The Hostage
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“I know you,” the woman who was in line in front of me said, blatantly lowering her eyes to my crotch and back to my eyes again. She was wearing a leopard print silk shirt, had the most flamboyantly red hair I’d ever seen in person, and insisted on chewing her gum so loudly that I was sure even the cashier could hear it from our place three carts deep. “You’re that guy from the paper. I read about you. That’s horrible what happened to you.” Her accent said the Bronx, but we were in Toronto. I couldn’t make any sense of it. Not that this was the only situation to fit that description lately.

I nodded. Like I cared a lick that she knew about what had happened, and besides, I had more important things to worry about. I could still see the blood in my mind, sticky and warm and sweet.

  
 
I’d wanted to vomit when it was happening. In fact, I’m not even sure that I didn’t. There were some indescribable stains on my tennis shoes. The paper said I’d looked like a ten-year old kid whose dog had just died when they’d finally pulled me out. No, I thought. It’s still too fresh to think about.

“Did you know it was going to happen?” Leopard lady was asking. “The paper said you might have had enough time to see the guns. Did you know?” she asked, twirling her red hair with her index finger.

“No,” I said flatly. I wanted to leave. Just drop the groceries, I thought, and grab some takeout. Anything but this. This is unbearable. Is this what it’s going to be like from now on?

“There was someone else, too, wasn’t there? I seem to recall the paper saying something about there being someone else. I don’t really remember. Anyway the paper didn’t say much, just that there was another person, and I think that she was a girl?”

“Yeah,” I said, shifting my feet. “There was a girl. They, uh...they got her. She’s dead, I’m afraid.” I could feel the tears welling up, and my chin starting to twitch, but I held it off, just barely, using the only weapon I had available: my growing contempt for this horrible, indescribably rude woman.

“Oh my gosh, that’s horrible. Did you,” she lowered her voice to a hoarse whisper, “did you see?”

My mind wanted me to smack her, but I resisted. Yeah, I saw the whole thing, and it’s just what I want to talk about while I’m standing in line at the grocery store the day after it happened, I thought about saying. I have to get out of here, I thought, but all I could manage was to nod and stare at the floor.

I thought about the girl. How her face had gone into shock and then twisted into a twitchy kind of smile the second before they shot her. I’ll never forget that. The memory is in my head now, forever. Of course, the blood afterward is in there forever, too. That was what made me vomit, I think, that and the smell. They never mention the smell on TV or in the movies, but all that blood is kind of sweet smelling...no, really. It’s way too fresh to think about right now.

“Oh, that’s terrible. I was scared just reading about the whole thing. Was it as scary as it sounded in the paper?”

I really have to get out of here, I thought. Of all the things, that’s what she asks me. Easy, easy now, Billy. It’ll pass. There were only two people left in line. I’d be at the cash soon, and this would all be over.

Just like yesterday is now all over, I thought. Then I thought about switching lines. I figured I could just walk over to the number five cashier, and that would be it. Instead, I just shifted my eyes and said, “Yeah, I was pretty scared.”

“Then, I guess the cops shot that one guy?” She was staring at my crotch again. Was this whole thing turning her on? That’s just sick, I thought. Who thinks this sort of thing is sexy? “I guess you must have been pretty relieved when that happened.”

The cashier was giving a man his change. One more, I thought, but the woman in front of me had a buggy’s worth of groceries. I was never getting out of this.

“Yeah, they shot him, then the other one let me go. I still don’t know why. Just lucky, I guess,” I said, trying not to scream.

“Well, I just don’t know what I’d have done if it was me,” she said, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “The paper said you pushed the other one while he was staring at the one who got shot by the cops. That was very smart...and brave,” her eyes flashed at my crotch again. It was even more disgusting than anything that had happened the day before.

Come on, I thought staring at the old lady in front of me who was yakking with the cashier about how her husband prefers the decaf coffee now that his ticker’s been operated on. Hurry up. I was starting to sweat. This thing was turning ugly. They’d warned me it would be like this some days. The doctor had said to do whatever possible to avoid feeling pressured or trapped.

Then it came to me: the answer to all my prayers. I would just walk to the other side of the store. Just mention that you forgot to get something, and that you’d better go get it before you forget, I thought.

“Oh, shoot, you know what,” I began, wiping the sweat off of my forehead. “I completely forgot to grab some mustard. I really should go.”

“Oh here,” the woman from the second ring of hell said, handing me a yellow bottle from her cart, as quickly as though she’d known I was going to need it. “You can have this one. I’m not completely out anyway. I just like to keep ahead, but I don’t really even need it. Besides, it’d be a waste for you to have waited in line all this time for nothing.”

“Thanks,” I said as my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach, “I really appreciate that.”

“Oh, it’s nothing after all you’ve been through and all.” She smiled and then, pretending to look at the rack where the last minute purchase items were displayed, licked her lips and took a long look at my ass instead.

“So, did they give you any therapy for it? The hospital I mean?”

This is really too much, I thought. Can people really be this ignorant? Then I thought if the answer is yes, then I wish they’d have shot me dead, too.

No. Mustn’t think like that. It’s just the stress making this seem longer and worse than it really is. I straightened up. “They offered,” I said, trying to look like I wasn’t going to put up with this constant questioning any longer.

Evidently, that plan also failed because the next thing I knew, she was asking me about what I thought they did with the bodies, and then I must have just lost it.

I woke up on the cold, sandy floor of the supermarket, staring up at a half-dozen faces that I didn’t recognize. “What happened?” I asked the man in the green apron with the bushy moustache.

“Well, not sure really. You just sort of passed out. Here,” he said, and he lifted me to my feet and helped me pick up my things. I thanked him.

The line for the cash was clear by this time, and I momentarily wondered how long I’d been out for. The one good thing I noticed was that however long it had been, the woman in the leopard print shirt was nowhere to be seen.

I stepped up to the cash, relieved that it was finally my turn-she couldn’t talk to me now that she was gone. I felt much better about everything now.

I waited for the cashier to say something, anything at all that could start a conversation. I felt I could handle a nice, superficial chitchat. Her mouth hung agape for a second, as her mind thought of what to say to me. That’s it, I thought. Just say whatever it is you’re thinking about, and we’ll have a very short, very pleasant conversation.

“Oh my,” she said finally, and there was something familiar in the way that she said it. “Aren’t you that guy from the newspaper?”

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