the writing disorder
the writing disorder logo


New Fiction


by Mercedes Lucero

      It's Margo, not Alex, who gets stuck holding a single carton of orange juice in the checkout lane that trails into the cereal aisle. There’s a fly that keeps coming back to her left ear and because the heat makes her too exhausted to try and swat at it, Margo keeps blowing air out the side of her mouth to keep it away. She's behind a man whose cell phone conversation makes her right eye ache. The line moves slowly and he's talking about the color of the smoke coming from his exhaust pipes and how it's not normal, is it, when the smoke is a dark bluish kind of color. And it isn't the way he moves his fat arms when he talks or even how his smell reminds her of the damp cupboard under her kitchen sink. It's more of the way she can see the back of his neck, covered in smoothed wet hairs and puffed out like a Blue-Jay’s white chest. It's the way she can see the slick surface of it move under the dim grocery store lights and the way the sweat rolls down in scattered patterns into the stiff collar of his shirt. Margo wonders if this is what she has to go through just to get some orange juice. And she doesn’t even like orange juice.

       It was the way Alex had said it, though.
       “We're out of orange juice?”
       Margo hadn't even been looking at him when he'd said it that morning. She hadn't even seen the way his face looked as the words rose up into his mouth the way she imagined bubbles rising to the surface of some muddied lake. No, she'd been looking at the patterns on the kitchen towels. In particular, the way the eye of the little girl embroidered on one of them was beginning to fray. The girl, who was carrying flowers to a distant house, didn’t look as happy as Margo had always thought of her but rather at that instant, devastating.
       And she didn't see the way he'd said it, but she could imagine it. Imagined the way his lungs had expanded beneath his chest. The way the gold chain she'd given him on their anniversary probably moved softly for a moment, growing dull against his neck. The way his tongue had rolled in waves as the muscle contracted against the roof and sides of his mouth. Against the smooth parts of his teeth. The way his lips had puffed up to form the word “juice” and the way he had probably opened his lips just wide enough to expose the chip on his incisor from playing basketball when he was a boy.
       Mostly it was the way he'd inflected the statement, the way the end of it rose sharp through the air like heat. The way she could feel it on the bony part on the back of her neck, the part of her that didn't get touched anymore.

       Margo recalls the moment thinking it was almost as irritating as the fly that now would not leave her alone. She shifts her weight to one leg. She has one fist crumpling a few dollars and can feel the only item she came in for, a carton of orange juice, no pulp, slipping through her sweaty palms. She doesn't care that the blonde on channel seven's morning news had told viewers with a perfected tilt of the head that it was “gonna be a hot one today, folks” or that she can feel a faint trickle of sweat making its way behind her ear.
       She cradles the juice against her stomach and moves it to one side so she can wipe the sweat off one hand on the front part of her jeans. The warmth settles itself around her and over her and she can feel her cheeks flush pink. It presses itself into her and she keeps her mouth open to breathe in the thickness of it. Margo won't be the one to ask the young female cashier whose name tag reads “Rosie,” if the air conditioner's broke when it's her turn, mostly because of the way Rosie is wearing dark lipstick and has silver hoop earrings that hang to her shoulders. Young girls who wear dark lipstick and hoop earrings, Margo thinks, can't be bothered with questions like that.
       But Margo doesn't ask many questions to begin with. The questions she does ask are often left unanswered.
       If she was the type of person who asked questions she would have asked her son, Jesse, why he couldn't just ask for extra-credit in his Algebra class to raise his grade. She would have asked why he wants to wear his pants tight and his hair long. Why he paints his fingernails with her nail polish. She would have, at some point, asked her mother why she always looked tired in pictures. She would have asked her father what music he had wanted played at his funeral.
       She would have asked Alex to buy his own orange juice.
       When a sixth-grade Ricky had said to a fourth-grade Margo that she looked like a little bird while they were out on the playground, she would have asked him why. She would have asked him why before the other boys began to chant “little bird” at her. Before they chirped and tweeted and made bird noises at her in the hallways. Before they said her hair looked like bird feathers.
       Of course she had always thought her face was kind of small. A bird's face. Always thought her nose was pointed in such a way it looked like the beak of a bird. But she wanted to hear all of those things from Ricky's mouth. So she would've asked Ricky why.
       But she didn't.
       Instead she would spend the next several decades turning into the little bird he spoke of and she would start doing the things that little birds do. She would pick up change in parking lots and get backaches at an early age. She would make friends with other little birds and they would spend lunch in the library pecking at each others ham sandwiches. She would get allergies and spend Friday nights alone. She would keep an unlocked diary that no one would ever read. When she got older she would get prescriptions she couldn't tell her family about. Little birds were always doing things like that. But of all the things little birds did, there were more things they didn't do.
       So she stands in line in silence and lets the yellow light flicker above her. But it's Rosie who shuts off her checkout light and says, without looking up, that her register just froze. The man in front of Margo turns and looks into her eyes with the phone still pressed into his ear and says, “You've got to be fucking kidding me.”
       Margo shudders a little. The little bird inside her grows small, crawls into its nest and looks away. But the heat is migrating through her body, from somewhere deep within her. She doesn’t even like orange juice and she’s the one buying it.
       “It's unfortunate,” she says to him, “It's upsetting isn't it?”
       His eyes search her for a moment and he bends his neck forward as if he didn't hear her.
       “Isn't it?” Margo says. Her tone is laced with heat and hardens.
       He doesn't answer. He says nothing and looks past her. She watches him walk to the now, only open checkout lane in the store adjusting his bread and bag of chips with one arm. The line wraps itself around the watermelon crates and Margo sighs.
       Rosie walks away from her register, to the breakroom to text a boy her parents say will end up in prison, Margo is sure. The line scatters to the other checkout lane, like ants trying to get back into formation. The juice grows warm as she makes her way towards it.
       At the end of the new line, she meets an elderly woman in a long sweater and house slippers whose basket is filled with cans of cat food, stacked in neat little towers. The woman stops. Margo shifts the orange juice against her stomach. She sees the woman glance at it. The woman shoves her cart forward and Margo slides next in line behind her.
       She’s upset that she didn’t just go in front of the old lady. Now Margo knows she will be here much longer and the heat grows heavier over her. She feels the warmth thrash itself inside of her.
       “Of course we don't want your cats to go hungry,” Margo says.
       The woman does not turn around. She does not look at Margo. She does not say anything at all. There's a small forceful sigh released that Margo is unsure is meant for her.

