by Uko Tyrawn Okon
When Selena left me, I learned that the world is a trick and it starts with what you consume. The word vitamin is on everything now. All nuts are organic, all yogurt is fat free, and all bread is wheat. An early grave awaits those who think they eat healthy. Food is an ancient oppressor that oppresses uniquely. Labels give a false sense of security. They might say ten grams of sugar, but the servings are half the normal size. That is the new religion. That is the trick.
The trick is obsession and how bad it can burn. It puts you on a mission to feel the insides of an ex who left you because you had no religion, a topic my ex-wife Selena once took to heart even though she abandoned religion soon after I was out of the picture. It is impossible to have faith after working in a store like this for too long. I told her that peanut butter is the great dietary messiah, a religion of artificial sugar that colonizes every aisle like manifest destiny. Oreos have peanut butter, pop tarts have peanut butter, Snickers have peanut butter, peanuts even have peanut butter.
A peanut butter protein cookie stand is next to the Slim Fast at the veggie side of the grocery store. Behind the protein cookie stand is a door. In front of the door is a red rope with a sign that says “Meat Eaters Only.”
It is dim in the meat eater section and the meat hangs on hooks from the ceiling with the sunken shoulders of prisoners. Most of the heads have been severed deeply at the neck and they flap on the backs of the bodies like maternal breasts. A middle aged man walks among the bodies and picks the heads like giant fruit from a tree and places them like stones in a fortification that faces the wall.
I peak inside the meat eater section every time I come to the grocery store. They only give access if your teeth grow more than an inch beyond their natural length. The teeth must be sharp enough to lacerate deep veins, which induces shock in victims and mollifies the pain. To kindle screams in food is medieval, so I sharpen my teeth routinely, anxious for the day my teeth start to grow.
The peanut butter protein cookies are in three different locations strategically organized like a zone defense, noticeable from minute angles. 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of sugar per cookie, but a serving is a quarter of the cookie (another trick). People buy this cookie all the time and eat it after they work out, then they get stomach fat. Every meat eater knows that meat marinated in fat is the sweetest. Sweetness makes you a target (A trick).
I look at all the products on the cereal aisle and notice the one thing that does not belong: the chocolate bars injected with vitamins that sport the word “organic” printed in Gadugi font. When did organic become healthy?
“Excuse me,” a lady says from behind her cart. She moves toward the food and places her hand on my shoulder. I can tell she was once a tom boy. Her grasp is firm, her stature is straight, and her hair is short and whipped. She grabs a box of the organic peanut butter bars. The package is green, a false sense of hope. The color green has become a commandment in the grocery store corporate office. Make something light green and suddenly it becomes perfect. There are green Doritos and green Monster cans with the word vitamin spelled out in silver on the lid. Energy drinks taste like amalgamated sugar metal and people still drink it with a clean conscience.
The green box is in her basket and her hand slides to my lower back before she smiles and moves on. To touch my lower back is to bring me to a vibrant shiver, my sacred spot that cherishes labor. Selena discovered that spot after sacrificing a labor that could find diamonds at the center of a mountain. For that, she will always be my favorite ex. Ex, I love the sound of the world even though I hate the concept.
The wheels of the lady’s cart squeak as she moves and it irks me, but I smile because she is gorgeous. She feels good about herself because she is organic today, falsely organic. Perhaps it works because there is not a single mark on her skin. My mind still transcribes the trail her hand took from my shoulder to my lower back, the hair on my body stands at attention and I imagine a warm rose glow of electricity that gives me the power to turn her heart from where I stand. I am not sure what she intended, but I am conscious of its contagious effect which pulses its way through my fortress of emotions. I don’t know her fragrance because I forgot to smell her, but I imagine it as a color in the air that I devour until I am full. They say that before your teeth grow you develop an emptiness beyond what faith can fill I follow her to the end of the aisle. Her fingernails are newly rounded and painted red, less hippie than the average veggie eater. She passes the white bread and the first selection of Nature Owl’s whole wheat bread. She picks up the 21 grain bread, a selection that has become popular because every ingredient inside is organic from the wheat flour to the dried cane syrup. I look back at her and she catches my glance. An older lady walks to her cart and they speak to each other in a foreign language. The old lady drops a bottle of orange juice inside the cart and it is heavy with pulp, which means she ingests fructose syrup, a natural ingredient that will make her kidneys sweet. If my teeth ever grow the first thing I will buy are a half dozen sweet kidneys in the meat eater section. The meat eaters love this grocery store because they do not wash the blood off of the meat before they sell it, a method considered to be organic by those with mature teeth. Fangs are the ones we all watch out for because they like their meat to still have a pulse.
