March 19, 2013 Fiction









Corner Market


Audrey Allen


A small girl sat on the curb outside the Corner Market with her knees around her ears. At first I thought she was crying and walked over to her, bending my back and squatting on my heels to see what the trouble was. I couldn’t look at much of her face (it was hanging between her legs with a great deal of hair everywhere), but I could make out the tip of her nose and watched her nostrils suck in – she could smell me, smell me standing next to her. She lifted her head up from between her knees, straightening her knobby little spine, showing me bright blue eyes blinking beneath a nest of unruly yellow curls.


I knew I’d have to say something, announcing my presence and concern. “What are you doing,” was the best I could offer. Then, I added, “alone on the curb?”


The young beauty – the princess on her stoop – looked up at me, and I drew my breath in for what might come next.


“Waitin,” she said, not offering me another word or second glimpse of her fairy eyes. I looked at her knees, which were scabbed and scratched and bruised all at once. I spent some time – too much time – marveling at the shades of topaz, amethyst, yellow and brown circling the globe of each boney kneecap before I realized how strange this was, me standing outside the Corner Market, leaning over a young girl who wanted nothing to do with me. I walked away from her, wondering if she heard the tap of my shoes on the sidewalk.


I’ve always had a terrible time trying to understand women. Whether it’s a grandma rocking toothless in a rocking chair on a porch I often pass, or a lady dressed in a garnet gown waiting along with me at a street light, I always feel confused and concerned. Females seem to be in such a state of sorrow most of the time – a strange silent melancholy, and I always expect their faces to be covered in tears but find only dry eyes barely offering me a glance as condolence. In my confusion, I always find myself tipping my hat at them, or performing a little bow on the street corner, only standing up to realize they weren’t watching me, or, worse still, had even skipped off across the street on their way – their fine backsides shaking back and forth ahead of me as I watched and felt guilty for watching.


In the Corner Market, I bought a quart of milk, a bag of apples, saltine crackers and dark ale.


After all my things were bagged and I was heading out the door, I realized I forgot a jar of molasses, eggs and cheese. I had a very uncomfortable moment blocking the door, trying to decide if I should take my bag of things already purchased back down the aisles with me or if might be best to leave the things on the table beside the door, where I noticed an umbrella was – rumpled and beaten, a bit dusty even. Finally, I set my bag on the table – the furthest corner away from the umbrella – and walked back into the market, looking over my shoulder all the while at the bag, and thinking it might have been better after all if I had taken it with me.


I tried to forget about all this nonsense, biting my lower lip and gripping my jaw with determination as I walked briskly into the aisle, which I knew contained slabs of raw beef, tired-looking chicken breasts and eggs protectively enclosed in cartons.  I always found it unsettling that chicken corpses were set next to their offspring – the elegant egg, shimmering with possibility. (Who doesn’t get a thrill holding up a nice brown egg to the window and feeling the weight of the new, neverborn thing inside?!)


I picked out my six eggs, looking over at the breasts of their mothers, and moved to the next aisle. I held my eggs close to my chest and eyed the shelves filled with ruby-colored cooking oils, peanut butter, marmalade, jam, pickles and molasses. I juggled the big bottle of molasses in the elbow of the arm holding the eggs, which left one hand freely dangling at my side. On second thought, I decided I must protect the frailty of the eggs, and shifted the bottle to my other hand. Now, equally balanced with items on either side of me, I walked deliberately to the registers. It would be much too difficult to get the other things I needed, so I decided right then and there to forget the rest – which was only the cheese — and kept my walk, brisk and encouraging at this point, to the cash machines where a sour-faced, pickled-looking man greeted me for the second time – staring at me curiously, wondering what I might be up to, coming through the register twice now in just a few minutes. I set my eggs and molasses on the checkout table and was happy to see my bag, containing the previous shopping session’s loot, still on the table by the door. The umbrella, of course, was also there. (It wasn’t raining and I don’t remember seeing anyone else in the store with me, so who knows where this umbrella came from or how long it had been there.)


As I gathered up both bags of groceries and was heading out, feeling satisfied and weighted down with goods, the man shouted at me from his cash machine.


I don’t know if I heard him or not – my mind closed and not accustomed to anyone’s voice hollering out in my direction. I turned to look – his great, red jowls opening and closing with a row of crooked yellow teeth revealed. I asked him to please repeat what he had said, so he once again said, “Sir, your umbrella.” I looked from him to the dusty, dingy umbrella on the table, and, just when I was determined to go about the difficulty of telling him that it wasn’t mine at all – that only the groceries belonged to me, the melancholy little girl from the curb – now looking fully recovered and even happy – came bounding in through the door along with 1, 2, 3 gangly boys, pushing their way past me and breaking out in a run through the market. In my surprise at the brush of their feet, their little hands knocking into me – the sheer energy of all these determined young children — I grabbed the umbrella and made me way out, walking as fast as I could to get to the other side of the street, moving against the red light to get away even quicker, the stolen umbrella tucked in the crook of my arm. In my haste, I ran headfirst into a young mother and her baby. I could feel both breasts and baby under the weight of my chest, and stepped back, offering my apologies, not daring to look her or her child in the eye.


Once home, I set the umbrella by the door and carried the bags into my kitchen. I looked inside and noticed the jar of molasses had tipped over and now rested on the carton of eggs. I pulled the molasses out and reached in for the eggs – hoping to rescue them, but feeling a little moisture which I tried to deny on the carton. I put the carton on the counter, and gazed down at the six little brown eggs — all ruined. I picked one of the eggs up and studied its crack down the middle. “Well,” I said, “You were dead to begin with so it doesn’t really matter now anyways.” What I, still living had, was a bit of crackers, some molasses, good ale and an umbrella.


I stepped on the trash lever so that the top snapped open against the stove, and, one by one, dropped the eggs inside.

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  1. Laurie Kolp March 20, at 22:57

    Susan, This is so vivid and unique... love the hummingbird. I actually felt his excitement for winning the game, which in the end surprised me with its unexpected twist.

  2. Susan March 19, at 18:21

    I enjoy the details of this story. I fully expected the girl to steal the groceries left on the table or the narrator to be accused of some kind of abusive approach to women, so I loved that the suspense led to a satisfied trip home and a counting of blessings!

    • Susan March 19, at 18:28

      I wrote this comment on "Corner Market" by Audrey Allen--not on my own work! I don't know why it appeared here. I am glad to be in the company of all the writers of March 2013 fiction and poetry. Thank you, Val and Tuck Magazine.


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