Sammy's in love with a girl at the market; a kiss goes awry.

She worked at a little grocery store her father owned on Bronson Highway. They were new in town (only five months) but very welcomed. She was fifteen, with long brown hair and pretty brown eyes. She always dressed in tight jeans and t-shirts, and it led me to stare. She never caught me, though I can’t say for sure she would have cared.

Her name was Briselda. People thought she was strange because she rarely spoke, never smiled, and always seemed in a world of her own.

I thought she was beautiful.

I couldn't stop thinking about her and was always dreaming about her---about holding her hand, seeing her smile, and pressing my lips to hers. Briselda did something to me that was hard to explain.I felt all crazy inside. I saw every Saturday at La Marketa when I drove my mother into town to sell our home-grown vegetables to Mr. Vega, the store owner.

If it wasn’t for Briselda, I would have forced my mother to drive stick-shift a long time ago. Sheriff Hepp had repeatedly warned, "Thirteen-year-old boys shouldn’t be driving." The last time, he threatened to put my mother in jail. My mother did what she always did—agreed with him, paid the fines, and did nothing. Her excuse was that she was forty-seven years old and wasn’t about to learn anything new.

One Saturday, we pulled up to La Marketa in our sputtering red Studebaker pick-up. I was shocked. The parking lot was empty. Saturdays were usually the busiest days when people came to buy their supplies, eat lunch, or just sit under the umbrella tables in front of the store and drink, play cards, and talk about the weather.

"Where is everyone?" I asked my mother.

"Heck if I know, Sammy."

We walked into the store and found it as dim and cozy as ever, but deserted. Immediately, Mr. Vega met us with a frown.

"What's going on, Mr. Vega?" asked my mother. He shook his head and looked down to the floor. He was usually a happy man. My mother asked, "Is everything all right?"

While my mother interrogated Mr. Vega, I scanned the store. I wondered if something had happened to Briselda. Was she okay? Did she get hurt or something? I scoured the aisles, but she was nowhere to be found. Then, from the back, I heard a faint laugh. I followed it and found Briselda playing with a green parakeet behind the refrigerated cases of fish and meat. She looked at me as I approached. I felt a sharp pang in my gut. My hands began to sweat. We made eye contact. She looked at me curiously, then she looked away. I scanned the merchandise like a curious customer.

"Is the f-f-fish f-f-fresh?" I asked. I had heard customers ask that question a hundred times. It was all I could think of to say.

"Very. In this morning," she said, which was the usual answer. Her delicate voice was like a rush of fresh air. This was the first time she'd spoken directly to me and not through Mr. Vega or my mother.

"Have you decided on anything?" asked Briselda.

"N-Not yet," I said. It was weird talking to her. I had thought of so many things to say to her, but I couldn’t remember any of them.

"W-W-Where is everybody?" I asked.

"Supermarket. Today's the grand opening," said Briselda.

She had a peculiar way of talking that I had never noticed before. Her lips would stiffen, pressing hard against her teeth, barely showing the tips of them, as if trying to do a Humphrey Bogart impression.

"What’s a supermarket?" I asked.

"A big store."

"Have you seen it?"

"No," she said.

I wondered what a supermarket looked like. The only "super" thing around here was the, Super Carnival Circus, that came around every summer. Maybe a supermarket was a carnival and a grocery store put together--elephant rides, Ferris wheels, and roller coasters out front for the kids, while parents shopped.

"Do they have elephants?" I asked.

"One, I think," Briselda said.

From the front of the store, I heard my mother calling. I took a long look at Briselda, who had gone back to playing with her parakeet.

"Bye," I said, waving. "I’ll see you next week." She ignored me. I walked to the front of the store looking for my mother.

"She’s in the truck, waiting for you," Mr. Vega said. I thanked him and went out to the truck. I noticed the basket of vegetables was still in the back.

"W-W-What happened. Isn’t he going to buy them?"

"No," my mother said. "He doesn’t need them anymore."

I figured the reason was that business was slow. Things would pick up. He'd buy them next week for sure.

I looked at my mother who was staring at the little grocery store. There was a lost look in her eyes that I had seen only once before.

***

It was the day she came home from work and found my father sitting where she'd left him that morning. She stepped in front of the television and my old man looked at her, wanting her to move. My mother stared at him, showing him she wasn’t going anywhere. My mother’s stare is really bad. Her stare has been known to constipate people.

So my old man just sat there with his mouth open, attempting to say something, but no words came out. Then he turned off the television, got up, grabbed his car keys, and went out the door. I ran after him.

