by Cara Long

Her trip to the grocery store has been a bust, which she realizes as she’s standing in line at the checkout, surveying her items. She forgot the bread, she has no vegetables and there’s only three frozen dinners. The cashier asks how she’s doing. She says, “Fine.” He says, “That’s good. I’m doing well myself.” She looks at him. He’s young, maybe 19 or 20. Probably back home from college or something. She says nothing. He rings her out — she’s still managed to spend $75. The cashier hands her the receipt. “You have a great day,” he says.

As she waits for the bus home with her bags, she contemplates going back inside to get bread. But the bus is supposed to come in eight minutes and she doesn’t want to miss it. An old man lights up his cigarette inside the bus shelter. She says, “Excuse me,” and points to the no smoking sign. He steps outside the shelter and she shakes her head. “Miserable people,” she mutters to herself.

The bus arrives three minutes late and the old man boards first. He fumbles around in his wallet to pay, which irritates her. She moves past him, swiping her fare. She doesn’t say “excuse me” when she bumps his leg with her bag. The bus is nearly empty, for which she is grateful. She takes a seat near the rear entrance. The old man sits in front. She resists the urge to glare at him by focusing her attention out the window. Cars move past them on the left. If they have passengers, they stare into the bus. She stares back. Some kid crosses his eyes at her and she does it back, much to his delight. That’s the only thing she appreciates about kids – their disregard for convention.

She pulls the cord for her stop, and the driver holds back the people at the stop so she can exit before they board. She thanks him. Once off the bus, she rearranges her bags on her shoulders and begins the short walk home. She does this every Sunday, same time. She often worries about her routine, but breaking it doesn’t make sense. On the walk home she smiles and nods at a few people she knows from the neighborhood. One of them tells her that he wishes he walked as much as her. He shakes his gut while he talks and says, “If I did, I bet I wouldn’t have this.” She smiles and says “Have a nice day.” She’s not that good at banter, and she wants to get home.

Once she does, she puts the frozen dinners away first. Then she unloads everything else. She bought cornstarch. She chastises herself for remembering to buy cornstarch, but not bread. She sighs and puts everything away. She looks around her kitchen. There’s coffee spilled on the stove, so she wipes it up. She turns off the light and remembers that she also forgot to buy fish food.

Cara Long lives and works in New York State. Her first collection of short stories, Partly Gone, was released in June through Unsolicited Press. A Greek translation was released through Strange Days Books.