The man walked through the sliding glass doors, feeling the cool air of the inside wash over him like a wave that’s too tall to leap over.
He started with the fruit.
There was always so much fruit to choose from. From the towering walls of bananas and oranges to the spiky, almost inedible looking tropical fruits, the man sometimes felt like there was too many choices, too much variety.
After a few moments deliberation between plums and a pair of apples, he set the plums in his cart. Feeling tired, he shuffled over towards the bread.
Bread was tricky; sometimes, it was too dry, or too hard. Sometimes, the man forgot to check the expiration date and ended up with moldy bread. Peering into the dark shelves, he began to poke. This one, too much give. That one, too hard. This one is smashed.
The man poked bread for a solid ten minutes before finding one that suited him, a great, puffy loaf of Texas Toast. Placing it gently in his basket next to the plums, he continued down the aisle.
Next, was the canned goods. Peas, tomatoes, peaches, carrots, even meat! The man especially liked the cranberry sauce in a can, even better than he liked the real cranberry sauce his Auntie Phyllis used to make at family reunions.
The man decided on two cans of cranberry sauce, one of black eyed peas, and one of carrots. He wondered if carrots really were good for your eyes, and if black eyed peas really did give you luck. He hoped so.
The man felt the temperature drop as he walked past the next aisle, the frozen foods. He didn’t much care for frozen foods, except for the sausage-and-pancake-on-a-stick, but he wasn’t shopping for breakfast.
A little farther down, he came to the meat market. Peering into the icebox filled with every cut of meat imaginable, the man selected the most expensive piece and put it in the little child seat at the top of the basket, knocking down a newspaper page filled with advertisements and coupons.
As the man’s thoughts wandered so did his feet. Soon he was standing next to a fort made entirely out of beer.
Did he want beer?
Logically, and statistically, the man did want the beer; the beer reminded him of good times, spent with good friends. He reached for a case, then stopped. Times long gone…
The man rubbed his face and heaved a long, laborious sigh. No matter, he thought, today he would not need the beer. Today he needed a clear head, with all his wits about him. The man kept walking.
Soon he came to the milk. The ads cried out to him, “Vitamin D Enriched!” “2 for $5!” “Satisfaction guaranteed!” The man stood in front of the freezers for a moment.
Milk. Good for you, he thought, delicious! And nutritious, at least that’s what all the nurses tell you in elementary school. Whole milk, two percent, chocolate, strawberry, skim! Builds strong bones! Hell, all of them do! Didn’t you read the posters the cafeteria ladies hung up on the walls next to the lunch line? Milk is good? Fucking-A right it’s good! It’s the greatest stuff there is! It’s the fucking bee’s knees!
The man picked out two gallons of chocolate. Milk is good, he thought. Good for you.
Coming to the other side of the store, he looked inside his basket. Noticing that he had found most of what he had came for, he decided to head for the check out. The man walked over to the front of the store and got in line behind a tall, sallow-looking fellow, who was unloading cases of beer onto the belt. The man waited patiently for his turn, looking at the kaleidoscope of colours that was the gum shelf.
Bubble gum, blow pops, Winterfresh, Stride! The man remembered the six foot long pieces of bubblegum he used to buy as a kid, and the little plastic gloves filled with hard candy. Now flavors with names like “Elixir” and “Lush” lay stacked on the shelves, their bright, candid colours flashing in the man’s face. Then, he noticed something else; a dusty, pink piece of plastic at the bottom of the shelf. The man frowned, bent down, and pulled it out.
It was six foot long bubble gum, bubble YUM, the best there was. The man stared at it for a moment, and a ghost of a smile passed over his face, fleeting, and then gone. No matter; it was joyless. Joyless like the child whose lost her toy, joyless like the boy whose just been beaten up, joyless like the woman whose just been fired, joyless, like an old man, waiting for death.
Figuring that if that weren’t fate, nothing was, the man tossed the gum onto the conveyor belt and began loading the rest of his things on.
———————————–Two hours Later———————————————
The man sat alone in his apartment. The plate in front of him was empty, save for a crust of toast, some leftover juices from the steak, and a stray black-eyed pea. The man stared intently at the pea, memorizing it, peering into it’s eye, as if inside was the answer to all of the man’s problems. He sighed, and glanced at his glass, half empty, with a bit of chocolate milk still in it.
Then there was the gun.
A forty-five caliber, slide automatic merchant of death, it sat nonchalantly next to the milk.
The man picked up the gun, feeling it’s weight, its seriousness. The cool metal felt good in his sweaty hands. He brought it up to his face, brushing his nose along the barrel, smelling the deliciously neutral smell of cold steel.
Suddenly, as if coming to a decision, the man sat up straight. Bringing his right arm up, he gently pressed the barrel of the gun onto his temple, feeling the lifeless gray metal press against his hot, flushed skin. Taking deep breaths, he thumbed back the hammer and began tightening his finger on the trigger, the tiny spring letting out soft creaks as he gradually increased the pressure.
His brain began firing off random, last thoughts as the moment of truth drew nearer.
and the winner of the 1986 Miss USA….silly rabbit! Trix are…out, out damn…
The man squinted his eyes shut as he felt the trigger near it’s breaking point…
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Milk is good? Fucking-A right, it’s good!
Fucking-A right it’s good! It’s the greatest stuff there is! It’s the fucking bee’s knees!
The man opened his eyes and looked at his glass. He hadn’t finished his milk-
…fucking bee’s knees…!”
he should finish his milk-
…delicious and nutritious…
The man put the gun down. Frowning, he picked up the glass, and brought it closer to his face. He saw the particles in the chocolate swirling around in the glass like a miniature storm. Breathing out slowly through his nose, the man pursed his lips. Shaking his head, he downed the rest of the milk in two quick gulps. The man set the glass down hard, the sharp sound cracking through his quiet apartment like a bolt of lightning.
He stared at the empty glass in front of him, then at the gun sitting sinisterly on the table beside it.
The man stared for a long, long time.
Suddenly, he smiled, the first real one he’d had in months. The smile turned into a chuckle, the chuckle into a chortle, the chortle into a full-blown fit of laughter. The man laughed for a solid fifteen minutes. The more he tried to figure out what was so damned funny, the more he laughed.
Finally, after what seemed like a century, the man stopped laughing. He stood, picked up the gun, and put it in his jacket. The man walked to the door, exited onto the street, and began walking. He walked long into the night, not really knowing where he was going.
Finally, hours later, he came to a river. He stood at it’s edge, rocking back and forth on his heels. Then, in one swift, fluid movement, he reached into his jacket and flung the gun into the river. The man watched it spin, barrel over butt, in the light of a street lamp, before landing in the water with a faint splash.
The man smiled again, another real smile. He turned around, popped up his collar, and walked home, his shirttails flapping in the cool night breeze.
3 thoughts on “Mental Milk”
You know, Patrick, I don’t know why it is, but this story is one of my favorite things you’ve ever written. I truly don’t know why, but it gets to me. It doesn’t even really have a plot, or even make that much sense…..but there is a hidden genius in it that I can’t pin down. Maybe it’s the first line, “like a wave that’s too tall to jump over”…..I don’t know. But you should write more things like this. It’s really very good. I must have read it ten times, but it still gives me chills.
This story shows how talented you were as a writer and I wish I could read more of your stuff but alas. I never met you Patrick but I shall see you on the other side :)
Inspired as always :)