SNOWBIRDS by John Jodzio

SNOWBIRDS by John Jodzio

I quit college and took the Megabus to Phoenix and got a job delivering groceries to snowbirds. Snowbirds were old people who came to the Southwest because warm weather made their hips hurt less. Snowbirds drove like the entire world was a school zone. Snowbirds thought the place they lived in the summer would kill them in the winter.

My grocery store job was mindless. Old people placed orders and I gathered what they wanted from the freezers and shelves. Some old people ordered hot dogs and Cokes––things serial killers ordered for their last meals. Some old people ordered nuts and sprouts––things serial killers ate when they wanted to live forever.

I usually left groceries on people’s porches or front stairs. Occasionally they invited me in. People who invited me in were lonelier than I was. They wanted to tell someone about their latest medical procedure or an old grudge. They showed me black-and-white pictures of days long past or complained about the leprechaun tattoo their dumbass grandson had gotten on his neck.

When the snowbirds asked me about my life, I told them this delivery job was temporary, that I was saving up for medical school. This was a complete lie. I spent any extra money I had on weed and beer and anything else that would help me forget I should be saving up.

One day, the grocery store manager, Ted, threatened to fire me because I had forgotten to put a bottle of ketchup, a bunch of bananas, and like six or seven other things into an order I’d delivered. Ted hated me because I was shitty at my job but also hated me because his girlfriend, Lindsay, who worked in the produce department, once squeezed my shoulder after I’d told her a joke.

“Hurry up,” Ted told me, “and fix your goddamn mistake.”

I gathered the missing items and drove back to the house. There was an old man sleeping in a rocking chair on his porch. I could’ve dropped the groceries next to his chair and left, but something about how his body was hunched over seemed unnatural. A couple of weeks before, one of my co-workers, Seth, had saved a woman who’d had a stroke. He’d appeared on the local news for being a good Samaritan. AARP had sent him a $500 gift card.

“Sir?” I said, poking his foot. “Sir?”

I put my hand in front of his mouth. It didn’t feel like he was breathing so I started CPR. But after only two chest compressions the man’s eyes popped open.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked.

“I thought you were dying,” I said.

The man coughed. He removed a flask from his pocket and took a pull. Then he held it out to me.

“We’re all dying,” he told me. “Every little bit of every last second.”

I took a long drink. Whatever was in there tasted like old leather with a hint of old tires.

“My wife passed away five years ago today,” he said. “And today I’m remembering her by getting incredibly drunk.”

He pulled out a picture from his wallet and handed it to me. The woman in the picture was naked and leaning against the kitchen counter. She had a smile that looked more nervous than sultry. You don’t know what to say when an old drunk man hands you a naked picture of his dead wife. Should I tell him she was beautiful? Should I say I was sorry for his loss?

“Thank you for sharing that with me,” I told him.

“Make sure you take lots of pictures of the people you love,” he said.

When I got back to the store, I quit my job. I suppose I could’ve been more dramatic about it––like ripping off my smock and throwing it at Ted and saying take this job and shove it or something like that. Instead, I went quietly. I pretended I got a delivery order and I walked around the store picking out all the things I loved to eat. An expensive frozen pizza and a pint of premium ice cream. Some pre-cut mango that was $12 a pound. I loaded these things into a bag and drove back to my apartment.

After about a half hour, Ted started calling, wondering where I was. He called over and over for the next few hours, but I never picked up. I sat on my couch and got high and watched cartoons and ate stolen food.

I bought a bus ticket back to Minneapolis the next morning. Where I knew people and people knew me. Where if I said anything about going to medical school my friends would double over in laughter. Where it would be spring soon.

John Jodzio's work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney's, and New York Magazine. He's the author of the short story collections, Knockout, Get In If You Want To Live and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. He lives in Minneapolis.