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Organic is just another word for living, but nothing here feels alive.

The shelves are stocked with discards – twist-tied bags of stale bread crusts, canned peach pits in heavy syrup, pickled ribs spooned from the centers of chili peppers, salt shakers filled with the white flakes of milk that once dried to threaded cap spirals.

I push a shopping cart – three good wheels, one stubborn, forced into rotation – down linoleum aisles. The tiles appear to tilt under my feet, under fluorescent bulbs struggling to hold onto a light.

Empty rolls of aluminum foil, the serrated box blade still sharp. 

Glass Coke bottles kept at uneven temperatures, threatening to shatter and foam.

Whole bean coffee dispensers replenished with apple seeds for cyanide. 

The produce section is a maze of stacked crates, filled with the green tops of strawberries and with potato skins pared away in single spirals. I plunge my hands into a display of tangerine peels, the fruit long ago scooped away. I press my thumbnails into each peel in turn, scratching crescent scars into the pulpy flesh and scraping at an invisible film of citric acid. I rub my eyes; they burn orange.

I walk on, avoiding my reflection in the frozen food aisle’s glass doors that are holding in bundles of Popsicle sticks, stained red and purple. 

The checkout line offers Bic lighters (thumbs would grow sore against the ridged spark wheel trying to draw out a flame), packs of foil gum wrappers (scented peppermint, bubble, cinnamon), and bags of marshmallow circus peanuts (untouched). A fallen cardstock magazine insert sticks to my heel as I pass through, cart empty, nothing bought.

Abandoned grocery lists litter the parking lot. 

     1. Empty box with cooking instructions still legible

     2. Coffee grounds, twice-filtered, still damp

     3. Plantain peels (if they have any, but, if not, banana will have to do)

I could gather them, press them between pages of recipe books to mark my place. But I cannot through some alchemical reaction – sauté, steep, stir – coax nourishment from those shelves.

I should try a different store, I know. 

But tell me, then, why does my tongue ache and atrophy for the cherry stems I once wrapped it around – tying perfect knots?

 

image: Tyler McAndrew


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