Ladies and gents, it’s itchin’ up on that time again for the commercial free drive at five. One more hour and you’ll be absent of my soulful, sweet, sexy voice. Until then, please enjoy the next hour of The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers.
Christopher Nicholson grabbed the ten dollar bill off of the counter along with his crumpled up sticky note in the other. The note had seen better days as the adhesive had grown heavy from all of the particles of dirt and stray hair it had snatched from underneath the seven-year-old’s bed with sticky claws.
‘Triple Dessert Deluxe’ was what he called it at the time, a three-part ice cream sundae with the oddest, yet tasteful, ingredients he could find for all under ten-dollars. Plus tax. Three ingredients and three hours until his dad got home from cleaning pools; an honorable occupation in the eyes of Christopher, wading the murky waters in the backyards of Palm Desert’s richest families with metal sticks that had nets at the end. Dangerously probing the algae and dirt, completely ignorant of the treacherous terrain underneath the green haze. What could possibly lurk under the canopy of viridescent reflection, especially for the brave man who wielded the stick kept in a dusty shed. His father’s job was a secret, as he was told time and time again by his mother when she was still alive. Not a word was to be said to any of his friends or to the kids in the neighborhood. Christopher obviously knew that this was the case because his father’s job was a top secret mission to fight the monsters. He was a hero for all of those people who unknowingly went about their upper-class lifestyles unaware of the dangers that lurked in their backyards. His lips were sealed.
The lady who worked at the register closest to the front sliding glass doors waved down at Christopher and smiled, watching his tiny weight shift from one foot to the next, wincing when pressure was applied to his left foot. The plastic covering of the prosthetic had dug into his kneecap after walking all the way across town. Christopher politely waved in greeting, and smeared a smile across his face halfheartedly, the majority of his attention shifting around the store with a slow gaze, mapping out his next move.
He knew the aisles, row by row, alphabetically, the order in which his father liked to roam, sorted by his personal preferences, and backwards; all because his father used to always bump into people at the store and talk for hours. Christopher would quietly sit in the cart, surrounded by canned corn or a fresh carton of skim milk, staring up at the directory centered in the middle of the store. A few minutes later, a new row was memorized. Memorization, especially of various things in public places, was quite the comfort for Christopher. The world was vast. Far too great for his grasping of knowledge, so by memorizing series and codes, Christopher comforted himself in the knowledge, that he was aware of his surroundings, and could navigate the jungles of his own personal universe which always seemed to be jumbled up. His father never understood why Christopher did things like this, and why he would sometimes stand, frozen at the deli counter or near the produce aisle, paralyzed by a thought. Christopher tried to explain multiple times that he hated some of the thoughts in his head like how his father might drop dead any second or that a bad man was going to come into the store with a gun and how it’d make his skin flame up and heart race. It felt like the world was always going to end in Christopher’s mind, and he had the shaky hands to prove that the Earth was splitting at its core, cracking open like a broken class. It sent waves of paranoia throughout his body that engulfed him in a fiery siege of thoughts for a moment, and then drown him in the obsession. Anxiety felt like he was standing in front of a car racing towards him and his feet are ingrained in the concrete. All he can do is stare at the headlights and quake in anticipation for his foreseen fate. His mom used to get him, but after she died in that awful car accident a while back, his dad had to help him figure out the mess in his mind.
He was beginning to have one of those thought spirals now as he couldn’t find the next aisle on the agenda: aisle number six, the left side, ice cream accessories. Christopher walked down the front of the store, in front of the aisles, and counted each of the sixes carefully, making sure not to trip up or walk down the wrong aisle. He stepped within the boundaries of each slab of stone, snugly fit to the next with only a fine line to show the difference between the separate tiles. Christopher would have visions of him falling on the ground and hurting his head or tripping someone else, so he was constantly aware of how quickly he was walking and where. It was small tasks like movement that made Christopher’s little hands jitter like a hornet’s nest was in his finger bones, buzzing under his skin. The bees ate at his bone marrow until his entire body was filled with humming insects, shaking him constantly just out of the pure pleasure of duty and habit. No honey ever dripped through the combs of his mouth, just a couple busy stutters.
