BUYING A CARTON OF MILK • by James Hartley

A carton of milk. A God Damn Carton of Milk! Who’d have thought going out for a carton of milk would have gotten me in such deep trouble?

I was lying on the couch watching one of those junky daytime TV soaps, General Horsepiddle or some such, when Ma yelled at me.

“Julie, honey, I need milk. Run down to Mr. Berman’s and get a carton, please.”

“Ma, why don’t you get enough when you do the shopping out at the A&P? You know Mr. Berman charges too much.”

“Julie, I just ran out. How can I know what everyone will drink all week? And anyway, it’s good to support the neighborhood businesses.”

That last argument is unanswerable. I got three bucks from the sugar jar and went out. Three bucks would buy a gallon at the A&P out on the highway, but only a half at Mr. Berman’s. And you can’t try to save a little and buy a quart. “One Size” Berman only had the middle size of anything, always at the large size price.

When I got to the store there were no customers inside. I didn’t see Mr. Berman either, only a boy about my age standing behind the counter. As I walked in, he looked up and said, “Can I help you?”

As his eyes met mine, the air between us seemed to tingle and sparkle. I ran into a solid wall of air that brought me up short, I broke into a cold sweat, my pulse rate went to about 200. I swallowed a few times to get my voice back under control, then said, “Hi. I’m Julie. Who are you?” Brilliant conversation, but it seemed to hit him as hard as his presence had hit me.

“I’m, I’m, er, ah, Stan.” He paused, swallowed, then went on, “I’m here working for Uncle Nate. Mr. Berman. I’m his nephew. Uncle Nate’s nephew.”

All I remember of the conversation, after that, is that he asked me out and I told him yes. Finally I turned and started walking across the layer of clouds toward the door.

“Julie, did you come in here to buy something?”

That brought me back to the ground, well, partly anyway, and I said, “Yeah, Stan. Milk.”

He got a carton out of the cooler and put it in a bag. I gave him the three bucks, and when he gave me the change his fingers brushed my hand. It felt like 20,000 volts jumped between us. I stood there a moment, then picked up the milk and left.

I must have given the milk to Ma, and I guess I sat down in front of the TV again, but I don’t know. All I could think about was a date with Stan. And when the time came, it was all I imagined. We’re going steady now, have been for a couple of months.

But steady isn’t all we’ve been going, we’ve also been going too far. A lot too far. I’m two weeks late, and there’s going to be Hell to pay when Ma finds out.

Damn! I’m never going out to buy a carton of milk, ever again!

James Hartley is a retired computer programmer. He grew up in northern New Jersey, and has now settled in sunny central Florida. He has published a number of short stories, and a fantasy novel,  Teen Angel. He is currently working on a second novel, The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge.

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