“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.”
I spun around just in time to see the author of that statement toss a coin up in the air. It looked shiny and new, and at the apex of its arc it appeared as if it was momentarily suspended in time, with bright glints of sunlight that shone through the store’s windows reflecting off its metallic surface.
With a light pinging sound it landed on the counter in front of a terrified cashier, right next to a gun that had been placed there just moments before.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she cried. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”
Her words were spoken with a faint defiance, yet the fear in her eyes showed a certain resignation of her fate, as if this act by a clearly would-be suitor was the finale in a long and twisted series of events. I looked around at the other people in the supermarket and was fascinated by the range of actions they took.
Some crouched down behind displays of apples, or lemons, or the newly arrived Bing cherries, their faces as contorted and disturbed as that of the man who was reigning down unwanted attention on the girl behind cash register five. Those nearest the exits had run out as the scene began, and yet others who had stayed behind were now holding their cells phones; not to call for help of course, but to document for their social media.
I was in a trance of sorts myself, not fully grasping the reality of what was happening. Unconsciously I leaned forward and rested my elbows on the handle of my shopping cart, as if settling in to watch the unfolding plot of a stage show in the park.
I noticed that his body was shaking as he spoke, yet his gun hand was as steady as rock, held equidistant between himself and his potential victim. I noticed that she was trying to look away, as if avoiding his gaze would allow her to disappear. I noticed that peaches were on sale.
“You never loved me you bitch,” he screamed, “I’m sure of it now.”
In my mind I silently played a rather unholy game, imagining if it would be a daughter or son lost today? If one or more children were about to become orphans? If it would it be a brother or a sister who would be remembered at holidays and family functions in the years to come? Maybe it would be both.
“This is where we say goodbye,” he said, raising the gun and pointing it towards her face. Staring down the barrel of her fate, she crossed herself and what must have been a prayer trembled lightly past her lips as her eyes rose, looking towards the sky as if some salvation rested there.
Then came the shot, and the screams, and the sound of something large and dull hitting the floor.
A lady behind me began to quote scripture in a rather annoying voice and turning to face her I motioned threateningly as if I would ring her neck if she didn’t stop.
And then my eyes turned to the cashier. She was bloodied, but not dead. Part of her former tormentor’s flesh, and bone, and brains; the blowback, a term I later heard a policeman use to describe it, covered her face. At the last minute he had decided to “eat the gun,” a term which I knew from a Motorhead song, and she was still yet to fully understand that her prayer, at least in some form, had been answered.
As I pushed my cart past the lifeless form on the floor, I could see rich, dark hues coming from the blood that was pooling around his head. Set against the linoleum floor it looked closer to the color of the summer plums than I would have guessed. I nodded to the cashier and as words seemed pointless at that moment, I refrained from any.
There was an open lane with the checkout light on, but figuring nobody would be in the mood to ring me up, I abandoned my cart at the door and walked outside into the bright sunlight, the sound of sirens blaring off in the distance.
And I was alive.
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