I was trying to add slices of banana to my cereal today, but the bowl was so full the slices would just roll off the top, along the counter, and onto the floor. My life is so hard.
Kino’s sense of smell had never failed him before. He rifled through the boxes of cereal on the shelf looking for the one with the image of the obnoxious bee on the front while his tail twitched anxiously. Only one cereal would do: Honey Nut Cheerios. There was at least one box left in the whole Lucky’s Grocery Store and he could smell it on this one shelf. It taunted him with its artificially sweetened O’s.
Since he was young he had been a picky fox and would eat plain hamburgers and chicken strips almost exclusively. If there was so much as a drop of mustard on his food it would go untouched. It was pointless for his mom to remove any unwanted condiments; Kino’s nose could not be fooled. He had always been this way, obsessive and particular, although he had become lax about his preferences as he entered adulthood. Even so, there were still some things he would not give up. One of those vices was his cereal.
“They took my O’s. Those are my O’s,” Kino muttered to himself. “They always take my O’s.”
Kino swore that the only thing Lucky’s never kept in good supply was Honey Nut Cheerios and that someone somewhere had to be buying up all the stock. It was possible. There were all sorts of weird people that lived in the nearby apartments on Iowa Ave. It wouldn’t have shocked Kino much to see a squirrel with a crazed look in her eye filling her shopping cart to the top with Kino’s precious Honey Nut Cheerios. In fact, Kino had once seen a badger with a short ponytail clear the shelves of all the Head and Shoulders along with all the “Chocolate” Axe deodorant. What she needed all the men’s deodorant for was a mystery to Kino, but he had looked past it all the same. Lucky’s was never in short supply of odd people. It was partly because of the neighborhood. Calling it “shady” would be putting it lightly. For that reason, Kino restricted himself to just Lucky’s. It was within walking distance of his apartment, and he seldom walked through this side of town at night. The last time he did he saw a pack of coyotes wandering around, all of them with matted fur and carrying drinks in a paper bag. Nothing happened, but the sight was unnerving for Kino, and justifiably so. This neighborhood was close to downtown, and a person could never know exactly who or what to expect in that part of Riverside. Downtown’s social runoff had to go somewhere. Kino’s neighborhood was the place.
Those were the breaks, and Kino had to make do with Lucky’s and the rest of this town ever since he left home for college. It was the only place he could afford within walking distance of campus. All the other complexes that were near or on campus were way out of his reach. Campus was a small haven, a bubble for its students amidst the decaying Riverside. It was like a game preserve, and Kino lived decidedly off reservation.
Kino’s tail swung wildly from side to side as he reached past rows and rows of cereal boxes. Finally, he clawed into the box that the Honey Nut smell was drifting from.
“Gotcha!” he said as he drew the container towards him, knocking Tony the Tiger and Count Chocula off the shelves. He took another, triumphant whiff to reassure himself. No doubt about it, he found his precious, golden O’s. But there was something else in the air. The smell reminded him of gritty oil. Walking past him was a Pit Bull with engine grease smeared on his cheek and on his paw. The dog was most likely a mechanic, but the smell couldn’t have been coming from him. It was farther away, maybe the next aisle over. The smell was…gunpowder. Kino was absolutely certain. Marksmanship being one of his family’s hobbies, Kino was familiar with the scent of guns and ammunition. In fact, he almost loved the smell, but not tonight. On this side of town, in Lucky’s, it was a warning.
Kino dropped the box of Cheerios into his cart and peered down either end of the aisle. His ears stood tall and motionless. Rusty cart wheels squeaked on neighboring aisles. The sound of elevator-style music floated past by. On the opposite side of the store scanners chirped as clerks rang up items. Nothing out of the ordinary, but everything was drowned out by the smell of gunpowder.
It was well into the evening by now and Kino always tried to make it a point to not run late errands if he didn’t have to.
“Let’s get outta here,” he muttered to himself. He pushed his cart down the aisle towards the checkout stand. He rounded the corner and got into line. One ear remained facing forward while the other faced slightly rearward. With the majority of the store behind him Kino felt a little more at ease, but that scent was still out there somewhere. Ahead of him, a rabbit with clumped fur handed the clerk her food stamps. She handed the clerk one at a time with thin, weathered paws. While Kino loaded his Cheerios onto the conveyer belt, along with a carton of milk, he sniffed the air. The smell was making its way through the aisles. It was coming closer. Kino’s tail twitched and his shoulders tightened. The clerk was still busy with the rabbit’s purchases. Kino chewed on one of his claws. They were arguing, saying something about expiration dates, but Kino wasn’t exactly sure what the problem was. He was too preoccupied with the smell. It was coming toward him, toward the checkout counter. Footsteps soon accompanied it. Kino faced forward in line. He didn’t want to see who the scent of gunpowder was riding on. He was so certain that if he so much as made eye contact there would be trouble.