It looks like both women have middle eastern roots from their dark almond skin. I assume the older lady is her mother because their black hair share the same grandiloquent sheen. Herlips have a pugnacious curl that remind me of a dog’s canines and serve as a red line in the dirt between Fangs and her daughter. Her daughter’s narrow features are of a less pessimistic season and she is the happy cadence of her mother’s seasoned eyes.
“There are a few of them outside,” her mother says and looks in my direction. “I think we better hurry up and leave.”
“Oh don’t worry,” her daughter says. “There are rules they have to follow. We will be fine as long as they know that.”
My eyes were lost in her hair until her mother said this and pushed their cart in the opposite direction. Fangs used to loiter outside of grocery stores in the middle of the day without shame. I saw one sitting Indian style with both of his elbows deep in a man’s split gut, deranged eyes stuck on black as a mess of cars drove by. Men have little to worry about because a Fang’s teeth will crack if you have the strength to fight back. Women protested until laws were passed, now they travel in groups at night just in case.
The lady and her mother explore the flavored drinks as I look at the 20 different brands of water. Her mother grabs Snapple and she grabs American Clear. The artificial flavors and sugar in Snapple will put her in an early grave, but I am not bold enough to verbally criticize their diet, a scoff should do. I scoff at the selection of Snapple and her mother looks back at me, her eyes furtive and dissembled. It is the second time we have made eye contact and I know she thinks I am a Fang.
I hear a chainsaw’s motor in the meat section beyond the red rope. An armed guard paces back and forth by the entrance to the room where they prepare the meat. He is chubby and has the recognizable twitch Fangs get when they overfeed. They only hire Fangs that they deem trustworthy and have proven good behavior to guard the meat section, even though I am sure I have the strength to do the job.
Moments later, as I peruse the tofu wings, the lady’s mother glances at me for a third time from the tempeh section. Her eyes follow me because she thinks I will attack even though my teeth have not grown in. Her daughter is oblivious to everything and is nose deep in her phone. She wears black spandex that detail curves graciously inherited from her mother. I know if I look below her waist her mother will throw moral castigations at me like knives.
The truth is that she has nothing to worry about because the emptiness and melancholy is not there. That is what a Fang gets, absolute emptiness that can only be fulfilled by meat.
The thirst is when someone feels that feeling. It is like all of your emotions are clogged in your throat forming a desiccated cotton substance that forces you to spit and cough. I have told people that I feel the thirst in my mouth on many occasions. I even managed to cough up a white mucus once, but it was a lie. If I ever get the thirst I promise to be civilized with the power. I will not trick the veggie eaters and cook them in a cauldron of boiling water. Instead I will put them in ice boxes. They say to freeze is the most preferred death because the body goes numb before the lights go out.
A man walks to the girl and embraces her. He is an inch or two taller than me, has thick dark hair that is a little unkempt and short orange mesh shorts. This is when I notice the wedding ring, a diamond I would normally notice from my peripheral vision through a forest. Of course she is taken. They are all taken by that age and they all have kids too. If the kids are not with them they are somewhere being watched by family. I wish desperately to have her kids. I wish all men could have kids the way women do, but I guess that is their gift.
