portion of the artwork for Monic Ductan's fiction

Green Pepper Story
Monic Ductan

I place a smooth-fleshed green pepper in my shopping cart, and then I feel a smack on my ass. I turn to find an elderly black lady glaring at me, and I realize she has smacked me with the bunch of bananas she’s holding.

“You put that pepper in a bag,” she commands.

If she were my age, I’d tell her to suck me. But because she looks like my grandmother, I smile at her.

“Stop grinning and git a bag.

I obediently find one of those clear plastic produce bags and put the pepper inside it. The old lady stands there watching me. She is wearing a black felt hat with the brim cocked sideways over one eye. Her swollen feet and ankles are tucked into a pair of sandals. Her toenails are thick and dark grey.

“Hey, what’s your name?” she asks.

“Latasha Jones.”

“Are you any kin to Leroy Jones?”

There is an unspoken rule in small Southern towns: You must run through your family history with everyone you meet so that you find a connection with them somehow.

I tell her that he’s my granddaddy on my daddy’s side. She keeps asking questions until finally, ten minutes later, we discover that my great-uncle’s second wife lives down the street from her pastor’s son’s nephew. The old lady is also a cousin (twice removed) to my grandmother on my mama’s side.

My stomach growls and I move on toward the spaghetti aisle. I don’t particularly like spaghetti, but it’s cheap and I can eat off of a pot of it for several days. Every time I think about the rising food costs it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I work as a middle school teacher, and I haven’t had a raise in five years. I tell myself I’m lucky every time I think of my friends who’ve been laid off. Fuck Occupy Wall Street; Occupy John F. Kennedy Middle School instead.

I push my cart up to one of the cashier’s stations. The girl behind the counter starts ringing up my things. She has talons for nails. Each talon is painted with a different shade of neon, glittery nail polish. She throws my apples in a bag, and I hear them bang up against the counter. I wince, afraid she’s bruised them. I hate bruised fruit. When she gets to the green pepper, I grab it out of her reach and say, “Be gentle. I don’t like the skin broken.”

I snake my hand around to her side of the register and place the pepper on the scale. She weighs it, punches something into the register, and then throws it into the bag with the apples.

I roll my eyes at her and reach in to pick up the pepper. I rotate it in my hand, looking for damage. There is an inch-long scar on one side of it, and a tiny amount of the juice has bled out.

She smacks her lips at me and announces that I owe her $18.88.

“I don’t think I should have to pay full price for bruised produce.”

“There ain’t no discount for bruisin’.”

I think about running, just grabbing the bag and barreling past the employees and sprinting for the parking lot. She probably couldn’t catch me. “Careful. You’re too young to be sassy,” I warn her.

I swipe my card and hold my breath. I wait for the word “APPROVED” to pop up on the card reader screen. It doesn’t.

“It was declined, ma’am.”

“No, it wasn’t,” I say. “I’ve got money on this card.”

“Ma’am, swipe it again.”

“Don’t call me ma’am. Just get your manager over here.”

She gives me an “I’m-gonna-drink-your-blood” look and walks toward a little office.

I grab my two bags and walk quickly toward the glass doors. The other cashier, not realizing what I’ve done, smiles and nods at me as I pass her.

“Hey!” comes the taloned lady’s voice from across the store.

I turn to find her walking quickly toward me. There is another woman with her, probably the manager.

I break into a dead run. On the sidewalk, I sprint toward my bike, toss the bags into the basket and throw my leg over the seat. The two ladies are just exiting the store as I whiz off on my bike, legs pumping. I hear footsteps behind me, and when I turn to look over my shoulder I see a man sprinting after me. I pump faster, swerve around a car.

When I look back again, he’s right behind me. How are his legs moving that fast? We start up the hill toward the street. I feel my jacket being tugged, but I keep pedaling.

Once I climb the hill and make it onto the street, I peek over my shoulder again. The man is doubled over with his hands on his knees. Sucker. The two women yell after me, but the farther I go, the softer their voices become.

I turn into my driveway and stop to check the mail. Nothing but more bills. At the back of the duplex, I unlock the storage shed and wheel the bike inside. I open the two bags and find that my produce is ruined. The apples and green pepper are bruised and scarred, probably from bouncing up and down while that freak tried to capsize my bike. Still breathing hard, I sit down on the porch to catch my breath. I bite into one of the apples, and as I eat, my hunger pains lessen. Just as I’m about to go inside the house, a police car comes into view and turns into the driveway. A man in dark blue emerges from the car, and the old lady from the supermarket climbs out of the backseat.

The old lady points a finger at me. “There she is,” she says.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 41 | Summer 2013