The musty glass doors slid open and half-heartedly welcomed me into my local King-Soopers…
The musty glass doors slid open and half-heartedly welcomed me into my local King-Soopers. Hundreds of beeps and small conversations invaded my ears, making a brassy and lonely song. Perfect lines of cash registers, gloomy adults, crying children, and a few jolly families crowded the store. The place felt on the brink of explosion. The all-too-familiar mix of numerous smells canceling themselves out made its way into my nostrils. It was such a familiar smell that it almost felt like I was visiting an old friend’s house. I realized I hadn’t been there in a long time.
I didn’t bother to get a cart, because I hated pushing them, so I grabbed a basket to hold instead. I felt like I was a ghost in a dream. I adjusted my black mask over my nose and pulled mom’s list out of my pocket. Her faultless handwriting covered the busy page, with the important writing in a thick red pen in the middle. Mom wrote down all her thoughts, often running out of paper to write on. When no pages were left, she tended to write over the used paper with different colored pens until new notebooks arrived from Amazon.
I strolled toward the bakery section, with the first item being bread. The smell of the baked goods led me to them, barely needing to focus on any directions. Just as I reached the bread, I accidentally bumped into a grey-haired lady. She aggressively turned around, flinging her hands up. It seemed like she wanted to scold me but since she had no visible face, she couldn’t. An older man, who saw the incident, tapped on my shoulder and proclaimed,
“So you see that too? She is so weird.”
I was shocked and emphatically blurted, “She still has ears!”
The next item on the list was cheese, located far from the baked goods. I arrived in the meat section where a deceased fish aroma covered the area. The cheese was no more than fifty feet away. I suddenly stopped when my eye caught one of the clerks. He was stocking frozen fish and was tall with a strikingly handsome face, but when I looked closer, there were small holes running down his neck to his chest that he brazenly showed off. My jaw fell to the ground and my eyes were glued to him. I was confused and doubted the image my eyes were giving me. Then I noticed the holes quivering every time he breathed. He must have gills, meaning he was some sort of fish and human hybrid. Shivers shot down my back and through my limbs. I didn’t want to be mean, but, hell, he was terrifying! He must have felt my eyes on him because he started to glare at me.
My heart rate accelerated, causing me to snatch my jaw off the floor and sprint to the cheese. My sneakers squeaked on the recently mopped floor as I hastily grabbed cheddar. I bumped into many people as I ran, but didn’t bother to say sorry. I didn’t care, I needed to get away from him before he could get to me and… And do what? I wasn’t sure, but my mind demanded I run. After what felt like hours, all my energy was spent. My legs painfully stopped and I kneeled over gasping for air. His face was burned into my vision. Attempting to slow my breath, I started to repeatedly count from 1 to 4 as I focused on my breathing.
My eyes opened. Not wanting to draw much attention, I lifted my basket and turned around. A beautiful stack of eggs in an open refrigerator beamed at me. My small smile grew as I remembered eggs were the next item on the list. I carefully removed a dozen eggs and deliberately placed them next to the loaves of bread.
As I walked to the cash registers, putting each foot in front of the other, I passed aisles where I spent my childhood. The toy aisle was much less pink than before, now having a brown theme. I remember trying to find the coolest toy car while mom was in the next aisle looking at stationery. Instincts compelled me to walk into the snack aisle, where mom would let me choose a small treat if I behaved well. A small chocolate bar was my favorite thing to get, but after a few years, they stopped selling them.
The cashier startled me when she abruptly shouted, “NEXT!” I walked up and muttered, “Sorry, I’m here.” When the time came to pay, I tried to swipe the card, but the cashier irritatedly explained that they don’t swipe cards anymore, they now just tap them. She bagged the items, passed them to me, then screamed “NEXT!”
I headed to the exit. Once I made it outside, a small smile appeared on my face as I pulled down my mask and breathed in the fresh air.
The idea for this piece first came to me when I saw a poem that was structured as a grocery list. I wanted to do something similar in a short story form but using more of a magical realism and nostalgic approach. I started by making the shopping list and writing down what I wanted to happen during and in between the journey to get each item. The grocery store in the story was based on my local King-Soopers. I wanted my character to be a mixed teenage girl living in the suburbs who is trying to deal with the realities of an ever-changing and scary world. After I had written down what I wanted to happen, I started to write the first draft. This took a long time but it was worth it in the end. I then took the piece through rounds of editing until I was happy. I later asked for my mentor’s thoughts on the piece and made a few more changes. This piece was originally about 2,400 words but I decided to shorten it with the help of my mentor for the anthology.
Ayah Al-Masyabi is a sophomore in high school and lives in Colorado. She is an artist and a writer. Ever since she was able to hold a pencil she has been drawing. As a dyslexic person, art has been a way to express herself without struggling to find a way to piece together letters or words. Her writing branches into different genres, from nonfiction to creative fiction. Ayah won 3rd place in the Arapahoe Libraries art contest in October 2022 and has also submitted artworks to Polyphony, an online magazine.