He leans over the girl’s shoulder and checks whatever is on her phone. The mother speaks to them in a broken and blocky English and glances in my direction for the fourth time. I try to get out of their sight, but the store is too small. They turn around and look at me as I go to the wine section and something in me snaps for a second. I’m not sure what it is at first, perhaps the lady and her spandex, perhaps the man who has her. It comes to me and it is not a surprise. It is loneliness, but I hope it is the emptiness. I have the urge to drink all this wine right her in the middle of the store. I could break the bottle and slit my wrist, drink until I piss toward the ceiling, and watch the bitter wine run on my clean wrist like blood. The feeling boils for a moment and I imagine scenes of terror, then it dissipates.
The wine section is its own little paradise, dark red next to fifty shades of gold. I push my cart through two rows and end up at the berries. Berries are more expensive than anything else in the grocery store in terms of what you actually get. Blackberries are the sweetest, but not as healthy as they pretend to be. They stand next to the raspberries and the blueberries. Blueberries are a bit of an outcast, healthier than the other fruits, but the ugliest of the bunch. A better aesthetic approach would be to place them next to the mundane grapes, particularly the firm and oval green grapes. I grab the blueberries and head to the checkout line.
I see the girl with the chocolate lips and her man with the mesh shorts in line. Her mother is at the rear looking around like security, perhaps looking out for me. I go to a line a few cashiers down so she does not have a reason to cause a scene. The cashier is old, but she is fast and has strong hands. It is her bagger that I am really after. It is Selena, my ex. We had a violent falling out and I was pleasantly surprised she did not call the cops the last time I was here. I would not have blamed her if she did.
She looks at me with a smile and I hope she has forgotten the holes I punched in her apartment walls a decade ago. She was a narcissist who treated the rest of the world like a disease. Things changed while I was locked away. The contagion didn’t just humble pretty girls, it brought the entire west coast to its knees. Now she is a bagger.
I met her as I walked by a beauty salon years ago. The trick is to talk to them before they see you. She did everything in her power to stiff arm my advances, but I still managed to break through her walls. Part of me knows I can break through again. The only thing I remember from our relationship is her quiet morning yawns and the constant echo of disfunction, sounds that always left me speechless.
Her skin looks soft this evening, almost delicate and slightly more vibrant than glowing maple wood.
“Hi Selena,” I say.
“Hello,” she says with a wave that is more flirtatious than I expected. I am disappointed that she does not say my name. She never pronounced it right when we were together and a part of me wants her to stumble through it for old time’s sake. We argued over it once when we were together. I told her I preferred the full pronunciation and the confrontation ended with a half dozen glass dishes shattered on the floor. The relationship drove me crazy for a little while and it was worse for me after it ended. I was barely able to crawl out of bed due to the weight of depression and she filed a restraining order on me after I broke a few windows. I cannot believe it has already been a decade. Time flies. I would love for her to say I’m sorry or I forgive you.
I lay my groceries out with pride: brown rice, two bags of kale salad, 2 percent milk, unsalted cashews, blueberries, nonfat plain Greek yogurt, frozen tofu wings, broccoli florets, unsweetened white corn, seven gallons of water each in their own individual jug. There is so much green and white in my groceries it looks angelic, almost innocent. Nothing can be judged. It is a perfect afternoon at the grocery store, a no hitter, a hole in one, an indication of a man living his best life. I see Selena pick up the brown rice.
“You even got the healthy kind,” she says.
“Is there such a thing as unhealthy brown rice?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says.
She smiles and her dimples are sculpted deep into her cheeks.
“Miss, you can’t bring that in here if it’s unshaved,” the cashier says.
An elderly lady with a poodle walks in the store and she freezes when she is yelled at. I get nervous when she walks by. She is obviously a Fang and sometimes they become violent and attack veggie eaters. Kidnappings were a problem a year ago when automatic weapons couldn’t even keep a person safe, but authorities seem to have attacks under control now.