"Where you going, Pop? Can I go?"

"I got business, Sammy... stay with your mother."

I followed him to his car. As he started the engine, I backed away. The growl of his Mustang scared me. It reminded me of Tiger, the pit-bull we used to have. When I was four years old, the damn dog attacked me. My mother told my father to put the thing to sleep. He told her that Tiger was just playing with me and he couldn’t believe his four year old son was such a sissy.

My father rolled down his window and waved me over to him.

"Sammy, I want to tell you something."

"Yeah?" I said. My face lit up. My father rarely spoke to me. So to have him say something to me was golden. I thought maybe he had reconsidered and was going to let me tag along.

"Listen, son," he said. He never called me "son." I was in heaven hearing the word. I loved my father. He was cool. I wanted to be just like him. I was ecstatic about whatever fatherly advice he was about to give me.

"Sammy, let me tell you something...If you ever fuck a girl...wear a rubber," my father said.

I smiled and nodded. I had no idea what his words meant. They just sounded real and profound. I knew if they came from him, they were true. I repeated his words over and over in my head so I wouldn’t forget them—If I ever fuck a girl, wear a rubber... if I ever fuck a girl, wear a rubber... if I ever fuck a girl, wear a rubber.

The Mustang squealed out onto the road and raced off. I ran after my father as fast as my four-year-old legs could run, waving bye. When I got back to the house, I found my mother looking out the window. She looked like she wanted to cry but didn’t have any tears.

"What’s wrong, ma?" I asked. I think she knew he wasn’t coming back. She didn’t say anything. She just went into the kitchen and started dinner.

***

I started the truck and drove out onto the road. I knew my mother was probably upset because she didn’t sell the vegetables. She counted on the money. Every little bit came in handy. So to cheer her up, I decided to take her on a  trip.

"Where are we going ... this isn’t the way home?" my mother asked.

"Did they tell you they built a supermarket?"

"I heard."

"I hear they have elephant rides and roller coasters," I said.

"Did that strange girl tell you that?"

"N-N-No," I said, feeling a punch in my chest. "Sh-Sh-She’s not strange."

My mother looked at me. I could feel her eyes picking me apart as I watched the road.

"There are no rides at the supermarket," she declared, but I didn’t believe her because Briselda had told me different.

It didn’t take very long to find out. We crossed Gutter’s Bridge, and I saw the supermarket a mile away. It was huge. I mean, even a mile away, the building looked massive—all shiny and new. The closer we got, the smaller we seemed.

"Look at that, ma!" I said.

"I see...I see," my mother said, putting her hand over her eyes, fighting off the sun gleaming off the store’s windows.

When we pulled into the packed parking-lot, I spotted all cars that were usually parked in at Mr. Vega's grocery store. People were rushing in, others were walking out with bag loads.

I parked the truck, and we headed to the entrance.

"Where are the elephants?" I asked, searching for a circus tent.

"There aren’t any, I told you," my mother said. But, on the far end of the entrance, I saw a mob of little kids fighting for time on a coin operated elephant and rocket swing. I stopped and stared.

"I think you’re a little too big for that," my mother teased.

I sighed and hung my head. I followed my mother into the store.

A rush of cold air hit our faces. We looked at each other with smiles. I could feel the sweat evaporating off my face. La Marketa had nothing but warm drinks and two slow fans to fight the summer heat. The new supermarket had air conditioning. It felt like heaven. It looked like it too. It was big, bright, and busy. The shopping carts were new and shiny and didn’t swerve or squeak.

"Maybe they’ll buy our vegetables here?" my mother said. I didn’t wait to find out. I was curious. "Don’t get lost," she yelled.

I ventured through the store. I found a bakery, a florist, and a large assorted magazine rack with more comic books than I had ever known existed. Mr. Vega's store only had five old comic books that had been well read by every kid in town. I was overwhelmed by the large aisles and the wall-to-wall food. Minutes later, I located my mother, who had a smile on her face.

"Isn’t this store great?"

"I guess..." I said.

The supermarket looked great, but it didn’t have what Mr. Vega's store had—warm people sitting out front telling stories, familiarity, and ... Briselda. Being at the supermarket, I felt guilty, as if I were betraying a friend.

The drive home was quiet, except for my mother’s annoying humming.

"I’m pretty sure Mr. Vega will buy our vegetables next week?" I said. My mother shook her head.

"No ... he’s closing."

"CLOSING? What do you mean, Ma?"

