By Patrick M. Hare
The man hunches in the driver’s seat of the minivan, dish of cocktail sauce held nearly within slurping distance to minimize the chance of spilling it onto his bushy, gray-flecked beard or his bunched-up gut. The van door is open to facilitate his tossing the tails into the empty parking space that separates our vehicles. It’s too early this Sunday morning for the grocery lot to be crowded. The van is off. The forty-pound bag of ice I watched him jerk out of his basket and heave over his head for the grocery clerk to scan is unseen but doubtlessly melting in the July heat. Perhaps that explains his stately haste to finish the shrimp cocktail plate from the deli. Perhaps it is the six quarts of heavy cream he also purchased that are starting down the chunky path to spoilage. The boxes of sparklers he arranged into a rampart on the checkout belt will weather the heat better. A crow lands on the shopping cart return and contemplates the scatter of shrimp tails with alternating eyes. It lifts off with an annoyed squawk as my cart clangs into the corral. I expect the commotion to have broken the man’s concentration, but as I unlock my car door, he is steadfastly adding shrimp to his mouth and tails to the parking space. My eyes follow the arc of a discarded tail and I notice a hickory-handled hand axe perched in the space between his seat and the door. Plausibly it is there to keep it away from the children who, the fireworks suggest, are common passengers in the van. It should also be acknowledged that an axe is a safer option than other common ways of arming oneself (this is America, after all). However, its position ready to hand argues that it is there with the expectation that it will be used should some oft-imagined trouble arise (this is America, after all). I start my car and drive past him, one shrimp tail tumbling out of the vehicle that has refracted into a wooden boat from a millennium ago. The boat bobs gently in the sun-dappled stream, spoils piled high in the stern, as the unhappily aging man, warrior-axe at the ready, bolts down the last of his surreptitious snack before heading home to entertain the family he loved but resented. I wonder, would they smell the shrimp on his breath and begin to doubt?
Words arranged by Patrick M. Hare have appeared in The Stirling Spoon, Vestal Review, iō Literary Journal, The Metaworker, and Photochemistry and Photobiology. They are mostly good words and only a few are made up. He lives near Cincinnati, OH, USA but can be found at https://pmhare.wordpress.com.