C. Beston grew up on the edge of the woods in northern Delaware and currently pursues writing and filmmaking in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been featured by publications like X-R-A-Y, Smokelong Quarterly, and Okay Donkey. More at cbestonwork.com.
My brother asks if, when he is older, he will grow as big as our father. I tell him the best thing to steal from the supermarket is a glass pint of milk. You drink the milk, then return the bottle for two dollars.
My mother asks me to stack plates and glasses in our high cabinets. Reach for vinegar at the store. Every year she shrinks. I wonder when she won’t be able to push a shopping cart. If I will set her in the child’s seat and hand her tomatoes and oranges to inspect, one by one, before placing them in whispering plastic bags.
My father, in his fine suits, is not bothered by the freezer-cold of the supermarket in summer. He points to cuts of meat as the butcher’s breath fogs the plexiglass. I shiver, my linen dress thin, concrete cold pressing through my sandals. My brother retreats to the dairy case after my nod. The milk bottle he can slip into his sweatshirt pocket, whistling as I pay. My father watches each cent on the screen.
I cradle every paper bag, thoughts of tomatoes crushed and steak exposed through torn plastic and the vinegar bottle shattering. The smell in my sandals, pulling slivers of glass from my feet.
My brother lines ten milk bottles under his bed, which I will return. Twenty dollars. He asks, would I buy him some cigarettes and stamps. A chocolate bar. A can of sardines. And keep the change.
My mother takes the car to the store, readjusting the driver’s seat each time. My father curses when he pushes it back, forgets to fix the side mirrors. Soon my mother will hand me the keys, and I will sit forward, tapping pedals with the end of my shoe.
My father asks me to bring him the milk after dinner. He smooths the waxed cardboard of the carton with his palm – his hand so large his fingers fit around it. He thanks me, and says to put it back where it came from.
I drop the change from my brother’s bottles into an old jam jar. The pennies splash against the glass. I can’t overhear my parents’ conversation.
My brother will not come to the store when I drive. He chases the dog to the backyard instead. His head almost seems to brush the door frame.
My mother lets me borrow her deep straw tote, which I clutter with scarves and receipts. I couldn’t slip a bottle anywhere inside this dress. I could nest it inside the bag.
My father’s face is beet-red when he comes for me, huddled in that back office where the starched-shirt man took phone calls while I pulled threads from the hem of my dress. He takes the car, I walk home. At the front door, my arm arcs higher to fit my key to the lock.
I thought shrinking took longer.
Dinner is being served, my brother the last to arrive. He fills the doorway. Only I turn to see his broken glass smile.