"He told me he can’t compete with the new store, so he’s closing. Today was his last day."

I slammed the brakes.

"What’s the matter? my mother asked.

"I-I forgot to get something at the market."

"We’ll be back next week," my mother said.

"No ... I mean at Mr. Vega’s market. We have to go back," I said.

"But we’re almost home. Can’t it wait? I’m sure they have it at the new supermarket," my mother said.

"HELL NO!" I said with instant regret. My mother stared at me in contempt. "I mean...no mam," I muttered.

I turned the truck around and raced to La Marketa. When I walked in, Mr. Vega smiled at me.

"I forgot to get something," I said. He nodded and let me in with a wave.

I ran to the back of the store looking for Briselda, but she wasn’t behind the refrigerated cases. I scouted the aisles and saw the top of her head over the shelf in the next aisle. I approached her cautiously. She turned around and gave me a stare.

"I-I saw the supermarket," I said.

She pretended I wasn’t there. She took her parakeet from behind a wall of cans of Lima beans. She put the parakeet up to her cheek and kissed it.

"The supermarket is really big," I said, fighting to get my words out. She nodded and put her parakeet on her shoulder.

"What’s his name?" I asked.

"Ramon," she said.

"We raise them, you know. We have lots of them," I said, but Briselda did not seem impressed. "Maybe he needs a friend."

"A friend?" she said, as if she'd never heard the word.

"Yeah, a friend. Don’t you have friends?" I asked.

"Papa can never keep a store for very long," she said.

"He looks really soft," I said.

Briselda put the bird in her hand and placed it in front of me. I rubbed the top of its head. Being so close, I could smell Briselda's perfume. It was sweet like flowers. It made me dizzy.

"You're pretty," I said.

Briselda looked at me. She didn't smile. She just stared at me with her gorgeous eyes.

"Maybe we can be freinds?" I said. I smiled at her. She looked at me. I wanted to tell her how I felt. I didn't know how she would take it, but I knew that after today, I would never see her gain.

"I have to tell you something..." I said. 

She looked at me curiously. I leaned in. It was now or never. I gave her a kiss on the lips. She had soft lips. She pulled back and looked at me. She didn't smile, but she didn't turn away either. She just looked at me.

"I--love--you," I said, with a big grin. I was flying high. I was seeing fireworks.

Briselda didn’t say anything, but her eyes did. Her eyes were grinning. They were inviting me. I moved in for another kiss. I put my arms around her and hugged her tight. I heard a squeak. I pulled back in shock. We looked at each other for a long time, as if the world had stopped.

"I---love---you---too," she said.

I smiled and nodded. Then Briselda smiled. I froze. I gaped. I got chills. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. Her teeth were ugly—jagged pieces of ivory. I felt dizzy. I was scared. I stepped back and heard a thump!---on the ground. Briselda frowned and hid her teeth. Her eyes watered, and she looked down.

"Ramon!" she said.

She bent down to pick up her prarakeet. He was stiff ... lifeless ... and dead. She'd placed the parakeet over her heart; when I kissed and hugged her, he'd gotten squashed. 

"Oh, no... Ramon!" Briselda said, looking at me with tears flowing. I didn't know what to do. I was feeling dizzy.

"My friend?" said Briselda.

I shook my head and ran. I passed Mr. Vega, who was walking towards Briselda.

***

Outside, I jumped into the truck and fired up the engine.

"Well, did you get what you wanted?" my mother asked. If she only knew. ---I got what I wanted, but I didn't get what I wanted.

Just then, the door to the store opened and out came Briselda and Mr. Vega, with dead Ramon in his hand. They looked at us. Briselda was in tears. Mr. Vega's face was red and angry. His dark eyes pierced me. My mother smiled and waved at them.

"Goodbye, Mr. Vega ...I'll miss you," said my mother, with a big smile.

I drove out of the parking lot quickly. I saw Mr. Vega run after us.

"STOP!" yelled my mother. "I think he wants something."

I floored the gas pedal. The truck sputtered as I kicked it into high gear and raced out onto the road for home.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" my mother asked.

I began to cry.

"What did you do?"

"I-I-I ... kissed her," I said.

My mother was in shock. Her eyes went wide at first, then she had a little smile.

"Well...that’s no reason to cry," my mother said.

I stared at the dirt road ahead of me, feeling lost. My mother kept looking at me with a curious smile.

"Well... I guess supermarkets don’t have everything," she mumbled.


Submitted: January 02, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Stories by Boz. All rights reserved.

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