Kensho at the Piggly Wiggly
At the Piggly Wiggly on Race Street the only two check-out girls on duty were working the same register —the store was dead as Judas—and discussing various topics such as boys, the recent local boom in natural gas, and whether or not Christopher Reeves could still perform even though he was paralyzed. Meredith thought yes, he just wouldn’t feel it, but June disagreed. After that topic grew stale June leaned against the silver counter where people signed checks and credit card receipts. She wrapped her arms around herself, her eyes growing distant, her mouth slackening to an emotionless line.
June had recently wondered aloud whether her father, who’d killed himself when the girls were young, had found the best solution to all of this—she spread her hands out—all of this emptiness. And Meredith had known something drastic must be done.
“But hey, you know what?” Meredith said now, hoping a new topic might pull June out of it. “I just love brushing my teeth.”
“You just feel so clean afterward. You know?” Meredith said.
“Yeah.” Some light returned to June’s eyes. “For sure.”
“And,” Meredith said, “it’s great when you eat something that sticks to your teeth, and then you brush them. Like, have you ever eaten a banana? Like, eaten a banana, and then brushed your teeth?”
This really made June nod. “That is so true,” she said.
But then that topic died and June drifted off again, staring into space.
“Doesn’t it just seem pointless sometimes?” she said a moment later, her voice soft.
“Pointless?” Meredith asked, taking out her cell phone.
“Yeah. Like—like it’s just going to be the same thing over and over. And then you die, and that’s it. You know? And if that’s the whole thing, well, then what’s the point?”
Meredith held her phone up and wrote a text message. June returned to staring at the ground, clearly not expecting an answer. A few minutes later a maroon Oldsmobile pulled into the parking lot and began driving toward the Piggly Wiggly.
“Is that Billy?” June asked.
Meredith looked up. “Oh.” She looked concerned. “I wonder what he wants. He’s been acting so crazy lately.”
They watched as the Oldsmobile continued to approach. When it was at the last row of parking spots it still showed no signs of slowing.
“Meredith—he’s not stopping,” June said. The car was almost to the grocery store’s double doors. “Meredith, do something!”
Meredith left the checkout stand. She walked up to the sliding glass doors, which parted with a swish. As they opened the Oldsmobile glided through, clearing the doors by just a few inches on either side. It looked as if it had been planned that way—as if the driver had practiced it, getting the spacing down, the timing just right. It was that smooth. And as it happened June was aware of it being the strangest thing she had ever witnessed, which seemed a rare thing itself, to know in the moment of an event that the event was singular.
But then the car struck Meredith, the front fender plowing into her knee and knocking her down. She lay on the ground moaning, reaching at her leg. Billy jumped out and clambered over the hood to where she lay, calling her name. Meredith hissed something June couldn’t hear and Billy stood up and took a handgun out of his waist.
June’s wonder at the strange event quickly became a black hole in her stomach. Meredith had told her some frightening things about Billy the day before, things she had trouble believing, but now this seemed to confirm them. Her legs went weak, and she dropped out of sight behind the register.
June curled into the checkout counter as the sound of Billy’s boots squeaked toward her.
“Come on out,” Billy said, rapping his gun on the counter.
June stood, her arms shaking at her sides. Billy lifted the gun and a dark stain spread across the front of June’s green jeans.
“Oh no.” Billy looked over his shoulder, but Meredith opened her eyes wide and jerked her chin at him, and he turned back. “OK,” Billy said to June, pointing the gun at her face. “Let’s go.”
June got into the backseat of the Oldsmobile and Billy lifted Meredith into the front. He put the gun on the dash and reversed out of the store, pulling onto Race Street.
“Meredith,” he said, once they were driving. “Do you think it worked? I mean, can we tell her now?”
Meredith nodded, wincing at the pain in her leg.
“Hey June,” Billy said. “Hey—just kidding!”
He pointed the gun over his shoulder and shot a stream of water that hit her cheek. For a moment, she thought she’d been shot dead.
“Just what?” June said.
“Uh huh. Meredith planned the whole thing!”
“For you,” Meredith said weakly, holding one hand in the air and doing what her and June liked to call magic fingers.
June wasn’t sure how she felt. She looked out the window. Her heart was beating frantically, like it had before her first kiss. The smell of urine wafted strongly to her nose and she did not care. They drove by Mrs. Stockton’s house, its two front windows like empty eyes. They passed a rusted bike, tall grass and green tendrils interwoven in its frame.
She saw that the bike was blue. The same exact blue as the sky shining over them. Beyond the bike a crow stood on a post, preening its wings in the brilliant sunlight. The wings were not black as she had always thought but rather an iridescent indigo, a magnificent color.
June looked around, out the car’s other window. It was like that everywhere.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “This is just—this is just. Thank you.”