I felt like I’ve neglected my horror writing, so I decided to go out into the world to see what would scare me. It’s one of my horror writing exercises and sometimes I get more out of it than I expect. The plan was to go to the grocery store, drop off some dry cleaning, and then point my car in the direction of Washington DC. Weird shit was always happening in the nation’s capital, and I wanted to prop myself up either at a protest rally, Georgetown, or the train station and wait for inspiration to punch me in the face.
Who knew I’d find what I was looking for at the supermarket?
At around 11:00, I went into the grocery store to pick up a few items. I planned on entertaining a few friends of mine later in the evening. We hadn’t seen one another in over a year due to the pandemic, and we planned on catching up over some seafood, wine, and music.
When I entered the grocery store, I sighed in frustration. There were many more shoppers than I anticipated, and I begrudgingly relinquished my plans for a speedy exit. I mumbled something under my breath about people not being in their offices, blah, blah, blah, and then set about the task of shopping. As usual, I made my way down the aisles, picking up what I needed and a few things I knew my waistline didn’t appreciate.
As soon as I turned the corner leading to the produce section, I saw a wild-looking old woman rummaging through the fruit. Usually, I’d paid grocery shoppers no mind, but the spectacle of this woman was so contrary to what I usually encountered that I couldn’t look away.
The woman wore an oversized brown fur coat that looked like a bear was straddling her back. Sitting atop the woman’s head was a dusty gray hat/wig. It was a hat/wig because she wore it like a hat, tilted with the dry curls hanging over her left eye like a visor trying to block the sun. There was makeup caked on her face so thick that her skin shimmered from sweat, accentuating each deep wrinkle in her orange, maybe white-colored skin. On each of her fingers, the woman wore large diamond rings – I mean, on every finger.
She was mumbling continuously and rummaging through the fruit like she’d lost one of her precious diamonds inside one of the boxes. Her eyes were shifty, like a thief’s, darting first towards the door and then to every person that moved. Occasionally she’d stand upright and stare at the door for twenty seconds as if she were waiting for someone to walk through. But after two or three patrons entered, she returned to digging in the fruit.
Suddenly she grabbed a handful of grapes and shoved them into her mouth. She swallowed them whole without chewing and then looked around again to see if anyone noticed. Eventually, she sensed my presence and grimaced at me with a look I can only describe as nutty. I pretended not to notice her and pushed my cart along the aisle. When she felt comfortable that I wasn’t watching, the woman grabbed another handful of fruit and thrust them into her mouth – this time, a long line of pink drool stretched from her mouth to her hand buried in the grapes. She quickly wiped it away, but she forgot to close her mouth, and the unchewed grape skins fell out onto the other produce.
I was horrified and disgusted. How often had the woman come into the store performing the same unsanitary ritual? I ate produce from this supermarket regularly. How many saliva-covered pieces of fruit had I consumed? My eyes shot to and fro, searching for a sales associate with the skill to intervene. I say skill because the woman seemed confrontational and might snap at anyone with the balls to interrupt her free fruit banquet. No one was around.
Disgusted beyond belief, I decided it was up to me to confront the woman. As if speaking to an elderly woman was the most macho thing in the world, I pulled my baseball cap down on my head, straightened my mask, grabbed my balls, and began pushing my cart towards the woman.
Suddenly, as if she sensed my presence, the woman lifted her head and gave me a look so cold that I damn near shit my pants. It was then that I noticed one of her eyes was swollen and bloodshot, making her glare even more alarming. Soon a strange smell hit me in the face; the scent of sweaty socks, arthritis ointment, and rotting oranges almost made me throw up. My courage changed to chickenshit instantly, and I paused, looking for a way to make it seem like I was moving towards the nearby apples. But the jig was up. The woman’s gaze shot thunderbolts into me, and I stood paralyzed.
“I’ll kill that bitch!” she growled.
I didn’t know what to do, so I bent over and pretended to look in my cart.
“If you bring that little cunt to my house again, I’ll boil water and throw it on her stupid face!”
I couldn’t resist looking at the woman. I stood up and stared.
“What?” I asked.
The old woman moved close to my shopping cart and slapped her diamond-covered hand across the metal frame.
“Sometimes you need to tell her to shut the fuck up! You’re supposed to be the man, ain’t you? Stop acting like a goddamned pussy!”
One of the other female shoppers heard the woman and quickly made her hasty getaway down the opposite aisle. But me? I was stuck.
“Goddamned nosy bitch! Always running her trap! Tell her to shut up!”
Finally, a voice called out from the deli counter halfway across the store.
“Is that you, Ms. Eastman? You shopping with your son today?”
In seconds, a young teenage boy walked over to us and engaged the woman.
“Did Eric come with you?” the boy asked as he nodded for me to make my exit.
The woman’s face lit up, and her whole demeanor changed.
“It’s you, Eric. You came to take me home?”
“No, Ms. Eastman. I’m Taylor. You want me to call Eric for you?”
The woman looked down at the chewed grapes and began to cry.
“I’m sorry, I made a mess. Here, I’ll pay for it.”
The woman reached into her bag and pulled out a wad of cash.
“No, Ms. Eastman. Put that away. Eric will take care of it when he gets here. Just let me call him for you.”
“Oh, he’s not going to come. That butt ugly cunt of a wife of his wants to lock me up in a nuthouse.”
The store clerk took the woman’s arm into his own, grabbed a small basket of strawberries, and began moving towards the bench at the store entrance.
“I’ll call Eric now, okay? You just sit here while I make the phone call. Why don’t you try these fresh strawberries while I’m gone?”
The clerk led the woman over to the bench, and she sat down to eat her berries. Me? I got the hell out of there, scared for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes my horror writing exercises can produce some pretty lame results.