“Next in line,” said the cashier, calling for Kino’s attention. Finally, it was his turn, but it was maybe too late. Kino listened behind him. There was a shuffling noise and then the sound of cartons and boxes being placed on the conveyer belt behind Kino’s milk and cereal. The cashier scratched his floppy, black, dog ear and began scanning Kino’s items.
“How are you this evening, sir?” continued the cashier. The dog’s question rolled off Kino’s ears. The gunpowder scent was most definitely coming from whoever was behind him. Whatever kind of person that was behind him he could only guess. The loud beep of the register severed Kino from his thoughts.
“Oh. Uh. Good.” Kino’s voice cracked. He fumbled for his wallet, trying as hard as possible to keep it from the view of the thug. At least, he assumed it was a thug, because there was no way any cop would live around here.
As Kino paid and took his change he sensed a dreadful closeness between himself and the figure behind him. He almost felt himself being pushed or grabbed. The taste of rust and iron filled his mouth as his slender canines worked on the inside of his mouth and on his tongue. The presence was crowding, overwhelming. It was more than Kino could bear. He snatched his plastic grocery bag and made rushed strides to the doors with his tail stiff and pointing downward.
Warm, summer air greeted Kino as he barreled through the doors. He exhaled heavily as if he were trying to fog a mirror. When he tried to keep his hand steady it shook. His shoulders slackened, but his heart hadn’t calmed down yet. Now, Kino would have to cross the parking lot to get to the sidewalk to head home, but that was no issue. The journey down the block would be more of a concern, but after this tense evening his odds of encountering more trouble would surely be slim.
“Now, it’s really time to get outta here,” said Kino as he ran his paw through the fur behind his ear. Kino resumed walking. It was probably best to put some distance between him and Lucky’s before anything actually happened in that store. It was a neighborhood full of strife and desperation. Not a safe place to get involved or wrapped up in peoples’ business.
Just as Kino had finally put himself at ease the door opened behind him, and as it widened it wafted the smell of gunpowder with him.
“Hey!” It was the voice of a girl. The smell was getting closer and the voice of that girl was coming with it. Kino didn’t stop walking, but he made a fast glance over his shoulder to see what looked like a coyote running after him. She must have robbed the store and thought Kino was a witness, or maybe she was going to hijack his car although he didn’t have one.
“Hey, you!” Her voice demanded again. Kino felt that same presence closing in on him.
He would have to act this time. She most likely had a gun. Defending himself would be tricky. She would probably draw right away and stick the barrel in his back. If she only wanted money he would probably give it to her. A few dollars wouldn’t be worth risking his life over, but he had the feeling that it wouldn’t be about money. He would wait until she was within reach and he would take her to the ground and get rid of the gun. But somehow…somehow things would get complicated. He would get more than he bargained for. Kino would try to restrain and stop her, nothing more, but it wouldn’t be enough. Of that much he was certain. Everything has its consequences, and tonight would be no exception.
“I said, ‘HEY!’” She was coming fast. Her footsteps were rushed. Kino faced forward, pretending not to hear. He sensed her reaching out. Her arm was extended and something was in it. It was the gun. It had to be.
Kino stopped. He faced her, spinning counter-clockwise, and in the same motion he tangled his left arm around her right arm where the gun was. Her gun-hand was wrapped and locked. He used his free arm to grapple and control her. She recoiled, surprised by his sharp reaction. Finally, as he slipped his right leg behind her’s, he pushed her backward, taking her to the ground. As they fell, Kino felt the coyote drop her weapon. It crashed to the ground with an unusual sound, most definitely not metal, and it smelled nothing like a gun.
When they both hit the ground the coyote howled, yelped, and kicked, attempting to escape.
“What are you doing?” screamed the coyote. “Let me go!” She struggled and pushed against Kino.
“Where’s the gun?” demanded Kino. He kept her arms pinned. He definitely smelled a gun. He repositioned himself on top of her, trapping her slim torso with his thighs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” She bared her fangs. “Let me go, now!” She was young, like Kino, but she growled like a feral, rabid dog. Her eyes, a dark walnut, intimidated him as much as the fact that she could shoot him.
“And let you shoot me? Like hell. I can smell the gun. Just give it to me and I’ll let you go.” Kino was finding it more and more difficult to keep her down without hurting her. Something had to give.
“Ok! It’s in my bag,” she snarled. She stopped struggling for just a moment while Kino searched through her bag. He pulled out a compact revolver. “You can let me go, now,” she continued. “But try anything on me and I swear I’ll kill you, with or without it.”
“Fine,” replied Kino as he let the coyote get up. “But tell me. What are you gonna do with this thing? Read the morning paper?”
