Another five minute read, but this story is a little artsier than my others. There’s some symbolism and it’s full of thinly veiled commentary on the absurdity of age, and the unwritten laws of western society. So, if that’s not really your favourite flavour, skip this story.
How to be an Adult
You walk between aisles packed with toasters for thirty dollars, blenders for fifty. They’re all white or black or silver, and they all promise to use very little energy. You look at everything you don’t need and wonder if these objects are better than the ones you already own. You wonder if those cheap devices would somehow make your house a better home.
You try to tune out the announcements over the PA system.
“Staff member from outdoor living to the rear dock for delivery.”
“All available floor staff to checkouts for service thirty.”
The sentences fall from high ceilings, and the teenagers in uniform seem only to stop and pay attention for the first few words. They ignore the rest.
The polished vinyl floor squeaks a little as you turn. An employee smiles at you as they move quickly past. Then they smile at the woman behind you, then the man behind her and then everyone else behind them, all without true emotion. Nothing more than practised kindness and every courtesy is commanded by procedure and protocol.
Something vibrates on your leg, and you pull the little white phone out of your pocket. You press the bottom button with your thumb, and the first line of a text illuminates on the locked screen.
“You can’t have the kids tonight...”
The air in your lungs leaves you in a quick, loud huff.
You unlock the little machine and read “You can’t have the kids tonight. Luke is sick, and he always gets worse when he goes to your house. You need a better heater. I’ll call later.”
A text? You’re told with a bloody text?
You’re daydreaming as you walk into another person’s trolley. The plastic casing over the end of a mop rattles across the metal netting in the cart, and you gaze to the left to see a man watching you. He was reading the label on a bag of ‘natural’ candies before you interrupted. His daughter pulls at the bottom of his blue shirt and begs. You raise your palms and nod in apology. He returns the gesture without speaking as the child’s frustration grows. The adults say nothing. The child begins to scream.
Why are you here again? Pens, that’s right. They sell packs of plain pens for ninety-nine cents. The supermarket next to your house sells the same for a dollar fifty.
You move to the stationary and assess your options. Blue, black, red. Ballpoint, fabric tip. Thousands of little plastic tubes of ink nestled in between an entire catalogue of office supplies. There are calculators and protractors and the little stapler removing teeth that remind you of crocodiles. Grey folders and clear plastic sleeves. Three different packets of blank recycled paper for three very different prices. Everything a person could ever need for work.
You gaze across the wide, empty alley to the toy section. There are bright pink dolls with tiny combs. Turquoise dragons with horns and gills and wings. Yellow foam weapons, and pointless things covered in flashing lights. Remote control helicopters, and fluffy little red monsters that giggle when you tickle them. Everything a person could ever need for fun.
You look back to the writing implements and find the space for ninety-nine cent pens empty.
“Do you need some help?” a young woman asks at the perfect moment.
“Yes, do you have any more of these?” You point.
“These one’s?” She points and you nod.
“No, sorry. None of these, they sell out as soon as we get them in.”
“If you know that, then why don’t you just get more in?”
“We do, they’re on order. They’ll be here on Monday.”
You take a deep breath and try to be patient.
“These are much better and only a dollar more.” The girl selects another pack and tries to hand it to you.
“No thanks, I’ll go somewhere else,” you reply as you walk away.
As you move past the toy section, you pretend not to watch the kids. You pretend to look at the products, but you glimpse at the little people and wonder why they’re all so needy. So happy.
Your eyes stop on a mother carrying a baby. The infant’s hair lies limply on its pale skull like loose blonde spider webs. The tiny person’s head is almost perfectly round with fat cocooning any possibility of bone or muscular definition. The little girl or boy, you can’t tell which, is nestled safely between the mother’s arm and her chest. Mum speaks to an older employee beside a glass display case.
The child looks at you. The young soul stares at you with eyes so wide they seem to be absorbing the very fabric of existence. The new black pupils gaze into yours without distraction, as if they could somehow see every secret you assumed you kept secure. All of your private thoughts laid bare and judged by the naivety of the coming generation. The eventual inevitability of your end and simultaneous grandeur of that toddler is captured by that single glimpse.
Then the kid raises something to its face; a little toy sheep, too small to be trusted to a child. You consider calling out and warning the mother. But who are you to lecture her? Who are you, with all your failures and shortcomings, to interrupt their lives?
You wait for the child to be stopped. You wait for the employee to notice it or the parent to realise the danger. You consider what’s polite and acceptable.
All you can do is shout as the infant tries to swallow it.
About this story: This was written as a university assignment, and I thought the heavy themes behind it might earn me a decent grade. I passed my unit, but I think this story is a little preachy. I don’t have kids, and maybe the little fella in this narrative successfully ate and fully digested small pieces of plastic on a regular basis; stranger things have happened.