There’s a crowd at the meat counter where two men stand holding a package of hamburger.

“Oh Lord Jesus!” a heavy black woman cries, her hand going to her mouth. Her two small children look up at her. The boy grabs his mother’s dress and pulls.

“What’s wrong mama? What’s wrong?”

The girl, a young teen bends over the meat case and looks at the meat. When she straightens up again her eyes are big and her eyebrows raised. She shakes her head as she looks at her mother.

They move off as the two men continue to hold the package of hamburger.

“This is getting to be like going to the gas station,” one says, holding the package up.

“Five dollars for a pound of hamburger and most of that is going to go to fat,” he said.

The crowd moves away. The two men remain, sorting through each package.

“Cheaper to go to McDonalds,” one says.

“Cheaper to kill a cow and butcher it ourselves,” his friend says.

“It’s just going to get worse. They’ll be a time coming when that’s going to cost $10.”

They stare at the package then put it back into the case.

I pick through the packages and find what I need. In the parking lot after I’ve checked out I see the two men again.

“Did you buy it?” one asks.

I nod.

“You must be rich,” he laughs.

I laugh back.

“No, just hungry.”


five more minutes

“Second door on the left, but trust me, you don’t want to go in there,” he said, his face pale as he passed by me.

Two flashes. A third. The police photographer stepped back into the hall.

“Okay,” someone said.

Then there he was. A bloom of brain and blood spread up the wall. The barrel of the shotgun sprawled across one leg. the chest was naked, his face was gone. A red gaping hole was left. The arms splayed out to either side, palms up.

The smell of fresh baked brownies filtered through the open door.

Behind me was the clatter of the ambulance stretcher, the loud zip of a bag.

“We’ve got this one,” the paramedic said, watching, waving the trainees out of the room.

We waited, standing in the kitchen, listening to the murmur of voices down the hall.

“He said wake him when the brownies are done,” a woman said.

“I was taking them out of the oven and I heard this boom. We thought the bookcase fell over or something. Then we checked on him…” her voice trailed off.

She pushed the plate of brownies towards me.

“He didn’t even wait. Five more minutes and he could have been eating a brownie and talking to us and it would have been okay. Five more minutes.”

She stared at the plate.

“Please. Have a brownie.”

I shook my head.

“Just one. I’ll wrap it up for you.”

I watched her tear off the Saran wrap and wrap a brownie and force it into my hand.

Tears ran out her eyes.

“Five more minutes.”

I nodded. “I’m sorry.”

The stretcher rolled past us.

I tucked the brownie into my jacket pocket.

I followed the crew back to the ambulance.

“Five more minutes,” I said to the three officers standing outside.

“She said five more minutes and he’d have been eating a brownie and talking.”

“Yeah – did you get one?” a younger officer asked.

I tossed him the brownie.

“Thanks! I didn’t have breakfast,” he said.

“Five more minutes and we’d have been at McDonalds,” his partner jibed, holding his hand out for part of the brownie.

They split it, eating it as they got back in their patrol car.

we’re having a baby

“What am I supposed to do?” I could hear the panic in his voice.

He looked maybe 19. His oh so pregnant girlfriend shuffled along beside him in a light blue hospital gown, her hospital slippers scuffing as she walked. One hand was on her hip, the other grasped the wheeled pole where a saline bag hung. Up and back. Up and back they walked.

“The nurse said this would speed things up,” she explained.

“You aren’t going to have it here!” he said, panicking more. She rolled her eyes at him. Beads of sweat broke out across her brow and she stopped in front of the snack area.

“Get me some Doritos,” she said. Relieved, he left her and went to the bank of vending machines. He bought three bags of chips and a Mountain Dew. He gave her a bag and then opened his own and his soda.

“Ain’t you going to get me a drink?” she asked. He leapt up again and came back with a diet coke.

They stood there and finished their snacks and then moved down the hall again. An hour later I saw him again, sitting in the obstetrics lounge with another bag of chips.

“I can’t watch that shit,” he said to the man next to  him.

“Babies being born and all. I can’t watch that shit.”

“I know man. Me neither.”

Together they stared at a football game on tv.

