Midnight Shopper (based upon "The Shopper" – Redmond Pierce, 1983) for Kevin
You had to die. Even you can see that.
But why did you come back? I didn't expect that – you to come back.
I thought it ended that night with you arguing with me (when weren't you arguing with me?) and you started choking. I couldn't have planned that. Imagined, yes . . . often, but never planned it.
That shut you up.
Of course, I made the motions; pretended to do the Heimlich, took way too long to get 911 on the cell.
You'd stopped breathing by then. It didn't take that long, not like I'd imagined.
And all the relatives and the condolences and the pats on the back and the 'comforting' that always ended with, "She's in a better place" came after when I put you in the ground.
I tried so hard to seem sad.
I was in a better place without you.
Between the compassionate leave, the nest-egg and the insurance, I was in a much better place.
Why did you come back?
At the 24 hour grocery store - not the old dark one where you used to go and bitch, but the new one with the clean floors and wide aisles – after midnight, I wandered around grazing, picking up . . . whatever. Insomnia. You remember. I got to the register and there were crab legs in the cart.
I don't eat crab legs. That's your thing, not mine – food with claws.
A week later I first saw you – glaring at me from the end of the aisle between the cheap coffee and the tortillas. I rubbed my eyes, but you still stood there, accusing me.
You walked around to the next aisle before I could reach you and disappeared.
But I found things I'd never buy in my cart– things you liked – bitter things, sharp things, things that bite, things that burn, things that stink of potpourri and winter spice and vanilla.
I bought them anyway and locked them in the pantry, thinking maybe it'd exorcise you somehow.
But there you glared at me again the next time, arms crossed, mouth curved downward, saying nothing.
I closed my eyes and tried to keep walking . . . and you stayed until I had almost reached you and had to open them again, but you ducked around the corner and disappeared.
Why did you come back? I didn't ask you to – I was . . . happy without you here, interfering and saying things to other people behind my back and going on. I knew about it, even if you never told me. I always knew about it.
I needed you out of my life. The accident was a godsend.
I needed to free myself – for good.
You need to stay dead.
I tried something; keeping my eyes shut in the cereal aisle when I saw you at the other end and rolled towards you. I'd almost reached you when I veered into the store-brand oatmeal and knocked some of the boxes from the shelf and had to open my eyes – but you vanished before I scrambled around the edge of the aisle.
I experimented more – memorized the twenty yards of each aisle by sound and touch, kept the cart square to the sides by knowing just how far the wheels turned with each revolution. I always chose a squeaky cart – for the echo. I practiced for days, keeping my eyes closed the whole way until I could navigate every aisle without hitting anything or anyone. I even wore dark glasses the last few times in case someone wondered what I was doing – no one would harass a blind man, right? Clever, right?
I practiced until I could round the end of the aisle without looking.
That last time, just after two in the morning – I saw you there, end of the pasta aisle, still wearing that ugly cotton dress you died in, the one they buried you in, still giving me that look – the one you put on when you said those things about me.
And I knew that you'd say them again, and this time they might believe you.
I had picked up a soft-grip knife, the ceramic one, chosen the longest blade, slit-open the blister-pack with a single-edge. I hid it in my coat sleeve.
And you waited at the end of the aisle.
I didn't rush. I kept my pace even, an easy 'S', listening to the pattern of the wheels, ka-thump squeak, ka-thump squeak, counting, memorizing the positions of the boxes and crates from the late-night deliveries, the shelves of canned fruit on one side, the canned vegetables on the other, the pasta sauce left, the ramen right, the tomato sauce around the stacked boxes, the bouillon and dry soup opposite, the rice then, the canned soups left . . . and then spaghetti and egg noodles. I knew all of it, even without seeing, and I rounded that corner, ready to face you, ready for whatever you could say.
This time I'd end it forever.
And I stabbed and stabbed, hearing your shrieking and feeling your hands trying to stop me, hearing you fall back into the corn chip bags . . .. This time you weren't getting away. This time I made sure, grabbing that ugly dress and driving the blade into you again and again.
Why did you come back anyway? It would have been perfect without you.
The box-boy bled so much, lying there on the floor, choking out his last words and all I could do was stand there, the slippery knife in my hands . . ..
And the police came, and they brought me here because they say I was stalking the kid for days.
I didn't even know the kid! I'd never seen him before.
You did this.
You set me up.
You should have died.
Why did you come back?
It was all perfect until you came back.
It was all perfect.