Short, Short Fiction Contest Winner: Deep Sea Diving

I stare at three lobsters in a tank at the supermarket. I ask my mother, on the telephone, how my father is, and she lowers her voice to answer. I catch the gaze of lobster one. Let’s call him Ray. Ray used to be on the force, two days from retirement until this shit happened.

I look into my shopping cart and see the butter. Ray sees the butter. He puffs his chest like a bag with three shirts and I choose to return the butter to the cold case. I decide on pork chops. Fewer pensions to pay.

Mom is saying something important, her voice stern and commanding like in my youth when I would get too close to the road. I want her to shut up. I’m woefully lost now in a section with sanitary napkins, and creams, and oils meant for babies, stifling like a Berlin Wall of cosmetics. I tell Mom I have to go and click the red button on my phone mid-…

At the cash register Mom calls back and I silence her to check the time, my phone like a wristwatch with a broken band. I realize I’ve made a terrible mistake. My cart is full of cookies. I abandon the cart in the aisle and call Mom. Dad is dead. I imagine his body on the way to the crematorium, where fire will reduce 57 years into a tin of ash.

Dad is fine, Mom is saying in a worried voice, like that time I lost Ann and she talked me through 1,341 days, and counting, of lying face-down on the uncomfortably stiff, plaid couch my roommate bought at Goodwill in 1999. Maybe you should lie down for a while, she is saying and so I walk to the seafood section and talk to my old buddy Ray in his tank wanting to go home. I take him out and lie down on the floor with him on my belly, his beady eyes somber as we both wear our sorrow like crowns waiting for the floor buffer to polish our brains. Mz