Snowstorm Shopping at the Super Store

winter

Eight inches above the floor tiles, four-year old Amy sprawled belly down on the shelf beneath her mother’s shopping cart, arms extended, sky-diver style. Ecstasy etched about her lips, her cheeks and widened eyes. The world coursed by at amazing velocities as mother cruised the aisles, but then she stopped. We all stopped.

The thirty-month old Josh, enthroned high above in the rumble seat, reached for the sardines, “Fish mommy: shiny fish.” His mother smiled, re-shelved the can, but wouldn’t noticed Josh’s previously captured tins of octopus tentacles in olive oil until she unpacked them at check-out counter. We waited still.

A lonely, elderly woman, while pondering her shopping list pushed her cart askew, barricaded the aisle. No one spoke. We waited for her trance to pass and the flow of carts to resume. Her confusion came easily. The aisles dedicated to exotic foods, cosmopolitan produce, plantains, name blanco, jicoma, yampi, cherimoya, and yucca. Polyglot labels beckoned customers of every nation, persuasion, age, taste and financial circumstances to the urban supermarket. Diversity in costumes, language, heritage and continent of origin rivaled the United Nations, especially on the weekend when the latest discount coupons reached their activation date and new, on-sales items rotated into the range of affordability. Luxuries became necessities. Dreams of crema de malanga distracted me.

Behind me, a loudly cursing, woman, her faded black t-shirt branded with the word “Nemesis” goaded her Market-Scooter into the clog of shopping carts. I scanned the commotion. The Scooter Jockey rode herd on two companions. The older woman breathed with the assistance of an oxygen generator. The younger, I call her Luna, wiped tears from her eyes.

Luna’s face round and as white as the moon; her sunken eyes: dark craters. The edges of her mouth turned downward in despair, for she was trapped in an orbit around her Nemesis, with no hope of escape. The oxygen-indebted woman stood near Luna and their Nemesis. Her dull eyes stared without awareness. Luna led her through the aisles, occasionally bending or stretching to pick unreachable groceries from the shelves. Each unkempt member of the trio exhibited life’s scars. None smiled.

Nemesis shoved aside Luna’s cart, with no shortage of expletives, ripping her to shreds with every word. Nemesis broke through the pack of waiting shoppers, her Market-Scooter clipping carts with no word of apology. Now behind her, I noticed the back of her head, especially the baldness of her dome, circumscribed by randomly oriented hair: grey rooted inches, blackening before achieving their split ends. Luna approached from behind. I noticed and inquired, “How are you today?”

Luna paused, brightened in surprise, concealing her tears she answered cautiously, “I’m OK.”

“Looks like more snow.”

She nodded, fearing to chat. What would Nemesis say? Luna reached out with her gaze. Then her brows dropped. Her pained expression returned as she resigned herself and pushed ahead. The woman with the oxygen generator plodded behind Luna. We would meet again.

I thought as I consulted my shopping list that Luna and Company were somehow connected. Were they family members or inmates of the same facility? Was it any of my business? Are we not our sister’s keeper? What could I do anyway?

I approached the end of that aisle in time to see the scooter-powered Nemesis crash into a skid stacked with cases of canned food. A case of diced tomatoes bled out cans between the cart wheels and the shoppers’ feet, rolling in every direction. Nemesis cursed the young shelf stacker and powered her vehicle denting and scattering a half dozen doomed red containers before she turned into the pasta aisle. I skirted the skid fragments and skipped the pasta as an assistant manager approached with a bucket and broom.

As I turned into the paper products section, Nemesis swiftly exited. In her scooter’s wake Luna and I came face to face. I raised my eyebrows in greeting. For the first time I saw her smile. While it rejuvenated Luna’s eyes, cheeks and brow, it revealed the gaps in her teeth: some broken, others missing. She quickly tensed, sealed her lips, turned her face away. She moved beyond our meeting place. The woman with the oxygen generator inched along behind.

My check-out moved quickly. It had begun to snow again. As I pushed my grocery cart through the slush, the roar of a damaged muffler approached from the rear. I shifted my gaze toward the battered pick-up with its expired inspection sticker. Nemesis drove no differently than she piloted the Market-Scooter. Her attitude demanded and I gave a wide birth. She skidded behind and then beyond me. Luna held closed the passenger’s door. She had turned and looked in my direction as the truck moved beside me. She then glanced back. Her eyes pleaded for rescue. The pick-up passed. I could see the bags of groceries and their contents scattered in the truck bed, blowing in the snow laden gusts. The pick-up reached the end of the parking lot, ignored a stop sign and turned left, disappearing into oncoming traffic.

Amy now bundled against the weather held a balloon in her left hand and with her right helped her mother push the supermarket cart loaded with the snow-suited Josh and groceries. She asked, “Mommy, why does Josh get to keep a can of octopus? What do I get?”

Her mother smiled, “Didn’t you get to ride under the cart and you have a balloon?”

“But Josh rode in the seat and he has a balloon too.”

“Next time you can ride in the seat.”

“No, that’s for babies. I want to ride under the cart again.”

“Well Amy, you did get something that Josh didn’t.”

Josh, clutching his can of octopus tentacles in olive oil exclaimed, “Put oc-pus fish tank.”

Amy laughed, “Mommy really, can we let the octopus out of his can and put him in the fish tank? That will be so much fun.”

