The New Millennium Supermarket Blues


By Beth O'Sullivan

          I stand in the checkout line of a late twentieth century food co-op. I hear the chocolate bar on display speak to me:
          “Psst…kid…over here.”
          I push my cart forward five centimeters into the heels of a Medusa-look-a-like-in-chains who stands in front of me. Folding my arms with great conviction I turn my back on the chocolate. It isn’t daunted.
          “Psst…over here…lift me up and open me.”
          I face the demon, pick it up and read the ingredients, thankful that it can’t pick me up and read my ingredients and I wonder at the fate of humankind. What instincts brought me to this moment in time, standing in the evening light of the supermarket?
          How did it come to pass that rice from the fields of Asia rested in a cauldron from the factories of Wales next to coca from Columbia, sugar cane from Barbados, vanilla from Madagascar and dairy from Wisconsin (fields of my birth)? As I ponder the ingredients of the evil chocolate bar, map lines of explorer trade routes get all tangled up in my brain. As I bear the chocolate away into my cart, I imagine myself turban-headed atop an Indian elephant spiriting a few grains of rice across the continent of Asia, westward towards its future culinary fate.
          The cashier reaches across the conveyor belt and shakes me before I realize that I am in the front of the line with the conveyor belt perpetually moving nothing towards its destination like a metaphor for my life.
          Out on the sidewalk I unlock my bike and delicately balance four bags of groceries at my bicycle’s acupuncture points so that everything will stay in perfect alignment and I won’t scatter my life all over the street on my way home: two bags on one handlebar, one on the other, and one in the middle on the back. I don my helmet and begin to position my body into the delicate balance equation. 
          The chocolate is relentless. “Yoo hoo! Dahlink! Over here!”
          From the bottom of one of the bags, I exhume and consume my nemesis so that, like the moon, I too can wax. I refigure the equations of balance based on the new incarnation of the chocolate bar and ease out into traffic, wobbling at first like a drunken whooping crane. I pass Medusa-in-chains of undecipherable sex who stands at the corner of Pearl Street as if she/he were about to dive for pearls, smoking a cigarette. Who, I wonder, does she/he chain him/herself to at night? Probably the frail-looking old lady who steps out of the bank as I pass by. She in turn spends her days knocking off banks all over New England. 
          The old lady starts walking towards a huddle of men in gas safety uniforms standing around a manhole. She’ll light a match and throw it into the gas leak, Central Square will implode: my delicate balance will be rocked and I’ll fly sky high, something I’ve always dreamed of doing on my bicycle.   
          I can see myself flying over the rooftop of the food co-op, my grocery bags swinging from the bike and I, hands on my hat instead of the handlebars, grinning against the pink-streaked sky. I must find some other outlet for my creativity before my imagination creates a world from which there is no exit.
          I long for poetry, for lyrical words, for wisdom and rhythms. Why does my inner muse have to be a kvetching candy bar?
          I pedal faster and faster as if escape were possible. I see a man sleeping in a doorway. I see a woman sitting alone on a bench with a shopping cart of dusters and rags, of plastic flowers, a broken answering machine and other refuse of the street. I see a young woman talking to herself. The evening light reflected off of a car window at her side is so bright that I can see how she has mistaken the light for a companion.
          The shadows of amber make everything seem lonely. Is not the human condition a state of exile?
          “Exile schmexile,” my inner-voice-chocolate-bar-muse calls up from the bowels of my body and soul. “You think you’re in exile? What about me? Let it suffice to say that I am far from home and no longer in my intended shape. According to some theologies, intention is everything.”
          What, I wonder, are my intentions? As I pedal home a star appears on the horizon. I see myself far from the confines of this city in a home where dreams become intentions and intentions become dreams. There I will write whenever the evening’s amber descends. But as I round the bend, the grocery bags pull me down towards the earth and, like my inner-muse-chocolate, I too am far from home.


Two patrons enable Beth O’Sullivan to write in Paris two months a year. She advocates for others to support individual artists. Patronship enabled To Kill A Mockingbird to be written. Recent publications appear in Tower Journal, Belle Reve, 99 Pine Street and After Happy Hour Review.