I cannot figure out at first what she is doing. A small bite, a quick chew, she spits her food back into her hand and puts it on her plate. Beside her an old man watches. Every so often he picks up the pieces she has spit out and eats them. She nudges him with her elbow and nods across the room and together they laugh. I see then he is toothless.

“Can I sit here?” a woman asks as she sits down beside me. I can smell her and shift on the bench pretending to get more comfortable as I move away from her.

“You gonna eat that?” she says, reaching for my desert, a slab of yellow cake topped with chocolate frosting. It was the last piece of cake. She has a bowl of chocolate pudding.

I slide my tray to the left as she leans forward, still reaching for my cake.

“Yes I am.”

She stares at me briefly then shrugs and opens her carton of milk and chugs it.

“He aint got no teeth. She chews his food for him,” she explains, watching me watch the couple across the way.

“Can’t she just cut it up for him?”

She shakes her head. “I guess not.”

We both watch. His hand reaches furtively to the plate again.

I look down at my desert and back up at him.

I  eat my cake, pick up my tray and leave.

I can imagine being that hungry, but not that loved.

just a scar

We are waiting for our orders at the counter when I notice his arm. The scar starts at his wrist and runs up his forearm. It is jagged, a smooth light chocolate color, a wrinkleless smear across aging skin, so taut it looks painful. He sees me staring at it.

“Dog bite,” he says with a toothless grin.

“Your dog?”

“No, it was a po-lice dog. The week before Reverend King came to town,” he says proudly.

“He touched it,” he said, nodding at the scar.

“It was bandaged but he put his hand on it and prayed for me.” He looked down at the arm.

“I’ll always remember that Reverend King prayed over my arm.”

I look at it as he twists the arm back and forth. The scar ripples briefly. For a minute it looks like I could peel it off, like a plastic make-believe scar a child might wear on Halloween.

“I wish he was here now,” he said.

“To see Obama in the White House,” I ask.

“No. So I could say, see Reverend King. It healed up just fine. It’s just a scar.”

“You have the sausage biscuit?” the clerk asks. He nods and takes the brown paper sack out of her hands and nods at me.

“Nice talking to you.”

I nod back and watch him leave the restaurant.

thank you

As I turned the corner, down near the potato chips and sodas, I saw him slip a package of baloney into his pants. He was 10? Maybe a very small 12 year old. I kept walking and pretended I hadn’t seen him. He glanced guiltily past me, head down as he studied the green beans with great seriousness. Later as he tried to slip past me in the checkout line I stopped him.

“You forgot this,” I said, handing him a loaf of bread I pulled out of the groceries I had bagged. He stared at me before kicking me in the shins, grabbing the bread and running.

“What was that about?” the clerk asked staring after the boy.

“I don’t know, but put a package of baloney on there too.”

a father’s love

He loved her. He loved everything about her. He loved her pink tutu. He loved the tiny little ballet shoes, the auburn hair cut just above her shoulder. And she loved him. I could tell by the way she clung to his leg as they stood in line.

“I don’t feel good daddy.” He put one hand on her head and looked down in concern before stooping to hug her.

“Okay,” he said, smoothing her hair back with one hand and feeling for a temperature. He kissed her forehead. “We won’t be long. Let me get these stamps and then we’ll go home.” She looked up at him and nodded. The line moved slowly forward. They stood, side-by-side until they reached the window.

She swayed and hung listlessly, reaching for his hand as he let go of her to pull out his wallet and pay for the stamps and hand the clerk his package.

They almost made it out the door before “I don’t feel so good,” became projectile vomiting – all over the tutu, all over daddy, all over the floor.

He stopped. He knelt down. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket as he watched her struggle with the next wave of nasea. As he watched the tiny mouth open he picked her up and held her up so she could vomit into the trash can. Her pink tutu trembled and he whispered in her ear and kissed the top of her head. He knelt again and wiped her mouth carefully with the handkerchief and found a piece of candy in a pocket.

“It’s okay,” he said matter-of-factly. “Sometimes people get sick. It’s okay. It’ll wash out. I’m worried about you. How do you feel?”  And he wiped and he reassured and he matter-of-factly took a handful of paper towels someone handed him and cleaned up his fairy princess and himself as best he could, smiling kindly the whole time. Slowly, patiently. No rush. We’re okay. It’s all okay. And then he held her hand and they walked out to the car.

It is in the small things our love shines through.