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Blueberry Season
You’re at checkout, watching the Costa Rican about to topple on the black surface. There’s a smashed strawberry by it, the little green top like a tiny flattened crown. The rubber mat stops and lurches forward in a synesthetic rush with the icy dry freon of the refrigerated section fused to the robotic hum of the rubber and now a weird pang of anticipation—no, of guilt—amplifies some other kind of intensity, a shattering of mirror chips, image memory to which you swiftly apply the justice of silence, another synesthesia. Had you left the window cracked in the car? You’ve got your daughter and the dog out there. You’ll be done soon. Your mind is just wandering as it does all the time now—imagining this race, for instance, a race to the finish between the Costa Rican and the Kenya AA there beside it. Here comes the Ethiopian. The Costa Rican has a water process or something that makes it so you can sleep at night. As if. But still, this was an error of judgment. You should have stuck with two caffeinated bags, but you liked the fancy sound of water process. Too late now. You’re committed. Everything feels the urgent terror of it’s too late now; it’s just how life is as you get older, worrying about how fast time is now. It was less so, even a few days ago, wasn’t it? The checkout clerk is beeping. That’s how it looks, like the sounds are coming out of her head behind the credit card platform. You see the baby and dog in the car like a snapshot in your brains but worn with deckle edges for some reason and then you imagine the edges are charred and things get disembodied again until you bring the silence in as is your manner now. It is a hot day out there and here inside the raw cool moronic hum of the conveyer you’re soothed by the song of that flat black path transporting items at a safe, considered pace to the terminus of this shopping haul, the ambulatory beeps from the cashier's key-padding or her face or the crown of her head or wherever the fuck it’s leaking out, this woman’s disinterest, her analog margin of error tempered through skilled human agency, foolproof PLUs, printed receipt. Love this grocery. You can’t go wrong here. And also, you’re here with a bunch of humans, more or less, and they all have their own troubles, their own night terrors, their own abject losses and memories, and what happens: you’re all taking in the same smells of fresh produce and of freon and of the meat and fish section, the chicken and the baked goods and the section that just has household items, the bandages and salves and pre-detritus of exhausted, wasted life a hall of mirrors, that honeycomb understructure of each moment now. Your Ethiopian lies face down in a puddle. Those beans are wet you think like you might think that sky is fucking blue or that fire is death or dear God. Then the belt kicks in and the Kenya AA topples too, fuck them both. Jesus let’s get these windows open. The Costa Rican wins by a head. The Kenya AA lacks the necessary finish-line extension. The clerk grabs the Ethiopian, turns it onto the glass plate and beeps again before bagging it. This produces an unqualified ache in your ribs. It doesn’t make sense. You see your wife wailing. Your neglect. I'll be back at the car in no time. You wish the clerk would move more quickly but then you don’t, do you? This whole thing is just shut up.  

           You drink a lot of coffee these days: Look alive! You always get the couple of blends, mix it up. Going for a state of perfect alertness. No preference for the Ethiopian over the Kenya AA or the Costa Rican, but you turn to the small assurances these days. Try to be mindful of the little ones. The caffeine keeps me clear, you say to your wife, and the cashier says, Excuse me? and you glance away as if she’s insane, hearing voices. She starts beeping again. You fucking weirdo. Out the grocers' window sunlight atomizes particles of sky, sparks off chromium trim and bumpers of cars, scattering the location of your own car right there in the lot with burning dots, each a god of something. The scorched asphalt wiggles under the same gods. A hot baby and dog. Sure way to lose a wife. There's your future, Mister. When last had my little girl had a drink? Dog drank from a puddle, earlier. You remember this. A vision from years ago. These days, time drifts through indecisive, uncertain spaces, like holes in celluloid eaten up by a lamp. Those rotisserie chickens were tempting. Over there, glowering on their churning spits in the hair dryer heat in the dirty glass case. 