The old lady looks at me and I cannot help but admire the way the sharp tips of her teeth reach from her lips to her chin. She has the jitters, but they are not constant. They pulsate from her chest every few seconds like a heartbeat.
“They no longer shave the dogs in the meat section?” the lady asks.
The cashier shakes her head. The lady turns around and walks out. She carries the dog by the head, its motionless body a captured prize hung from the lady’s clutch.
I look down at Selena’s name tag and the urge to say her name is deep, but I refrain. I am not sure what I would gain from the sound of it, but I am drawn in her direction like repressed art. I want to make music with her. I want to have knowledge of her for the rest of my life in the same way she once wiped the sweat from my nude body. We could make knowledge together if she gave me the opportunity.
“I love dogs,” Selena says and places her hand on my shoulder.
‘Then let’s have kids,’ I want to say.
I think she squeezes my arm a little, but I am not sure. If she did squeeze it she did it in a way that only I would know. She squeezed it in a way that would send my mind in temporary turmoil so that I cannot think straight. Her hand is at the counter now and has forgotten about my shoulder that it once squeezed. I hate when women do that. That was the story of our relationship, temporary turmoil and a forgotten touch.
The lady with the chocolate lips walks out of the grocery store with her mother and husband. A part of me is angry that they are happy and the other part is angry that Selena doesn’t love me, somehow these two things connect in my mind. We could feed together if we tried again, perhaps a little harder this time. I want to grab Selena’s hand, follow them outside and hunt down the entire family.
“I love the obedience of dogs,” Selena says. “Where else can I get such beautiful obedience as a single girl?”
I take that as a beautiful sign.
“I’ll pay in cash,” I say.
The cashier pushes buttons on the register and it opens like the mouth of a slot machine.
“Would you like help out?” Selena asks.
She leans in so much that I can smell her. Her smell is undefined, just like we left each other a decade ago. There is a weathered wind about her, a cruel philosophy of love that exist in our cloud of memories. The best part is that she does not wear perfume. I am not sure what she smells like. Atmosphere? Eyes a little weary, woven through a fabric of discolored air.
“Sure,” I say.
It is dark out and I am paranoid because there are a dozen Fangs on the far side of the parking lot, directly in front of us in the shadows. I can see their teeth from the exit.
“Do they always stand in groups like that?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re like soldiers.”
“I like their obedience,” she says.
Selena’s voice is so calm that I am ashamed to have noticed the Fangs at all. I deepen my voice and sheathe my nervous insecurity in a baritone of annoyance. “They don’t even look real. They look dead.”
Selena hums as she walks through the broken glass from the parking lot light near my car. All of the lights in the parking lot are out and Selena’s hum seems anxious.
“The Corolla,” I say and pop the trunk.
The Fangs are gone and they didn’t make a sound when they left. Maybe they have made their move. If they did, they are in the air.
“Where did they go?” I ask.
She screams in a voice that is deep and rigid. A man with a night stick swings at her knees and misses. Selena backs away so fast that she trips and falls to the ground. Another man, twice as thick as the first, punches me in the ear. I fall more from fear than the punch. He wraps a noose around my neck once I fall to the ground. The lady with the chocolate lips, her husband and mother are attacked too. Brutally hungry, the fangs eat the husband before he is thrown into a black van. His body showers thick gobs of blood on the ground, the muscular parts are torn from his body and his tendons hang like loose strings.
The man’s moans make my body ache with fear and a part of me is relieved when he is silenced by a fang that defiles his throat until his entire body deflates. The women’s screams fade when the van drives away with them inside. I hold my key in my hand like a shank and I stab the thick fang in his eye. It sticks in the socket and I yank it out. The eye ball hangs by a loose ganglia of flesh and the fang falls to the ground. I assume I have defeated him for the moment and I move to Selena who is motionless on the ground. The other fang is gone and I grab her and place her in the front passenger seat of my car.
This was not part of the plan. I did not even know that I had a plan, but Selena has been my obsession since the last time we fired words at each other like daggers. We exit the parking lot and Selena moans.