He reached it. A genuine grin spread across his face then as his eyes engulfed the rows of special syrup and candy. He couldn’t see his ingredient, the base of the masterpiece itself, a key role in the dish. At his angle, though, he could only see up far enough to know something was on the top shelf, but not what it was.
They must be up there. The brown sugar waffle cones have just got to be up there, otherwise Christopher wouldn’t have been off to such a great start. Thoughts began to flood his mind, like some imaginary dam had just been freed and water was drowning his brain. What if he couldn’t get the waffle cones? What if he hurt his leg again? What if his father would be disappointed in him? What if the whole world ended right now and he’d never apologized for how he couldn’t reach those cones?
Christopher stopped dead in his tracks and stared down at the tile floor. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt the blood racing up to paint on his pupils an eerie reflection of the fluorescent light above. He hated when things like this happened. His brain suddenly lost control of itself, and his father wasn’t here this time to walk him out of troubled his thoughts. Usually at times like these, when Christopher began to shake and tears filled his eyes, he’d go talk to his father. And he, who still didn’t understand why his nine year old son was having difficulties thinking, something human beings naturally can do to some extent, would play their favorite radio station and listen to a bit of classic rock for a while. There was something about the grimy voice of the radio announcer mixed with the sharp guitar shred that seemed to match the intensity of Christopher’s thoughts. But his father wasn’t here right now. The radio wasn’t on. He still needed the cones.
And just like that, his eyelids flung open and he turned to the right side of the aisle- bread. The freshly stacked loaves sat perfectly like small pyramids of the metal shelves, and Christopher could feel the dough melt around his hands when he pushed most of them out of his way with his chubby hands. His dress shoes squished one at the very bottom, but a mission did not come without sacrifices and he was almost to the top. Just one more shelf and he’d be able to turn his head to see. With one more heave of his small arms, crinkling his school uniform coat, he swung his lower body to sit right on top of the highest shelf, overlooking the entire store.
Aha! He could now see that the boxes of brown sugar waffle cones were happily decorating the top of the neighboring shelf, only now it felt like they were pools away. His eyes rolled back into his skull, perhaps to see the bees. Supreme brain power activated. Christopher tried hard to calm down, understanding that this wasn’t such a big deal, and that his father would tell him to breathe deeply if he was there. His small lungs inflated, as if on command, and Christopher panicked at the thought of them nestling up against his ribs. What if they popped? What if he fell off of this shelf? What if he never got those waffle cones? Just like that, he was paralyzed in a spiral again. Sitting on top of the shelves in a massive pool of a store, he felt like he was drowning. The muck of the world kept him down, so if only his father had been there with him, maybe he could wade Christopher out of the chlorine like he does every day at his job.
Christopher snapped back into reality, finding himself in the exact same position as he was a few moments before, still staring at that one particular box he’d like to get. Suddenly, with a force no average seven-year-old could muster, Christopher sprung from the shelf in a frenzy, his arms viciously rotating in circles, trying to propel himself forward. One more touch and he’d have his hand on those cones. But gravity defied him there and down he went, smacking his plastic leg on the tile floor that knew his eyes had studied so fondly.
Since it was noon on a Tuesday, no one was in the grocery store to see Christopher’s epic fall, and he was grateful for that. However, to any onlookers he must’ve looked like quite the cartoon character, complete with little birds flying around his spinning head, eyes rolling to the sides.
Defeated, Christopher picked himself up and straightened his jacket, wincing at the growing pain in his leg. Christopher rubbed his sore limbs, waddled back to the first cash register, and asked the kind lady to come help him. She grinned and followed him back to his beloved aisle before reaching calmly up and grabbing a box of cones with her pale arm.
Granted, his path had a rough start, but Christopher waltzed down the dairy aisle with confidence and the box tucked under his left arm. He shivered at the sudden sharpness of the cold hallway of refrigerators and freezers, radiating a chill that the whole store could feel. He dragged his finger across the precipitation covered glass and felt the water well up against his warm skin, creating a line of clarity and visibility to the other side of the glass. This ingredient was much simpler to find than the last as it was perched up right next to their usual family milk carton. Chocolate whole milk. Check.
