There was something odd about this grocery store. From the street it looked like your average, oversized cement block plopped at the end of an empty parking lot. The n, e, and s on the neon “Goneways” sign flickered like lightning bugs on their last legs and showed the store’s old age. Each time the letters faded into black, the sign glared “Go way.”
They might want to fix that, I thought to myself as I ambled toward the sliding doors. I was passing through town in the middle of the night, on my way to San Francisco. I hoped the five-day drive from Miami would dry the murky swamp sloshing around my head. Two days in, I could sing every word of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but I was still wading four feet deep in muddy waters. Looking out for alligators lurking among the reeds had been keeping me awake at night for weeks. The endless asphalt trail hadn’t changed my fears, and it was pointless to pay for a motel while my eyes refused to shut. Some cultures believe a person’s greatest clarity comes when you don’t sleep for three or four days straight. I expected a revelation that likened the second coming when my insomnia finally decided to break.
A cheery instrumental score swarmed me when I stepped in the store. This place’s muzak sounded like an episode of Leave it to Beaver, quite a contrast from the jazzy or pop tunes you heard in the bigger chains, but maybe the owner of “Goneways” held a grudge against Kenny G. Couldn’t blame him.
I grabbed a basket and headed for the snack aisle. I needed Doritos and Chips Ahoy to fuel my midnight cross-country drive. But neither of my loyal friends was anywhere to be found on the shelves I scanned.
Maybe they were on display, I mumbled, though no one was around to hear me. I’d started doing that – talking to myself – around three in the afternoon.
Sauntering to the end of the aisle, I peered to the left and right for a pyramid of chips and cookies. Cans of Campbell’s Soup and boxes of Tide stared me in the face. I didn’t even know they sold Tide in boxes anymore.
Someone in the store had to know where my snacks were hiding. Sure enough, in the produce section I spotted a young man, about fifteen, stacking apples in a bin. The jaundiced fluorescent lights cast an eery pale blue glow on his pale skin, but the white cap atop his head drew me away from his sickly pallor. It seemed a bit retro for the times, but in small-town Kansas, I wasn’t completely surprised. It was common to find people in these parts a little behind the times. Or stuck in the past, as others might claim.
“Excuse me, where do you keep the Doritos and Chips Ahoy?” I asked him.
He gave me a queer, puzzled look. “Gosh, I never heard of sailor chips,” he said. “Can’t say I’ve seen a Dorito either. But I’m kind of new here. Just started three days ago. Let’s go check with Mack. Maybe he knows.”
His confusion was baffling to me. Nevertheless I followed him to the meat counter where Mack, the burly butcher, was hacking into a shoulder loin. He, too, wore one of those retro white caps and gave the same queer look when the boy relayed my search. He called over Marge, the cashier girl, who arrived promptly, her polished saddle shoes clacking against the tile as she flounced toward us. A crisp white smock was tied over her pale blue dress which tented outward in the skirt, as though it floated on a cloud of taffeta underneath. The store’s choice of costume uniforms was a little over the top for this day and age, but if the gimmick worked for them, who was I to judge?
At the mention of Doritos, Marge’s face drew a blank.
“Is that a new detergent?” she asked.
“Oh, come on, you have to be kidding me. None of you has ever eaten a bag of Doritos?” I asked impatiently.
They glanced at each other and shook their heads. Who were these people? What teenager hadn’t popped a handful of cool ranch Doritos into his mouth after a long day at school, or savored the crisp sugary crunch of a Chips Ahoy after dinner?
As I examined the late-night threesome gazing at me with vacant stares, an uneasiness gnawed at my growling stomach. The muzak, their wardrobes, Tide in a box…
This store wasn’t replicating the 1950s – it was haunted by it.
– Written by Miss A