           What to do with two cans of olives? You stare down, don’t recall pulling them from the shelves. The frozen pizza coming down the rubber with a tiny pond of water again, a scarred wet ball of lettuce rocking on the mat like a severed head, that smashed strawberry, the gallon of butter pecan thawing in the room-temperature here. You can put those olives on that pizza. Stick it in the oven. Sit alone and stare it down until some kind of appetite jumps out at you. I'm sorry, what? the cashier says again. She has cat's-eye glasses, pale blue plastic zirconia jewels, shattered ornaments, My wife had a pair, years back. We'd go out clubbing. And the checkout lady is looking at you a little startled now, perhaps seeing the fainter mosaic of scars mapped over your face, which she’s only now noticed. The scars, yes, right. You remind yourself of the scars now and again. 

           You’re standing in the middle of the parking lot with your shopping cart, the sun pulling the taut pale lines of your face. How did this happen? Had it gone okay inside the grocery? How had we left things? Sometimes there are these gaps. Did you pay? The sky suddenly tears open and a train shears from some cloud but no it’s a car swimming before you in the asphalt heat, like a lion on a savanna leaning on their horn for you to get on with it. That woman looks super impatient, she looks like a lion there with that misfortunate hair style, and you wonder if she’d been lingering in the Christmas Tree Shoppe or the fake imports store as you wave blandly and scuttle across the black savanna with the cart’s one wiggling wheel and phantasmata pass—a gazelle’s bloody nostril, the lion’s snapped tooth, a tendon glowing in the red gore of the trussed beast’s neck, the lung-ache of love for a child, a gazelle’s shriek at the moment before shut up. You see your shitty car over there. A while back your car was super-child-safe. A European model, with a paranoid side impact protective system deserving of an acronym and awarded patents, airbags engineered with a hall of mirrors, that honeycomb understructure. Tensile and mathematical, you don’t get any safer than this; the European would be around with the cockroaches. In truth, it had been carted off. You drive this piece of crap now, this used American now, up front in the seat a giant stuffed carnival dog we won years ago or yesterday or just now at the bi-annual Fairfield Beach carnival. Little girl was too young to win, so you just gave the guy a twenty to put a little more alcohol on his breath. Super Girl! You say sometimes in the morning, waking. Or just anywhere, waking. Then you lose the carnival moment to the sensory fragments, more phantasmata: the materialized dog, the real one, a Rhodesian ridgeback, she rode shotgun. That dog blinded you with dog love. 

           The European had a nice bumper-seat. You’re standing in the lot by the crappy American now. Through the back window you see her big porcelain doll, Dolly, which you’ve duct-taped to the upholstered seat for safety. That natural-like hair and those glass eyes, an obsidian dream staring up into you. Can't get the keys to fit. There now. Sometimes you run your finger along certain scars on your face, each line a long drive home. And then it's Maine and it’s blueberry season, crates of blueberries stacked in the back, your wife is at home—I'll wait up! You don't assume you're too tired to drive if you want to get home badly enough. You'd passed on that gas station coffee. You were too picky. The Rhodesian always sat loose in that front seat. Sometimes you’d open the window and let her lean out, let the wind blow through her muzzle. Rhodesian's name, a silence in your mouth; your daughter, a gasp. Look alive! And you drifted that night, began dreaming you were driving and luxury accommodations were made: a decent coffee, the soothing hum of the asphalt, the preceding white of the headlights snatched up in the dark until from the window came a supernova and the cup of coffee barked. Blood in the pocket, blood in the still breath, blood in the severed grin of a broken muzzle, blood in the snapped wet space, blood in the snapped wet space and one red eye glaring upward at the silent atoms of chance. 


David Ryan is the author of Animals in Motion: Stories (Roundabout Press), and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano: Bookmarked (Ig Publishing). His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Kenyon Review, The Harvard Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. A 2020 Artistic Excellence Fellow with the Connecticut Office of the Arts, he teaches in the writing programs of Sarah Lawrence College and New England College.