As I reached for the organic cucumber, a woman wearing
a polka dot dress over pajama bottoms and bunny slippers
grabbed for the same one.
With our hands clutching opposite ends of the vegetable
as if it meant the difference between survival
and a slow wasting death,
we locked eyes in a grim battle
of foraging supremacy.
“Go ahead, take it,” she said, shaking her head.
“What does it matter? Who needs a cucumber?
Haven’t you heard? It’s the end times.”
Now normally I try not to get into discussions
while shopping, where I find desolation
and abomination aplenty, not to mention
tribulations in the checkout line.
But the woman looked so distraught even the bunnies
on her slippers had little screamy faces.
“Oh, it’s not as bad as that, is it? Look at this
tomato? Have you ever seen such a masterpiece?
Almost a shame to eat it. I’d put it on my mantel if I could.”
I paused and smiled at the woman, but she wasn’t
“You poor stupid schmuck,” she said. “Yes, go
buy your beautiful tomato and don’t forget your cucumber.
Make yourself a divine salad and enjoy your last meal
while you look out your window and watch the world end.”
Her comment returned me to the salad I planned
to toss that night, and I grabbed a head of romaine
and some radishes. “What makes you think the world
is coming to an end?” I asked as non-judgmentally
as I could, deciding while I was at it to grab some
carrots, mushrooms, and a red cabbage.
“Open your eyes,” she said. “Downtown’s underwater
and the hills are on fire. They’re rioting in the streets
and the locusts are eating everything.
Arabs and Jews still at each other’s throats.
Forty countries now at war while nuclear weapons are being
baked liked cookies. And just look at that wilted lettuce.
What is the world coming to?”
Tears streamed down her face and she began to wail
and gnash her teeth, which for some strange reason
I have always found irresistibly appealing,
though the streaks and gobs of mascara
around her eyes made her look like a crazed panda.
“There, there,” I said, which seemed at the time
a pretty dumb thing to say but was all I could think of,
having recently heard it in a Turner Classic movie
starring Jimmy Stewart.
Tenderly I dabbed her eyes with my handkerchief,
which fortunately was still unused that morning.
I put my arm around her and we walked together
out the store, stopping only briefly in
the checkout line to pay for my produce.
And that night, we made a salad that couldn’t be beat,
then gripped each other tightly and watched in wonder
as the sun got redder and redder in the west, swelling to
twice its size before bursting apart into those magic colors
you see only at times like these.
Gene Twaronite is a Tucson poet, essayist, and children’s fiction writer. He is the author of ten books, including two juvenile fantasy novels as well as collections of essays, short stories, and poems. His first poetry book Trash Picker on Mars was the winner of the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Arizona poetry. Other poetry collections include The Museum of Unwearable Shoes and What the Gargoyle Sees, published by Kelsay Books. Follow more of Gene’s writing at his website: thetwaronitezone.com.