Brenda Murphy © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Veronica followed her mom through the
grocery, navigating the phalanx of Saturday afternoon shoppers. Her thoughts
wandered as she trailed behind her mother as she maneuvered their overloaded
cart around people staring at the overcrowded shelves, children straying from
their parents, and the occasional mobility scooter.
“Ronnie, would you go back and pick up
another can of tomato paste? I need two for my sauce. I’m so out of step since
they rearranged the store. I don’t understand why…”
Not ready to listen to her mom go on
about the changes in the store layout for what must be the hundredth time since
she had been released, Veronica interrupted her. “Relax, Mom, I got it.”
She turned and jogged back two aisles
and caught sight of a familiar face. Dee stood at the far end of the aisle, her
arm draped around the shoulders of Veronica’s ex-friend, Paige. A toddler, her
round face and dark brown eyes so much like Dee’s she could have been a clone,
sat in the basket of the cart in front of them. Paige pressed a kiss to Dee’s
Say hello. Don’t act invisible. Get over
yourself. So, she’s here with Paige and their baby. Should be me. Should have
been us. She looked away and gathered herself. Say something. Be a grown-up.
Congratulate them. She looks happy.
Veronica walked down the aisle toward
the women, working hard to keep a smile plastered on her face. She lifted her
hand in greeting. Dee glanced up and made brief eye contact before a frown
crossed her face. She turned her head away from Veronica. Paige looked past Dee
and shot Veronica a challenging glare before she pushed their shopping cart
briskly away. Fuck. No mistaking the message. She’s moved on. Let it go. She
stopped and shoved her hands in her pockets to keep from balling them into
fists. She turned away, walked to the main aisle, and followed the overhead
labels until she reached the canned vegetable aisle.
She stood in the center of the aisle and
groaned inwardly as she studied the shelves. Why do they need twelve different
kinds of paste? Damn it. Where the hell is the Bella tomato paste? Mom will
flip if it’s not the right brand.
A short woman dressed in a bright red
T-shirt and jeans stepped up on the bottom shelf of the section. She extended
her arm, her fingers straining shy of the can of tomato sauce she was trying to
Veronica stepped closer. “Hey, let me…”
The shelf rocked and teetered. The sharp sound of metal scraping made the hairs
on Veronica’s arm stand up as the shelf tilted toward the woman.
“Watch out!” Veronica grabbed the woman
around the waist and tugged her out of the way as the entire section of heavy
metal shelving crashed to the floor. Cans of vegetables slid off the shelves
and filled the aisle. A dented can of stewed tomatoes rolled past her shoe as
cans continued to randomly slide from the twisted metal shelves.
“Are you okay?” Veronica let go of the
woman’s waist. Other shoppers crowded around them, drawn by the noise.
A store employee arrived. Red faced and
wheezing, he pointed to the avalanche of cans. “Is anyone under there?”
“No. I don’t think so.” Veronica leaned
away from the stale smell of cigarettes and sweat wafting from the employee.
The woman stared at Veronica, her eyes
wide. “You…I would have been under there. I would have…” Her cheeks grew pink.
“Thank you.” She ducked her head, pushed through the crowd, and fled.
More store employees showed up and
blocked the aisle with warning signs and yellow tape. The crowd filtered away.
Veronica stepped back from the chaos.
The dull edge of the can she was still
holding dug into her palm. What if my mom hadn’t needed another can of tomato
paste? What if Dee had wanted to chat? What if I hadn’t noticed the shelf
shift? We both would’ve been under there. A minute. A second. So much can
change in a moment. Butterfly effect. Chaos Theory on display.
“Ronnie?” Her mother’s hand squeezed her
arm. She turned and stared down the aisle, her lips pressed together in a thin
line. “Good Lord, look at that. You’d have been crushed.”
Veronica held up the can in her hand and
grinned at her mom. “Got the tomato paste.”
Her mother quirked her mouth, “All
right, joker, let’s get the rest of the groceries before anything else falls