My heart races against the tomato in my shirt. The game: what can I fit without anyone taking notice? What can I add to myself and make it look like there’s less? A cucumber can fit almost anywhere if you’re determined enough to take it so I make to look like I’m tying my shoe and slip it down the side of my sock. Genius. When I stand up my face is red from being upside down so I bury it back into the tomatoes and into my purse they go: plop, plop. One more between my breasts: plop. They shouldn’t be looking there anyway and if they see something strange they won’t ask out of politeness since a lot of people around here got cancerous growths these days and that’s because we all grew up swimming in that river they’re only now dredging. They say it will take twenty years. It’s not a bad thing to be strange, and in fact it’s those that look like they want to disappear are the ones you gotta look out for. Lettuce is the perfect thing to steal because the damn stuff will fit anywhere so I slip it down the back of my elastic waistband pants and chew the inside of my cheek.
“Next!” the man behind the counter yells.
“Is this organic?” I ask him. I shove an apple so close to his nose that he steps back but still all he can see is the apple. I am nothing more than a nuisance and it’s brilliant. He wants to get rid of me, quickly. Look out: it’s Einstein, over here.
“Then forget it.” I put the apple back on the pile and turn away but before I can get any farther I am struck by a wave of nausea so I grab his table and take a minute. He just watches me, studying me like. I flick my eyes over at him and sure as shit he’s eyeing the lumps in my shirt.
“Um…are you…is that my produce in your shirt?”
Shit. The cucumber hangs out of my sock as I walk away. They want to grab me, but they don’t. They’re calling the police as I round the corner to my truck.
Before the pain got real deep down in my bones, I used to climb up power lines in broad daylight, but after the third arrest it stopped being interesting. At home, I sit on the couch and watch my son watch Dr. Phil who’s watching a pregnant fifteen year-old who will be watching a baby in about seven months. Everything fits, even when it’s wrong. Everything is taken care of one way or another, whether or not it’s deserved. My teenage son eats from a bag of Doritos like he’s sucking on a tit: all glassy-eyed. I watch the crumbs fall onto his shirt and I’m reminded of the lettuce in my pants so I pull it out and throw it on the couch between us. It’s flat like a deflated whoopee cushion.
“I’m not eating that,” he says.
“You better.” He rolls his eyes and continues munching. Soon his friends will come over and knock on the trailer door with the familiar Rat, rat, rattle that rips through our rectangle and makes me think of the time Denny came back and begged me for whatever cash I got around but he wouldn’t tell me why even though it didn’t matter since I gave it to him just so he’d stop whining and looking like a poor sack of shit in front of his own son. When it was done, Denny got mad and took Randy’s Doritos. Like he was trying to be a big man or something. That was the biggest loss because it was personal. Ain’t nothing personal about money — especially since these days most of it’s covered in cocaine residue and that’s because of the 80’s. Doritos is the one thing Randy’s got, the thing that’s constant. No matter how bad it gets anywhere in the world there will always be Doritos on the shelf.
Before I climbed power lines I used to speed in our truck, Denny hanging on and cursing at me, spittle flying.
“This ain’t gonna fix things, killing us both,” he said through clenched teeth.
“I need to live, Denny,” I said. “I need to live before I die.”
Denny didn’t want to stand with me, so he left. He didn’t want to watch me “break down”, and “become unrecognizable”. It takes plastic thousands of years to break down but put enough plastic and junk in us? Takes us about 6 months to a year — with expensive help, that is. To that I say fuck it.
Randy smells the bag of lettuce and makes a face.
“How long you gonna do this, Ma?”
That’s a loaded fucking question. He gets sad and turns back to the TV.
“That girl’s been pregnant three times. She’s had all the babies,” he says. “She says she’ll never stop. She likes taking care of things too much. She says it makes her feel like she’s got a purpose.”
“I think I’m allergic to tomato skins or something,” I say, scratching at my chest. Either that or the cancer-causing pesticides are seeping on into my skin like that damn river. It makes us feel better, blaming a particular thing on our troubles rather than finding blame within ourselves. Dr. Phil said that once.
Rat, Rat, Rattle, Rattle!
Randy looks at me. “That ain’t them.”
I go to the window and look out and sure as shit the cops are outside so I open the door.
“I know, I know,” I say. “Lemme get my purse.”
“Don’t you have better criminals to go after?” Randy says from the couch. “There are corporations dumping shit into rivers.”
Randy loves it when I talk to him about cancer-causing rivers and pesticides. The shit’s all around us, getting in the cracks of our flesh, under our fingernails. When he talks about it, it makes me feel like I taught him good.
I get my purse, unload the tomatoes onto the counter and watch them roll and bump up against each other.
“Wash them tomatoes well before you eat ‘em,” I say. But I can’t make it to the door. I just stand there at the counter, bracing myself for a long time. The cops are in the trailer now, taking careful steps toward me. Randy is up, the bag of Doritos in one hand, just as he stood before Denny snatched them away and I want to tell Randy that no matter what, there will always be Doritos, but I can’t quite get the words out. I’ve always been so much better with action. I’m an action kind of girl. Always. I don’t think I’ll make it to the cop car, but I want to so badly that I push off from the counter despite the nausea and the knocking in my brain.
“I think you should sit tight, Shirley.”
“No,” I say, grabbing the cop. I went to highschool with him and I see tears in his eyes. “I can do it. I did a bad thing, Hank. Now give me the cuffs. Get ‘em on me.”
Randy is smiling, almost laughing as I walk out in front of them, on my own. The summer air hits me hard, right in the gut, and I wish that jerk Denny could just see me now. Feeble? Is that what you said I’d be? Feeble my generous ass. The trailer door swings shut and I hear Randy crunching away behind me like it’s the only thing in the world he’s got.