Finally, Christopher was wrapping this dessert up to a whole complete dish. One final ingredient, the holy grail, and he’d be on his way home. Lime sorbet was here, and he knew that. Its precise whereabouts, he was unsure, since his mother always put it back in some random fridge after finding it tucked underneath the fruit carton and other miscellaneous groceries. Aisle nine, ice cream. Christopher ravaged the shelves with determined eyes, searching for that green jug with a pink top. It was the cheapest brand and the sorbet itself had probably sat in that freezer for months, no one ever wanting to venture out of their comfort zone and their vanilla/chocolate swirl or chunky monkey.
A destination in mind, he sprinted to the other end of the row and flung open the last door on the right. After shoving his good arm into the void of the freezer, he came up with the heavy weight of a carton of the very own lime sorbet. Ecstatic, Christopher wrapped his arm around the last of his ingredients and jogged to the checkout lane, occasionally dropping the cones from time to time on his journey.
Christopher rested his chin against the armrest for older people that sat next to the computer on the lane, fascinated with the beeping noises made after every item was scanned. He proudly handed over his ten dollar bill and took his change back, looping each handle of the plastic bag around his shoulders.
Energy replaced with excitement and a plastic backpack pulling his shoulder blades back into a nice posture, the seven year old pranced out of the grocery store and began his commute home. The first few minutes were okay, as he was still riding the rollercoaster of thoughts about how surprised his father would be when he saw the Triple Dessert Deluxe. After a while though, Christopher began to slow his footsteps, occasionally reaching down to rub his knee cap where the prosthetic cupped his femur. His day prior to the store had been a long one full of sweaty first graders on playgrounds.
California in August is every teacher’s worst nightmare because dealing with kids is one thing, but dealing with a bunch of sweaty, smelly ones is a whole new terror. Christopher winces at the remembrance of earlier in the day when his sweaty palms sizzled on the baked jungle gym and he fell onto the wood chips, crushing his elbow beneath him.
On his fingers, he counted each of his injuries from the day. Three. Christopher began to ponder the possibilities of his premature death. Three injuries in one day is quite a lot. Had any other kid ever survived this many in one day while also going through an intense journey to surprise his father? Would his other leg decide to get those bad cells and break off again? Would his prosthetic give out or cease to work? Suddenly the world felt too scary for him, but with the thought of his father only a few blocks away, Christopher’s mind let up for a second . Preoccupied with his thoughts and counting the cracks on the sidewalk, promising not to break his mother’s back even though she wasn’t alive to feel it, Christopher’s ears perked up when he heard the familiar voice of the radio announcer.
And that… ladies and gents, wraps up our commercial free drive at five. I’ll serenade you later, catch you tomorrow at three, Palm Desert. This is Terminator Rick… signing off.
Terminator Rick was Christopher’s favorite announcer on his dad’s signature radio station, 93.4 The Rock. Every day after school, his dad would be sitting on the back porch on a lawn chair, his talons wrapped around a lukewarm beer can. A majestic looking man with muscles building in his back so thick, Christopher liked to imagine wings were ready to sprout out of his skin.
Subconsciously, Christopher’s body had found its way back home and he was standing in his backyard, staring at the green chair with a body propped in it. Christopher had missed the opportunity to surprise his father with the completion of his dessert, so he figured that he ought to just show him the contents of the bag. His mother used to say it was the thought that counts.
Swinging the bag out from behind his back, Christopher noticed that his dad did not wave hello or come pick him up like he usually does. He just sat there, slumped over in the lawn chair, eyes shaded by sunglasses and a beer can hanging ever so slightly out of his hand. He also noticed that the contents of his bag had shifted slightly, and when Christopher opened the bag, he found a swamp of ingredients. The lime sorbet melted into a haze, a warped cardboard box floating on top, and the chocolate milk nowhere to be seen. His heart fluttered again, but not with the childish nervousness he sometimes felt. This time it was darker than that. A rumble of wings or thunder of palpitations.
The grocery bag looked an awful lot like the pools his dad cleaned, only this one didn’t seem like a single hurdle to jump over. It seemed like the end of a career.
As he rounded the corner into his very own backyard, his dad came running at him with a grin plastered on his face. He lifted Christopher up in his wings and protected his face from the sun that was burning him. The bees seemed to have calmed down for a moment.