A GROCER’S LIST
by Charlie Turner
Three dozen eggs. Ollie stands in the middle of the mess with a cigarette behind his ear. Our father, the deli manager, is across the store flirting with some young woman with dirty blonde hair. A regular customer. I guess they didn’t hear the crash. “Move fast,” I tell Ollie. He grabs an old floor mop and begins pushing the goop into a dustpan. It sticks to the tiled floor, so he uses his boot to kick it, then he picks it up by the handful. He makes five, maybe six trips to the waste bin behind the counter while I watch. When he steps in front of me, I snag the coffin nail. “You’ll be here awhile. I’ll smoke this for you.”
Six pounds of honey ham. The package is from Peppy Pigs Farms, and our customers prefer it over every other meat that we sell. My father slices it thinly. He orders me to carve into the giant cylinder of provolone that has just arrived. In my arms, it weighs as much as a newborn, maybe more. I cradle it to the slicing station. The man who ordered the cheese is wearing a denim jacket and has a belly that droops over a bull horn belt buckle. He asks if he can try a piece, and I say no. My father looks at me, his jaw tight, his eyes wide. The muscles in his cheeks puff in and out, in and out. And during this moment of distraction, I hear his machine begin to grind. It’s shrill, brain-rattling. The audible equivalent of a snake bite. It’s the noise the slicer makes when liquid hits the blade, and this liquid is dark red.
Nine stitches. Ollie drives us home from the ER, and I sit in the back and watch the elms fly by. We had to close the deli early, and I think my father is more upset about that than he is about the tip of his thumb no longer being attached to his hand. For a moment, our eyes meet in the rearview. He stares at me, not blinking, not crying, not anything. He doesn’t have to speak because his anger is strong enough to turn the August air cold. He’s angry at me for not caring about the business, angry at Ollie for dropping a total of forty-eight eggs on the ground over the past week, angry at himself for believing that one day his sons would take over the deli. When his hands become too arthritic to run the machines, to cut the meat, he wants us to eagerly welcome the business into our lives and allow it to live on for another twenty, thirty, or forty years. “That’s a dream,” Ollie once told him. “You know we don’t want this place.” But the old man keeps trying. Tonight, instead of taking the easy way out and firing us, he’ll sit us down and say the same thing that he always has. “Something’s gotta change, boys. I don’t know what, but something.”
About the Author:
Charlie Turner is an MFA candidate studying fiction at Emerson College in Boston. In 2017, he won Best in Competition during the Michael S. Roif Awards at UMass Amherst for his original screenplay, Paper Faces. Besides fiction, Charlie has had several film reviews published and is the owner of CharliesCut.com, an entertainment criticism website.