“Did they hurt you,” I ask. I am so eager to touch her that my knuckles sweat.
She reaches in her pocket and pulls out a small black container. She looks away as she sprays me in the face. The chemicals feel like a thousand tiny fires set ablaze on the surface of my eyes, but the real fire is the empty failure I feel inside. The thought of her smile when she first saw me in the store flashes in my mind for a second, as the right side of my heart shatters I stop the car and lock the doors.
“Why did you do that?” I ask.
She sprays mace into my mouth and the acrid liquid clogs my throat. I struggle to breath and place my hands over my eyes as they swell.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I thought it would be easier than this. Don’t fight.”
We are quiet for a moment, she reaches over and unlocks the doors, and I hear the car door open on her side. I am grabbed and dragged out onto the street. No one speaks except me, but the words I say are empty.
My wrists are bound and I am forced inside the trunk of my own car.
“The police are coming,” Selena says, but she is not talking to me.
When she sprays me a third time her hair brushes my face and her lips touch my cheek as she sniffs from my earlobe to my neck.
“I just want to make sure that we are safe,” she says. “I know I did something wrong, but it was an accident. It’s not my intention that you get hurt.”
She grabs my head with both of her hands and kisses me on the forehead. I am not sure, but I also think she licks me. The pain in my eyes is terrible, but noticeably mollified. The kiss feels nice and it seems genuine. She hugs me again and grabs my other hand for a moment.
“Men can be violent in unpredictable ways,” she says, her voice low. “My father was the worst at that. You never knew when he would flip and punch holes in the wall until his wrists shattered. He would wear a cast for weeks, then he would get mad while drunk in the darkness and punch the walls again. He never forgave himself, but I want you to forgive me.”
“I forgive you, I forgive you, now let’s get out of here. Can we get out of here together?”
I cannot see, but it sounds like she is crying. “It will be safer for you in the trunk. I’ll be able to lose them once I start driving.”
“Who are those guys?”
Her gentle hands rub down my lower back. She remembers how that makes me feel. Everything is silent and I want to tell her to kiss me one more time, but she lets go of my hand. She sprays me in the eyes again. This time the spray does not burn at all, but it makes me drowsy. My entire spinal cord vibrates and I lay down in the trunk as my body fades away.
“I really want you to forgive me,” Selena says and presses her mouth to my lips to suck the cellular layers like they are fat. She leaves a trace of her own saliva on my face like a dog marking its territory before she slams the trunk shut.
I wake up on a bed, my ankles and wrist are restrained with handcuffs to the bedframe. In front of the bed are fangs. There are two of them and their teeth are sharp and yellow. One of them is chubby with a gray beard and the second is the one I stabbed earlier absent a left eye. Selena walks in with a blade in one hand and a foot in the other. It does not hurt, but I look down to see the severed flesh where my foot used to be. We are silent in the room for a while as Selena eats. The other two study my face as I watch her and they could not be more amused. They start with my gut once they become hungry. I don’t mind the sight of my own bones, but I am not prepared for the sound of them chewing my body parts. It would be better if they played music or closed the door, but the sound of swallowing is haunting. My inside parts coat the inside of their gums and I can hear them suck parts of me from their teeth. The worst part is Selena, who carves chunks from my legs and never once looks at me.
About the Author:
My name is Uko Tyrawn Okon. I studied English Literature as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University. I self-published one fiction novel in 2008, Racist Infatuation, and one book of poems, The Love Mindset. I host a podcast every Monday called the writing junky podcast at www.anchor.fm/thewritingjunkypodcast. I also host a YouTube channel that reviews novels, poetry, and short fiction. It can be found by searching U2OKON on YouTube. My blog has the same theme as my podcast, but with a focus on Shakespeare and classic novels. It can be found at www.thewritingjunky.com. I describe my fiction as bordering between Urban Fantasy and Magical Realism. I enjoy using magic to make readers think while entertaining them.