Don Mulcare (dmulcare.wordpress.com)

(© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

alcohol ink representation (© 2013 NancyAnn Mulcare)

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The Flavor of Flavia

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Why read a Flavia de Luce mystery? Besides the “who done it”- brain jogging action of a tightly crafted plot, when the eleven-year old sleuth isn’t creeping through the grave yard on a foggy night in search of clues, author Alan Bradley entertains with humor, family interactions, village idiocy and diverting prose, especially his delicately crafted figures of speech. The samples cited below originated in the first five Flavia de Luce mysteries. The sixth member of the series—The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches—was published in January of 2014. Perhaps these quotes will encourage you to sample a Flavia mystery and encourage you in your own writing?

 

Malapropisms (These originate with Mrs. Mullet, the cook. Look for the several allusions to her burnt offerings.)

Ink quest and poets’ mortem

It gives me dire-rear.

The four horsemen of the pocket lips

Colder sock

The train makes your stomach go all skew-gee.

Retorts

Do that again and I’ll scream your name and your brassiere size.

No need to get owly!

I was not going to be circumlocuted.

Alliteration

Suffering cyanide!

Time hung heavily on our behinds.

That smarmy, sanctimonious look in humbug humility

Like a corpulent cockroach, she waddled toward the windows.

Shreds of nibbled newsprint

To talk of guts, gore and Tetley’s tea

The seed of a smile

Heathered Highlands

A flurry of freezing flakes

Scrapping clouds scudded across the moon swept along on a river of wind.

Allusion

 

A gander at Mother Goose

I was the eighth dwarf. Sneaky.

The urge to rip into the gift like a lion into a Christian

Feely had more swains than Ulysses’ wife Penelope.

Brought to an abrupt end by tragedy and a woman scorned

She pointed like the third ghost in Scrooge and disappeared.

Instantly recognizable from Greenland to New Guinea

A great actress can never be greater than when she’s staring in her own life.

Its lamps making cornucopias of foggy yellow light in the falling snow

She tempted fate to hand her another cadaver.

I hated her seed biscuits the way Saint Paul hated sin.

Personification

Our furnace has been bearing its fangs

Ragged children of ammonia

The scent of things best not thought about

To a professional soldier death was life.

A hidden part of me was coming back to life.

Grind with whatever grist you are given.

Fingers of friendship

Clearing the paternal throat

Simile

Her eyes, like two mad raisins in her wrinkled face, never left mine.

A lie wrapped in detail like a horse pill in an apple

The conversation stopped abruptly as if it had been cut off with a scissors.

Tombstones leaned like jagged brown teeth.

Looked like a vulture sucked up by a tornado and spit back out

Curled up in the library like a prawn

We shall eat like Corsican bandits and sleep like the dead.

Saint Tancred’s went through organists like a python goes through white mice.

He followed her about like a bad smell.

The Choir: Shoulder to shoulder like singing sardines.

He looked like a cherub brought to life. And he knew it.

She hangs around in silence like a clogged drain.

His face turned slowly, like a sunflower, toward the sound of my voice.

Her mouth so tightly pursed as if pulled by draw strings

Like shaking hands with a pineapple

Had us twitching like crickets

My nose running like a trout stream

Her face drained slowly like a wash basin.

Metaphor

The soup of bones below: the soup of which I was about to become just another ingredient.

“Good sport” was not among the phrases that described her, “ogress” however was.

Who’s Who, a catalog of the same old dry sticks harrumphing their way toward the grave

If poisons were ponies, I’d put my money on cyanide.

That was the way with ghosts, though they appeared at the strangest times and in the most peculiar places.

If cooking were a game of darts, most of Mrs. Mullet’s concoctions would be barely on the board.

I tend to make a swine of myself when there’s cake to be had.

She never missed an opportunity to dig in a critical oar.

Grumblers are deaf to any voices but their own.

The forest of gravestones

Lifting a dramatic forefinger

These two creaking relics had walked through deep drifts of snow.

 

Oxymoron

My sister was a pious fraud

Climbed into my refrigerated clothing

Inky scribblers

A pack of convalescent vampires

Hyperbole

Compared with my life Cinderella was a spoiled brat.

Life had become a long corridor of locked doors.

Bishop’s Lacey, a notable hotbed of crime

Spider webs clanging like horseshoes against the wall

Hug him to jelly

I let her silence linger until it was hanging by a thread.

I thought about these things until my brains were turning blue.

A voice that originated somewhere down among her kidneys

She was the local equivalent of small pox.

Once Max got started (talking) you might as well put down roots

The rest of the afternoon was pretty much a thud.

Would go on talking of these events until they were toothless

It smelled as if a sick brontosaurus had broken wind

An eye like a bloodshot harvest moon

His rat faced and rat hearted wife slinking home alone through the graveyard

Photographed almost to distraction

She was short and gray and round as a mill stone

Unbearably stiff upper lipped

Have my guts for garters

So tired I feel asleep with my eyes open

Irony

I never cared for flippant remarks, especially when others make them.

This was a lie, but a first-rate one.

Divorce him with a dose of strychnine.

She said something that had it lived might have become a chuckle.

A perfect rainbow of ruin

Gout: a painful disease of those who love their wine more than their livers.

Mediocrity was the greatest camouflage.

Pension: a small sum to tide him over to the church yard.

Stones worn down by 200 years of privileged feet

The corners of her mouth turned up about the thickness of a page.

Whenever I’m a little blue I think about cyanide.

Sometimes I hated myself but not for long.

She stood waiting for the vicar to come scurrying to her.

Dealt out poisons with a happy hand

Inflict her hand picked gifts upon us

She looked as if she had been up to no good, and knew perfectly well what I knew.

Pus-like custard pie

Laughed toothily

Hammered together by well meaning but inept carpenters