By Will Musgrove
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line—a mathematical fact I live my life by. This nugget of simple geometry is also why I grocery shop on Monday mornings. Usually by 9:30ish, everyone’s clocked in somewhere, leaving all the premier asphalt in front of the store open, allowing me to park so close you’d think I lived at Stop-O-Mart. Usually by 9:30ish, I’m able to get in, find what I want, and get out in under fifteen minutes flat.
But on this Monday morning, I have to walk over from the gas station across the street. On this Monday morning, the plethora of cars packing the lot suggests that everyone in town had been fired all at once.
Normally, I wouldn’t bother fighting the crowds, but there’s nothing to eat at home.
Maybe there’s a sale, something so good the nine-to-fivers took personal days to shop until they dropped. But there are nice cars in the lot, too. I pass a Ford, then a Porsche, then a Fiat. Each car, like each person, comes with its own level of rust and wear. I peek inside and check their mileage. Then I calculate how many highway and city miles they probably have left.
A wheezing elderly man dressed in his Sunday best bolts by me. I wave, but he won’t stop. Thud. A skateboarding punk smacks into my side. I try to help him up, but he ignores my hand, scrambles to his feet, and rushes toward Stop-O-Mart’s automatic doors.
Giggle, giggle. A little boy and girl behind me are snickering like cartoon characters.
“That milk’s ours, mister,” the little boy says and gives me the finger. “We’re still growing after all.”
“Huh?” I step toward them, only to trip and fall to my knees. My shoelaces are tied together.
“Got you, jerk,” the little girl says and runs away with her prepubescent partner.
I attempt to unknot my laces. Those kids must be sailors because the knot twists and turns like it has a special name and function. I give up, remove my shoes, and toss them over my shoulder as though my joint’s a powerline.
On sock-covered feet, I rush into Stop-O-Mart. The scene isn’t for the lactose intolerant at heart. A horde of shoppers are battling over whole, two-percent, one-percent—even skim. There’s spilled milk everywhere. And the skateboarding punk is licking up the calcium-rich liquid and spitting it into a canteen like someone siphoning gas. The old man from outside wrestles a gallon from the little boy and girl. The children retaliate by jumping onto the old man’s back and bringing him down like wolves hunting a deer. The old man’s nose and the gallon crash onto the polished linoleum. His blood mixes with the white stuff, creating a gray stream of protein.
I follow the sound of whimpering. Behind a checkout counter I spot a Stop-O-Mart employee, a teenage girl wearing a company-issued vest, balled up and rocking.
“What’s going on?”
As tears trickle from her puffy, bloodshot eyes, I notice she’s hiding a school-lunch-sized carton under her arms.
“Don’t you watch the news?” she says. “The cows—those selfish, spotted bastards—they’ve quit producing milk.”
I’m not a milk fan, never have been. The thickness and creamy taste don’t sit well with my stomach. I prefer to ingest my bone-strengthening vitamins in pill form, which is more efficient and more about functionality than flavor. But what about all the bowls of cereal I’ll now never get to eat? What about all the cookies I’ll now never dunk, all the cats I’ll now disappoint?
I need to put an end to this madness.
I hop onto a checkout counter. In the dairy aisle, a middle-aged woman rams another middle-aged woman with her shopping cart. Then she transfers all the milk from her paralyzed victim’s shopping cart into her weaponized one.
Enough is enough.
“People of Stop-O-Mart, look at yourselves,” I say, like Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. “You’ve become those greedy cows. You’ve forgotten what it means to share. We might not have fresh milk for a long time. We need to conserve it, ration it. We need to make sure those who need it the most have access to it. So, look within yourself and ask, am I that important?”
The little boy and girl check on the fallen old man. The middle-aged woman releases the other middle-aged woman. The skateboarding punk puts his tongue back inside his mouth. The teenage girl comes out of hiding.
Order is restored.
I climb off the checkout counter. My flock approaches with their heads hung low as if in prayer. The teenage girl offers me a sip of her carton, but instead of bringing it to my lips, I take back control. I shove the teenage girl and flee. Who could be more important than me, a man of reason, a someone who gets things done?
This is simple supply and demand.
Ding. Stop-O-Mart’s automatic doors slide open. They’re screaming and running behind me as I zigzag away with one of the last glasses of milk left in town, one of the last glasses of milk possibly ever. I’m sprinting across the lot toward the gas station and my car, but once I pass the Fiat, then the Porsche, then the Ford, my stomach starts churning. I freeze. I put my hand on my belly. Udders burst through my T-shirt like a jack-in-the-box. My black socks transform into hooves, and I collapse onto all fours. Tiny horns swell from my skull like I’m a devil in training. And my stolen carton splatters onto the premier asphalt, forming a Rorschach blot depicting a man cutting off another man’s head only for his own head to be cut off by the man above him.
I’m out to pasture. Surrounding me are other selfish, spotted cows lapping up their fears and anxieties, lapping up the last bit of milk, the last bit of themselves.