Two Oranges (Flash Fiction)

When I got in line, the guy in front of me walked off and muttered something under his breath. I don’t know what it was, but I heard enough to know he was pissed. I had noticed earlier that the line wasn’t moving much before, when I was trying to decide which liquor bottle to take home with me. They were all so enticing, but expensive. I finally settled on some Vodka that was on sale—it seems like that shit is always on sale—and I grabbed some CranApple as well. And some OJ. I really couldn’t decide which I was in the mood for, so I got both. It’s good to cover those bases.

But the line wasn’t moving too well and I noticed they opened another checker up. They had to. It was almost midnight and just the one line was going, but this lady had jammed things up pretty good. I wasn’t really in a hurry, just enjoying my buzz and looking forward to adding to it. I had to piss though, that’s for sure. One thing about drinking, the need to go comes outta nowhere.

It was easy to figure out. She was using the welfare or EBT or whatever it was to pay. She had these big checks, big and bulky and printed in a way that only a government agency would go about dispensing assistance. The lady paying was older, but not that much older, and it looked like her daughter that was with her. And it looked like her daughter was holding what was probably the grandson. Three generations at the store together at midnight, holding up the line.

She was buying everything in separate instances. I guess so the checks would clear or something. I don’t know. I kept shifting my feet cause I really needed to piss now. She looked Indian or maybe Mexican, but mostly Indian I guess. Probably a mix of both. She set these three oranges down and there was a small exchange between her and the clerk. I didn’t hear, I wasn’t paying attention, but it amounted to her having to put one orange back. When I noticed this, that she couldn’t afford the three oranges, I started looking at what were in her bags. Off-brand foods and things like beans and rice. The clerk takes one of the oranges and sets it aside and I’m watching now, really starting to pay attention, really starting to see the hard lines that are carved into this woman’s face, her old clothes, the ashamed looked in her daughter’s eyes. At least I think it’s her daughter. It’s gotta be.

She opens up this small coin purse and digs around for some change. Not paper, change. She hands the clerk the coins and the clerk comes back with a small amount of pennies, and this woman takes them. Not like someone who takes change because they’re supposed to even if they don’t really want it, but with need. With hunger. She takes these pennies and tucks them away in this old coin purse as though they’ll somehow add up to something someday. Maybe another orange or a diaper or maybe a piece of beef jerky. She took them like she needed them, needed pennies.

I looked at my things then, the handle of vodka and bottles of juice. I don’t even know if the juice is on sale. It occurs to me that I could have bought the off-brand as well. It doesn’t fucking matter when you’re mixing it with vodka. She glances at me and I feel compelled to look away, as if I’m not supposed to see her or maybe it’s not polite to stare.

I wonder if she’s one of the truly needy that can’t afford to drink. Not like those lying bums that beg for spare change and drink it away. That’s gotta be her daughter there with her. And that’s gotta be her daughter’s kid. But it’s hard to tell. The girl is so young and the lines on the woman’s face are so jagged and deep. She probably works a lot in the fields, in the sun.

They leave and I’m glad cause I really gotta piss. I finally get home and get back to it. I ended up drinking a lot that night, but it all felt a little different. For awhile now, there have been these pennies sitting on my desk. Just junk change. I finally got around to putting them in the spare change jar I have on my dresser upstairs.

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