glisteningly perfect parking spot that you try to pull into, only to find that some lazy sluggard left a shopping cart in it, even though the cart return was two slots over. It’s all downhill from there…

The Shoprite complex in my town is the gateway to Tartarus. Twice a day, and increasingly around holidays and potential snowstorms, the most festering species of demonic humanity are birthed from the molten fires of this, New Jersey’s Mount Doom. Smiles melt from faces as they succumb to the grey cloud of oppression that hangs around the belfry of this seemingly innocuous grocery store. I’m a fairly chipper gal but even I often leave there tense, covered in sweat, and in dire need of a Xanax.

It always starts in the parking lot. I once applied for a job at the hair salon next door and the manager there boasted to me that this strip mall had the second highest traffic of any in New Jersey. I didn’t believe him. I still don’t, but sometimes when I step out of my car, look both ways, and still nearly meet my maker trying to approach to the door of the shop, I wonder if the half bald, nasal voiced man spoke the truth.

Once inside I take a deep breath, say a little prayer, and walk into the produce section.

I shop on a budget, therefore, I have three grocery stores on my checklist. I know that, unless on sale, lettuce, apples, and onions are cheapest at BJ’s. Eggs, sour cream, and bread are best bought at Walmart. I get the majority of my groceries at Shoprite, but I’m not going to buy carrots there if I can save the $2 I need to buy bread at Walmart by purchasing said carrots at BJ’s. “Swifty ‘n Thrifty” they call me! (Just kidding, nobody calls me that…)

Anyway, I put lettuce in my cart then remembered aloud, “Wait no. Lettuce is cheeper at BJ’s.” I carefully replaced the leafy vegetable.

“What did you say?” The voice snarled from behind a cart of celery. A cruel, bearded bloke leered at me through one open eye. “What did you say about the lettuce?”

Doing my best impression of Oliver Twist, I glanced down at my feet and whispered penitently, “Please sir, I said it was cheeper at BJ’s.”

The man snorted. “BJ’s eh? I would never shop at BJ’s. You could hardly call it a store. It’s dirty and smelly. Your feet sticks to the floor and their shopping carts are massive. Pugh! BJ’s.” He spat at the floor to get the taste of the name out of his mouth.

I muttered my thanks and ran for the meat section. BJ’s is a haven of rest and comfort compared to this place. This den. This wretched hive of scum and villainy. I threw some chicken into my cart, glided quickly through the spices, and rounded the corner to the frozens. There was nobody in the aisle except one thin, pale man, obviously sucked dry of joy and hope from employment at this place, stacking bags of frozen vegetables in one of the freezers. His eyes were wide and never stopped moving. Left. Right. Up. Down. His lips mouthed the inaudible mutterings of a fellow on the brink of madness.

I pulled out my cell and checked my shopping list. Let’s see. I got bananas…orange juice…milk… The florescent lights flickered. I looked up curiously. My eyes fell on a figure at the end of the aisle. A teenage boy, dressed in black from head to toe, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. He skulked my way. I wet my lips with my tongue before looking back at my shopping list. Ummm…milk…did I need butter? I glanced up. Our eyes met. Awkward. Awkward and freaky. I could barely tear my gaze from his. His brown eyes bored into my soul with a sickening malice. What had I done? Why did he hate me? I couldn’t call on the half-mad employee for aide. He was too busy sucking his fingers and humming songs from “Frozen”.

An electric handicap cart came up behind me. A homeless man, with a open flask in one hand, drove drunkenly down the aisle giggling like a thirty-year-old with a case of silly string. “Wow this is fun!” he hiccuped at me. “Everyone should have one of these!” I couldn’t tell if he was referring to the flask or the cart.

That was the moment I truly began to wonder if I would ever see my husband again.

The shady boy stood abreast me. I did not turn my head, pretending instead that I had been staring at something else the entire time we spent gazing into each others eyes. He opened the door directly behind me and pulled out a frozen pizza. A pleasantly plump blonde woman spontaneously burst into being uncaused from nothing with a little pop.

“Don’t you want two?” she asked him. The boy made a noise, a sort of mix between grunt, snort, and snarl. He grabbed another pizza and dropped them both into the cart. She smiled at him and they shuffled away. I shuddered, ran through the checkout, played a real life version of Frogger, and dumped my groceries in the backseat of my car. All that remained was to dutifully return my cart.

A poor little white haired man was pulling out of his spot. He was nearly out when a redhead dashed into her drivers seat and threw it in reverse. The old man leaned on his horn but she paid him no heed. So desperate was her flight that he had to pull back in his spot in order to prevent her large black SUV smothering the life out of his little silver Toyota. She started a 16 point K turn. I watched this incident with another female pedestrian. I felt sorry for the guy but what could I do? I was just a helpless woman armed with naught but a shopping cart. My companion refused to let this oppression continued unpunished. She jumped in front of the SUV screaming and shaking her fist. The SUV tore out of the parking lot followed by the angry woman. The old man tried to back out again. A blue sedan tore through the ally at about 60 and leaned on their horn. The old man pressed his head against the steering wheel and cried quietly.

Has the entire world gone mad? It was like Midnight on Black Friday with four shots of Vodka and a case of Redbull.

I ditched my cart in the return, slammed my door shut, and held my breath until I was safely on my way home.


Author: Rachel Svendsen

Rachel is a poet and writer from Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and children. Her short story "Filling the Silence" received an honorable mention in the 2019 Story Embers short story competition.

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