The Best Short Story

James J. Cudney IV Survival of the Fittest

Mary knew that she was lost, again, as soon as she passed the sign for squash. It's not every day that someone gets lost in the grocery store, but after shopping on her own for 65 years, Mary is lucky enough if she remembers to take her own car down to the Shop Rite. Last time, she must have forgotten that she walked down. When she finished paying for her groceries, she tried taking home someone else's beetle. It was one of those new ones with the fancy colors. Bright yellow. Looked like the pudding that they served in her old home she thought.

Joey Finney, one of the local cops, was forced to tell Mary that she had one more chance before he had to put her in the clink. Mary asked him why he wanted to go roller-skating. She had a problem hearing sometimes, too. Joey just smiled and laughed that silly laugh of his. "Ahahaha. Hahaha. Ahahaha. Awww... Mary, one of these days you're gonna kill me."

Joey Finney is the cop who usually comes to Mary's rescue. He's pretty cute. He has big brown eyes, a crew cut and dimples that light up his face. Last time he picked Mary up for shoplifting, she told him that he looked familiar. "You remind me of Clark Gable in some ways, Joey, not that I ever met Clark Gable. I mean, don't get me wrong, I was quite a thing back in my day, hehehe, but I never met Clark Gable. Only Johnny Carson. Now he was worth the trouble it took me to get him. I was so sick that night. We went down to the pub across the street from the old Mooney Theatre. Had us some whiskey and tequila. Harsh stuff... keeps my old ticker going, though."

"Mary, did you really meet Johnny Carson?" asked the brown-eyed cop.

"Don't sass me, young man. If I tell you I met him, then I met him. Mind your manners. They say I have Alzheimer's, Joey. I don't really have it. I just like to keep 'em on their toes. My daughter tells me that I shouldn't have left the home. Pshaw. What does she know? She's not an 80-year-old woman who gets treated like a homeless crapper."

As Mary passed the squash for the third time in the Shop Rite, she laughed. "I can't believe this damn squash is following me around. It won't leave me alone." She leaned over to a woman in miniskirt who had a tiny baby in the cart.

"Scuse me, missus. Do you happen to know how to get to the deli? I seem to be lost," Mary questioned her. "And I can't seem to get my bearings straight."

"What? Are you talking to me? The deli? It's on the other side of the store. Is this your first time here?" replied the young mother with a queer eye.

"No... what are you talking about? I shop here every week. Fact, this is my third time here this week. I keep forgetting to buy me some squash. That's what I was looking for."

"Yeah... sure lady. You have a nice day." And she walked away rather rapidly steering her cart as far away from Mary as possible, snickering the whole time.

It always happens that way. People look at Mary like she's stupid. They see her clingy cotton dress with the holes in it. Then they get a whiff of hospital smell, you know, that dingy old sock smell that seems to soak into your pores no matter if you spend three minutes or three days in the place.

Mary pushed off to find her way to cookies. They were her favorite treat. She stopped a man who was trying to decide between bran cereal and oatmeal.

"Sonny, take it from me. Bran will give you the shits. Go for the oatmeal. You can eat it hot; you can eat it cold. It never gets old. Ha. Haaa." And she hit him across the arm. "I made a funny."

"Look lady, leave me alone. Go back to your box on the comer. Stop bothering me."

Mary didn't hear him say those words because she was on her way to the chocolate chip cookies. She loved the ones with the extra chips cause they always tasted so good. "Chips, chips, chips, so good for me. Wish I could have them all the time, hehehe... " And she continued down the aisle. She never even saw the people staring at her; she was too wrapped up in tryin- to get everything on her list.

She made her way to the drug aisle. Her eyes had that glazed over look. She was determined to find something. Mike, the sandy-haired stock boy tried not to laugh. He leaned over to his friend. "Hey Court, Mary's back. You know what she's lookin' for."

Every time Mary passed the drug aisle, she had a habit of picking up several boxes of condoms. No one understood why she insisted on buying them. After every purchase, she would always mumble out loud about how she was gonna make some water balloons 'cause she didn't have herself a man. But she always gave the butcher the eye. She'd wink at him, and flick her hips quick to the right. Once she threw her back out, and they had to rush her to the Emergency Room.

As she made her way to the meat counter, she yelled to the butcher, "Hey sweetie. Got anything for me?" And she waved the box of condoms in the air just high enough for everyone to see.

That was usually the time that the manager came out of his little office in the back next to the meat counter. He was a nice guy most of the time, but he couldn't let Mary go on anymore.

"Look, Mary. You can't be bothering everyone. Get on with what you came for."

Mary looked at him and laughed. "Oh, bite me Mister Manager. That's what my granddaughter says to the boys at school. She's a feisty one, I tell ya."

And so, Mary went to the register to pay for her condoms, cookies, hamburger meat and squash.

"That'll be eighteen dollars and thirty cents, Mary," said the curly-haired girl behind the register.

Mary paid her bill, and walked out without saying anything. As soon as she got passed the revolving door, she took the squash out of the bag, and threw it on the ground. "Aw, crap. What did I buy this for? I don't need no damn squash."

And she made her way to the narrow side street that would lead her to her apartment on Conklin Avenue. "Did I take the car today?" she asked herself as she stepped off the curb.

But it didn't matter. Mary would find her way home. She always did. At least this time, she didn't get a visit from Joey. He would have been mad at her. Mary started mumbling out loud. "Damn Shop Rite. Charge too much for stuff. Where's my squash? I know I bought some squash. Little witch at the register probably stole it from me. They always take my squash. Need it for dinner tonight. Awww... who cares? I'll have me some chocolate chip cookies."

She walked in her front door, and started frying up some hamburger meat for her mangy collie. "Come on, boy. Grandma's got dinner."

Mary fed the dog, and ate her chocolate chip cookies. Her day was complete. She got some fresh air, she bought some food, she narrowly missed running into Joey, and she got home safe.

After washing up the frying pan, Mary filled up the condoms with some water from the leaky faucet, and she went to the front window. Opening it up just a crack, she started dropping the filled water balloons on her neighbor's pink pelican garden toy. "Bombs away you little suckers. And they say I have Alzheimers. I know what I'm doing. I made it home, didn't I?"

 

Prizes:

George S. Diamond Prizes
Beck Shakespeare Prize

English Prize
The Erskine Prize
Zinzendorf Prize
Beck Oratorial Prizes