       Margo hadn't answered Alex when he'd asked about the orange juice. She hadn't answered him at all. She was still staring at the frayed eye of the girl on the kitchen towel when he started talking about something else. About Jesse's grades. About the way his teacher had told them at the last meeting that he “lacked focus.”
       Margo had looked up and said how Jesse just needed to apply himself to which Alex replied, “Well that goes without saying.”
       He was always saying things like that. It made Margo's skin hot.
       Margo had gone back to studying the girl’s eye. He asked her if she could grab some orange juice after work. The store was on the way home.
       She listened as Alex moved his chair against the wooden floor. She listened as he stood up and left down the hallway, his footsteps growing softer and quieter until she could no longer hear him at all.

       It's the woman with the puffed-up hair buying the birthday cake whose credit card gets declined. The cashier, a boy who could be Jesse's age asks the lady to swipe her card again. The cashier calls for a manager. Margo wipes the sweat from her forehead. The juice is not cold anymore. The carton feels soggy.
       New cashier, Margo thinks. Of course he is. His shirt's tucked in and his khaki pants aren't wrinkled. His hair is combed to the side. His name is Tyler and Margo says it under her breath. Says it because of the way he keeps looking up at his line. At the long angry faces in it. At the kids on the hips of their mothers. At the constant sighs making their way towards him. At the way his eyes look up at her. Says it because Margo knows a little bird when she sees one.
       She feels a thread of sweat trickle down her spine. She can feel the back of her knees sticking to her jeans. There's a stream of golden light coming through the store's front windows and she can feel that too, hot and irritating on her skin.
       The boy behind her whimpers from his little throat when his mother puts the candy back on the shelf. Margo laughs a little bird laugh. It's short and clipped and makes little jabs into the air.
       “You'll get used to it,” Margo says to him.
       The mother looks up at her and pulls her son closer.
       The manager presses some buttons on the register. The old lady with cat food fans herself with a tabloid magazine. The comments grow louder from the back of the line how this is just simply ridiculous and would it be too much trouble to open more registers? The carton of juice still rests against Margo's stomach.
       She laughs again and looks down to see the way the little boy behind her whines at his mother. He's scrunched up his hands into tiny fists and stomps his leg against the scratched linoleum. Margo laughs and the mother looks up at her again, this time longer than before. The mother opens her mouth to say something, but doesn't.
       Margo laughs again because she's almost sure Tyler will spend the rest of the summer working as a cashier in the heat to buy the truck his neighbors want to get rid of. Because he has braces and dark beady eyes. Because he's a little bird. Because he might always be one. Because three years from now when Margo comes back to buy orange juice no pulp, he'll still be here. It'll still be hot. There will still be lines. And Margo will have to stand in them. Because that's what people do, she thinks. Because she was sure that's all life was. Standing in lines and moving through them.

       She had started to talk to Alex about life and what it meant the night before. They had both been sitting in bed. There were magazines and clothes on the floor. The curtains were gathering dust. It was late and he was up reading something on the economy. She was watching the news in subtitles. The background noise bothered him. A girl was missing, last seen not too far from where they lived. There was a house fire. The family survived. There was an outbreak of some virus two states over. A new planet was discovered. People protested at the capitol.
       Margo had sat up, in a kind of swift excited movement. She'd tilted her head so that the nape of her neck showed. Alex had always liked that part of her. He'd asked her what she was thinking about. It was unexpected. It was a soft and lovely question and Margo had smiled a little bird smile.
       “Life, I suppose” she said.
       “What about it?”
       “Well, do you think maybe,” she shifted on the bed, “that perhaps the whole point of it is merely just going out into the world and hoping you'll find something to hold onto?”
       Alex looked at her from over his reading glasses. He looked at her and his eyes didn't moved from her for awhile. His lips parted for a moment. He looked back down at his book.
       “No,” he turned the page and sighed, “It's a lot less profound than that.”
       The news continued to play without sound. Margo said nothing. The silence lingered. She folded her arms into herself and fluttered gently into the bed next to him. She shivered when she realized how cold it was.

