Caroline Wilkinson



The President of the United States declared:  Nothing is more important than our nation’s children.  A girl was begging for a candy bar.  Daphne opened her list of produce codes.  Everything in between ginger root and melon was missing.  She checked to see if the customer was looking up at the price screen, and she was.  With hostile reverence, the woman was clutching the weekly circular to her chest so that “The Can-tastic Sale!” looked like a cruel caption to her formidable head.  Suspended from brain wires, two miniature teddy bears nodded below her ears.  She now was staring at Daphne, who quickly glanced down at the keypad.

Daphne rang in the grapes as fifty cents on miscellaneous produce.  The considerable deal did not give the woman peace.  She was still waiting to get ripped off, and why not?  Daphne would have waited herself, but why wait?  One can after another after another, sliding by the electronic eye like a train on underpaid tracks.  Daphne was being ripped off already, but she knew she should feel sorry for the unreal victims:  the illustrated infants who were staring through the dented bars of shopping carts.  The babies on the front of the diaper packages were searching for the right kind of mother.  Their vacant eyes gazed through Daphne and into the exhausted face of the next woman in line.  Cans of formula, jars of pureed vegetables.  The coupon machine with its “personalized savings” spit out the abundant tickertape that it saved for parents.  Nothing said Baby Steps like the fifty-cent coupons that came out for expensive products for infants.  Daphne handed the coupons to the woman, who handed back the same coupons, only about a week older and a little crumpled.

The President of the United States, repeating himself on the hour, said:  Nothing is more important than our nation’s children.  Standing in line, a person in a conspicuous wig pulled a woman’s magazine from the racks.  The cover read:  “Small Skills!  Big Rewards!  Instant Confidence!”  While reading about how to exfoliate her lips with a toothbrush, the person fingered the ends of wig.  The fake hair shone, kinky and silent as unwound audiotape.

TAX EXEMPT, FOOD-STAMP EXEMPT, PRICE, PRODUCE 299.   Daphne rang up a bouquet of carnations before looking through her laminated list for another code— but there were two for pineapple.  Was this one Hawaiian or Caribbean?  She flipped over the booklet hanging from the thick neck of the pineapple, but all she found was a recipe for “Scrumptious Upside-down Cake.” 

While driving home, she remembered once seeing a tape in the manager’s office labeled:  “Failure to play this cassette during all business hours will result in immediate termination.”  Textures were rising to the top of the mountainous land like blood pooling under the skin of the dead. 

Daphne cried out.  Her groceries skidded to a stop at the bottom of her long driveway.  Her fingers brushed a paw print.  Pressed into the thick ice, the print bore the weight of anonymity.  The bear that had pushed its print into the ice lived just beneath the Great and Little Bears, who were shining among the immortals in heaven.  Here on the top of the mountain, earthly life brushed the sky’s underbelly.  Daphne felt the weight of heaven against the back of her neck as she crawled across the icy driveway to her door.


Copyright © 2002 Caroline Wilkinson.  All Rights Reserved.

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