The coyote dusted herself off and adjusted her shirt. “None of your damn business! Is this how you treat people who try to do you favors?”
Kino scoffed. “Favors?”
“Yes, favors.” She pointed to what Kino originally mistook for a gun. It turned out to be a plastic grocery bag. In it was a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. The coyote continued, “You forgot your stupid cereal.”
Kino was stunned. He was right, she did have a gun, but she was never after him or anybody. And she was right. She was helping, but how could he have known?
“I…umm…I’m sorry.” Kino picked up his O’s and his milk. He was determined to find the last box of God-forsaken O’s, and that’s what got him into this mess in the first place.
“Whatever. Just give me my gun and get away from me,” she said.
Kino handed back the gun and the coyote put it back in her decidedly plain, leather shoulder bag. He wanted to say something to her, but how do you talk to someone you practically fought with? How ironic that this mix-up was the closest he had been to a girl—and one who must have been as old as him—since he had moved here, yet the tragedy was that he thought—no he knew—that he was better off not getting involved. She scowled at Kino, baring her white canines. The venom in her eyes ate at him. Kino checked to see that he had everything, but when he looked up she was already walking away. Kino’s tail hung lifelessly. He wanted to follow her, he wanted to apologize, but he didn’t want to get involved.
Sometimes there are those nights where the stress of the day weighs so heavily on your forehead that it presses sharp on your eyes like when you dive too deep and too fast in a pool. It’s on nights like those that Doubt looms over your bed and glares at you like a contemptuous father. The dreams and aspirations that you hold close to your chest like a few smudged valentine cards are dashed from your hand by Doubt who says If you wanted it so badly why did you let it go? And of course, you want to open your mouth and say that it was Doubt who took it away, but you don’t, because everyone knows Doubt isn’t real, but playing the victim is. Now you love with 60 percent because any more than that is too cavalier and it’s foolish to dream. And you’re not sure if he is real either, because 60 percent is not enough to justify saying I love you. But never mind that. Live your life to its full 60 percent. After all, this moment where Doubt imposes his company can’t be real. So, just sweep it off your shoulder like the dandruff that accumulates after a restless night.
after This Might Be Real by Sarah Manguso
- 3 years ago
Today was a bad day. It all started when I went to Wal-Mart. Normally, I don’t even go there, but I was running low on options. Anyway, I parked and as soon as I got out of my car I saw this beat up van and it looked pretty sketchy. There were these guys with a jar of pickles sitting on top of it—yes, on top— with some snaggle-toothed, pirate smiles cackling like hyenas. Pretty creepy, but to make it worse one of them had some grungy dreadlocks and was bald on top. I don’t know how that even happens, but whatever. One of these guys started chucking pickles at me and saying, “Hey boy! I got some pickles!” I tried to ignore him, but I had to keep dodging nasty pickles. He finally got a clear shot and he nailed me. I couldn’t ignore him anymore so I said, “Hey, old timer! You just tweaked me in my melon with that pickle, bro!” He just laughed like a senile old guy so I kept walking.
I finally got out of that parking lot and to the front of the store where I saw one of those coin-op rides. There was this kid, who looked about 5 or 6, sitting in a rocket-shaped ride. He dropped a quarter in and the ride just started shaking back and forth. He sat there with a blank stare on his face while blue liquid, from what I assume was popsicle stains, ran down his cheeks. I’m only guessing he had a blank stare on his face because he had a bowl cut and his hair covered his eyes. I didn’t see where his parents were, but I didn’t want to get involved…not at this place.
I got most of my quick shopping done after sifting through what seemed dozens of already opened boxes. It bugs me when people do that. My dad does it and always leave to the next aisle to avoid being seen with him while he goes through whatever product he is checking.
I was getting pretty hungry so I stopped at the McDonald’s that was inside the store. I didn’t want to spend a lot so I just bought a $1 double cheeseburger. It was ready so I sat down at a table beside my cart and went to take a bite. Out of nowhere this scrawny kid, about 10, snatched it out of my hands. I couldn’t believe it! So I said, “Hey little man! Why you taxin’ my gig so hard core?” He took the two patties and then started rubbing them on his chest. The grease made dark circles on his blue T-shirt. He replied, “McDonald’s is for the weak!” I was floored. Before I could even say anything his mom came up to me and started yelling and telling me to leave her son alone. She said, “Don’t pick on the mentally handicapped! He has autism; WebMD says so!” What? Was she talking about the medical website? I looked from her back to her son who was chewing on one of his crocs. God awful shoes. I was done with it all. So, I took my cart and went to checkout. I payed and I left…hopefully to never return again.
PS some words of wisdom: Galapagos turtles commune with the devil; A pineapple is not a raisin; I will bow to no sponsor; idle pockets love idle hands; you’ve given up, roody-poo; don’t play the victim for a sell-out crowd.