This work was created for a flash fiction challenge with the following requirements:
Location: Grocery Store
Sweat slicked her hands as she gripped the shopping cart and a wash of cold spilled down her neck. She was going to do it this time though. This was the twelfth week. Her twelfth try. Past the toilet paper. Past the paper towels. Crystal kept the tally diligently in her head as she walked. She reminded herself to relax and take deep breaths. Past the paper plates. This would be the trip. Her eyes locked on the distance left in the aisle as an older woman passed her and smiled politely. Okay, passing the ant bait. I’ve got this. Here we go. Just a few more…
Her heart threatened to break her ribcage with its insistence that she turn back. She broke out in a cold sweat and her breathing accelerated. She made a sharp left, cutting off a middle-aged man who said something she couldn’t quite hear over the rushing sound in her ears. She walked as fast as was possible to do and still call it walking. Practically throwing her cart into the return outside the store, she leapt into her car. As soon as the door was closed, she began to sob.
A week, and one therapy session, later, she was back in the aisle passing the toilet paper once more. Her therapist had lectured her two days ago about allowing herself the grace that she would show others. It was okay if she didn’t make it this time. What was important wasn’t pushing herself; it was healing; it was the journey. She took a deep breath and as she walked past the paper plates she turned around. She managed to remain calm though and decided to reward herself with a pint of ice cream.
Steering her cart toward the check out, she smiled at Agatha, the cashier, whom she had known since she was in diapers. Agatha smiled back but it was a sad sort of smile. The pitying smile told her what Agatha was thinking about and how the conversation she would have with the older woman would likely go. Crystal decided to give herself a second reward and passed up Agatha, heading instead to the self-checkout at the end. It was a new feature she hadn’t yet used. As she walked up to it, she read the screen and scanned her item. She found it was an easy process and she was out of the store faster than she would have been with Agatha talking her ear off and with less stress than if she’d been forced to answer another condescending, “How are you doing?” when they both knew no one actually wanted to know. Crystal got into her car and allowed herself to think about that day while she ate the Cherry Garcia in the parking lot.
She had been comparing flyswatters. The green one with the metal handle was only 98c but the cute pink flower one that Gabby would pick out was $2.99. Was Gabby ever going to be using the flyswatter though? She was 5, it was ridiculous. Crystal should just get the cheaper one. Her phone rang in her purse and she pulled it out to see it was John calling her.
“Hello?” she put the pink flyswatter down and grabbed the green one.
“Ch-Chrissy?” something was wrong on the other end of the line. His voice was all wrong. It was weak and there was a strange sound in the background.
“John? What’s going on?” Crystal had stopped, moved the phone to her other ear and plugged the one not being used. She was still standing in front of the display she’d been looking at, frozen with building anxiety that she told herself was paranoia.
“Here, baby,” she heard Gabby in the background as John’s voice got further away and Gabby’s got closer. She wasn’t crying exactly. She was making a noise Crystal couldn’t place but it made her vision start to dim.
“Mo-mo-mommy… I don’t… feel good.”
“It’s gonna be okay baby… Mommy loves you. Daddy is… here,” John sounded like he was fighting for air.
“What’s happening?” Crystal finally found the air to ask in a panicked, shrill voice.
“It... hurts and… everything is… is… upside… down and I… don’t… feel…” Gabby’s voice drifted off.
Crystal had stood there in the supermarket listening to sirens approach through the phone and paramedics bark out orders. They had pulled them both out of the car. At some point after hearing a paramedic call out the letters DOA, Crystal had hit the floor. She had awoken disoriented and scared with a manager hovering over her telling her that help was on the way. Help was on the way. It had all come flooding back to her there on the floor as she looked up at the display of flyswatters. The pretty pink flower one was still there, hanging innocuously on a hook. All she could do was stare at it as life somehow continued all around her.
This had happened eight months ago, and Crystal still couldn’t breathe sometimes when she saw the little girl that lived three houses down, playing outside. Her therapist had told her this would take time, but Crystal was pretty sure she would never be able to walk down that aisle again. This week they had decided that was okay. She would have her groceries delivered and that was fine, but the looks everyone in this small town gave her were getting to be too much.
After a hasty call to her therapist, they had come to an agreement. Crystal hung up and placed a second call which was quickly answered, “Wheeler and sons’ realty, how may I direct your call?”
She had always wanted to move to California, but the timing had never been right. Reminding herself that healing wasn’t the same as forgetting, she took a deep breath and responded, “I’d like to speak to someone about selling my house.”