Lon’s anger weighed on him like a pack on a mule. It was, naturally, the fault of his boss, who began the shift with a lecture on punctuality. Lon was not to blame for his tardiness. The city buses were unreliable, and his wages did not permit the expense of a car.
A woman weighing even more than Lon’s irritation began loading her groceries onto the conveyor belt: six bags of chips and three bottles of orange soda. Of course, Lon thought. She had a couple of brats behind her, a snot-nosed boy and a girl ruining one of Lon’s favorite pop songs with sour notes and missed lyrics.
“That’s impossible. Run it again.”
Lon sighed loudly, intentionally. “Won’t matter unless your account magically gets money in the next two seconds.” He swiped it. “Gee, look at that. Declined again! How ‘bout a third time?”
The woman’s hand shook as she snatched the card away. She grabbed her children by the wrists and left, having acquired nothing but ire and indignity.
Mary’s eyes burned with tears. No, she wouldn’t cry, not in front of the kids. It was bad enough floating in an ocean of debt so vast she could no longer see the shore. But this rudeness from a lowly supermarket cashier was the kind of thing that could drown her.
“Why didn’t we get the chips for the party?” Melissa asked.
“Why don’t you shut up ‘stead of asking stupid questions?” Mary’s anger burned at her eight-year-old daughter, who was smart enough to know when she should hold her tongue. “You just had to have them fancy new jeans last week, fit in with the rich kids, huh? That’s why we didn’t get the chips. Stuff costs money. Don’t see me getting new clothes, do you?”
Melissa yanked her hand away.
“Selfish little princess,” Mary muttered, a pinprick of guilt puncturing her relief as she saw she had shamed the girl into silence.
Melissa looked down, her eyes tracing the swirling path of rhinestones on her new jeans. She followed the gems to her ankles and the dirty sneakers that pinched her toes. She hadn’t asked for new shoes, but of course her mother gave her no credit for that. She opened the car door and plopped into the backseat, folding her arms in a picture of suffering, a hopeless appeal for sympathy.
Her brother squirmed as he fastened his seat belt, a clumsy hand brushing her elbow. “Keep your germy fingers on your side!” Brad’s lower lip trembled. “Now you’re going to cry, aren’t you? Go ahead. Crybaby.”
He was scrunching up his face, fighting it. Melissa watched, her hurt mixing with pride that at least she could hide her emotions.
Brad stared out the window, willing the tears to roll back into his head. He yearned to suck his thumb, but the fear of more teasing stopped him. He felt small and powerless, like an ant in the shadow of a shoe.
At home, Melissa locked herself in the bathroom and their mother did the same in the bedroom, both snatching at the scarce solitude available in the tiny apartment. Brad grabbed his blue bear from the behind the sofa. The animal had a big soft stomach, a dopey expression, and stuffing foaming out from a rip at the neck. Brad pinned the bear with his knees and began punching, the weight of the day’s fury in every blow.
Anna Zumbro lives in Washington, D.C. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Plasma Frequency, Fantasy Scroll Mag, and Ruthless Peoples.