Count on Erica B. to scan and bag your groceries so fast you’ll be home before your cat can miss you. Count on Erica B. to break your heart in two minutes flat each week. Don’t get caught staring at her nails, long cherry-twist icicles. The gunmetal piercings that snake through her ears. Her hair, blond with don’t-give-a-fuck chestnut roots.
When she asks, “Want these chips in a separate bag?” imagine her husky voice is from smoking, but only smoking when drinking, which you imagine she doesn’t do often. She works flexible hours to care for her sick mom.
Realize she’s staring and spurt out, “Whatever you like best,” and momentarily avert your gaze.
Watch her bag the chips separately. Then study the pendulum of her hand as she skates your selections over the scanner. Frozen pancakes blip by. Canned peaches. She places these together. She knows your favorite breakfast combo. Cringe as steak in Styrofoam arrives. She’s probably an environmentalist. She loathes people who buy things in non-biodegradable packaging.
Let her get distracted by an old man heaving a case of water onto the belt. Her spite for you pauses. “Leave it on your cart,” Erica B. commands.
Picture Saturdays at the bar with her on your lap. Drunken laughter overwhelming as your friend groups meet. Spend slow Sunday mornings eating homemade muffins, snuggling while her cat and yours get acquainted. Afternoons gathering fresh fruit at farmers markets. Agree to let her mother move in.
When Erica B. asks, “Cash back?” —exactly the girl of your dreams, and exactly a girl who’d never dream of you—shiver as her gaze lingers on your bicep lifting the heaviest bag.
JAMES D’ANGELO is an attorney and mediator from Philadelphia. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Western Michigan University where he served as fiction editor at Third Coast. His work has appeared in Hearth & Coffin Literary Journal, Fiery Scribe Review, Third Wednesday Magazine, and Bacopa Literary Review, where it won the Fiction First Prize in 2020. He’s querying a novel about two sisters surviving the foster care system.
The art published alongside this story is by Anna Buckley.