       The manager tells the woman at the register that her card is still not working and maybe there's a number she can call. But the woman says she just used it earlier that day and what will her daughter do when her mother doesn't bring home her birthday cake? The boy behind Margo is crying now and jumping up and down. There's a man in sweatpants three people behind her who keeps running his hands through his hair. Someone's left the store cursing and their cart full of food just sitting there in the line. Margo laughs a bit harder than before. It's a squeaky kind of laugh. The kind that squeeze through small faces. Several people crane their heads to look at her.
       The little boy cries. The store grows warmer. Margo's hair sticks in sweat against her forehead and the sides of her face. The mother behind her grabs the little boy's arm when he tries to sit on the floor by the candy and he snatches it away. Margo looks at him and laughs. And the mother asks is something funny and Margo says no, no, nothing funny. But this makes her laugh harder.
       The woman at the register takes the card from the manager's hands and stuffs it back into her purse. The couple with baby formula and diapers is next. Margo shakes the carton of orange juice. She shakes it the way it says to in small letters on the front.
       She can still hear the fat man talking about his car. The couple meant to grab the soy-based formula and could someone perhaps bring up the right kind? Margo unscrews the lid and peels the orange plastic off. She watches it fall to the floor. The little boy tries to touch it. The mother says leave it alone. There's two teenagers behind her talking about some rapper's new album. Margo stops laughing as she brings the carton of juice to her lips. The people in front of Margo turn to look at her. Some turn away.
       She lets it slide slow and smooth into her. She drinks it in loud steady gulps. The manager and Tyler stop talking when they see her. Because she's drinking a carton of orange juice in their grocery store and the juice is getting on her face and shirt. It falls down from the sides of her mouth, down her cheeks and over her neck. There's people staring at her, but she does not think about them.
       She drinks the juice and does not think about much of anything at all.
       She does not think about kissing a boy with big teeth too hard in the back seat of the elementary school bus. She does not think about the time she tried to put a caterpillar in her mouth to feel the way it felt before her sister smacked it from her hand. She does not think about rolling pieces of the her father's newspaper with her brother and pretending they were cigarettes. Does not think about meeting Alex in the forgotten stacks of the library.
       She does not think about her first funeral and how strange her Aunt Olivia looked in the coffin wearing a wedding gown. Does not think about the way her mother slapped her hand when she tried to touch it. She does not think about the times her father woke her up early to find seashells in the high ocean tides. Does not think about burying his ashes at the foot of her grandmother's grave years later. She does not think about how she hasn't seen her brother and sister since Jesse was a boy. Does not think about the nieces and nephews she's never met. Does not think about her mother in the nursing home. She does not think about Alex and the way she loved him before she didn't. She does not think about any of those things.
       She thinks about the way the orange juice feels. The way it becomes a part of her. The way it feels rolling into her. She no longer sees herself as the little bird she once did. That little bird has flown away she thinks.
       She doesn’t drink all of it but somehow it does not matter. She sets the carton on the linoleum floor. She wipes her face with her forearm and walks past the register, leaving the money on the counter.
       Margo will not come home with Alex’s orange juice.
       She walks outside to her car, parked in the farthest lane from the store. The juice feels heavy inside her. Her ears grow warm under the sun.
       She opens her car door and settles into the glowing heat. It's warm and thick. She notices a fly on the dashboard, turned over on its back, its legs bent up in the air like little crooked eyelashes. Its wings are spread on either side. She sees its body twitch.
       Margo listens to her keys clang together in a disjointed rhythm as she starts the car. She thinks of the way the fly might have flapped its laced wings. How it would have tried to rise up through the air to the window a final time before it fell back onto her dashboard.
       She could grab it, she thinks. She could pinch its scrunched up body in a delicate way between her two fingers. She could open her window and set it free. A little bird might do that.
       But Margo doesn't. It would be cruel, she thinks, to let something with wings out into a universe when it could not fly. So instead she puts her car in drive. Presses her foot into the pedal. Stares at the fly. She starts to make her way home and when she turns the corner she watches as it rolls, nothing stopping it, off the dashboard and into the cup holder.

Mercedes Lucero is an MFA student at Northwestern and has previously been published in North Central Review, Whitefish Review, Burner Magazine, Canvas, Calliope, Blinking Cursor Literary Magazine, Mouse Tales Press, Scissors and Spackle, Larks Fiction Magazine, Reed Magazine, Kalyani Magazine, and Touchstone. Her short story "Memories I Cannot Recall" was nominated for a Pushcart.

COMMENT        HOME       BLOG


New Fiction

Michael Andreoni

Sean Croft

April Dávila

Gale Deitch

Ceri Eagling

Brittany Lynn Goss

Mark Hollock

Mercedes Lucreo

Gary Noland

Danny Olea

Melissa Palmer

David Vardeman

Shanna Yetman


By accessing this site, you accept these Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2014 ™ — All rights reserved