There There Thereby Christopher James
There’s a small boy on the floor next to the rocket launcher section, his arms and legs working like steam pistons, screaming fit to bust a lung because his daddy won’t let him play with the big guns. His face has gone pink and he’s squeezed out two snail trails of tears on his cheeks, and for some reason he’s trying to take his pants off.
“Just let him mess with one,” a woman is telling the daddy. “It’s not like you’ve got to buy it for him.”
The father’s face is going purple, like my dad’s used to before he’d wallop us.
“He’ll only resent you,” the woman is saying. I can’t help thinking she’s not helping. I roll my eyes.
Meilin is with me. “Awful parents,” she says. And I turn on her.
“You’re always judging people. I hate it when you do that.”
Meilin’s face is not as inscrutable as 1950s stereotypes of Chinese women would have you believe. I can tell that right now she is irritated with something.
“I’m not judging. Just look at them. They brought a baby to the gun section.”
“You don’t know anything about them. About their motivations, their reasons, about what’s going on in their life. Maybe you ought to step off your high horse a little, hmm?”
Meilin considers responding but then doesn’t, and I can see it’s because she thinks I’m in one of those moods where nothing she says will make a difference. I’m going to win. I can’t not win. Until I see it in her face, I don’t even realize that’s what I’m doing. She’s right, I’m unfair, and I hate her a hundred times more for silently expressing it.
And now she’s not talking to me? Fine – let her sulk.
It’s probably the boy’s screaming that has us all on edge. We should move upwind. All we’ve got in the trolley so far is a crate of Brazilian beers. Was there really nothing worth buying between the beer aisle and the gun aisle? This store sucks big time. We only come here because it’s the closest place to the apartment to buy green stuff and we’re too lazy to make the effort to go across town to the store we both like.
“Do we need any cleaning crap?” I ask.
“Let’s go get some fruit and vegetables. I feel like white trash with nothing in the trolley but beer.”
Meilin walks ahead of me. The father of the spoilt child gives me a dirty look as we move past him. I wonder how much he heard. Stupid man – he ought to be paying more attention to his screaming spawn.
I get avocados and tomatoes and onions and red peppers and mince. I feel like making Mexican food again. Meilin tuts when she realizes what I’m doing, but she goes off to dairy anyway to get cheese and sour cream. I think I’ll end things with her soon – we’ve been dragging this one out for two years longer than we should’ve done. You have no idea how much time I spend nowadays cataloguing all of Meilin’s many faults. It’s literally a million hours a day.
She’s such a follower. Once, at the beginning of us, I told her that about an ex-girlfriend who obsessed on squeezing my spots. Meilin must’ve liked what she heard, because she started yenning on it too. Another time I told her about an ex-girlfriend who left me generic brand post-its on the fridge turning the letters of my name into acronyms of love.
Naked day with you.
If love is
Water then we need
Meilin began doing the same stupid thing. I was her first boyfriend, and it quickly dawned on me that she had no idea what girlfriends were supposed to do. She was picking up hints and tips on How To Be In Love like my dating history was a Cosmo article. I told her all my ex-girlfriends loved giving blowjobs in restaurants. It was fun for a while. Then it got old. Four years we’ve been together.
Just be yourself, FFS.
The little boy comes to my trolley while Meilin is away, dragging a rocket gun on the floor behind him. His parents are nowhere to be seen, and he’s naked from the waist down. He stands in my way and stares at me with dead eyes. The snail trails of tears on his face have gone semi-dry and sticky. He gives me a look, a look that says “You’re shit and I can see inside you.”
He points the rocket launcher at me and shouts BANG!
Then he goes away. Meilin is standing in his place with grated cheese in one hand and a tub of sour cream in the other, smirking.
She points her fingers at me, making a gun of her own. Pow! Pow!
I want to run, to grab the kid up by one of his fat, squat legs and dangle him in the air and punch him in the face as hard as a speeding car smashing into a brick wall. To give him something to cry over, as my dad used to say. To show him beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not okay to point guns at strangers and pretend to shoot them.
Instead I dump the tomatoes and the peppers and the mince and the rest out of the trolley and on to the floor, and tell Meilin she can cook whatever she wants, I don’t care anymore.
The examples we set, the people we follow, the things we do that they did. Wallop! BANG! Pow! This is how it goes on and on.