Bethany sits in the grocery store’s café, sipping her iced coffee and making up answers to an interview she did not conduct. She is supposed to conduct five interviews per hour. Carter thinks an interview should take eight minutes, and he thinks it should take Bethany two minutes to identify a potential interviewee. “That means you get a 10-minute break every hour,” he told her, when he was explaining what he wanted. “I was going to insist on six interviews per hour, because that is possible, time-wise, but I decided to give you a break.”
“You are a very generous brother,” she told him, and she managed to say it without letting any sarcasm drip into her voice. Her role, at this time in their lives, is to constantly thank Carter for all he is doing for her, to acknowledge he didn’t have to do it, to confess she’d be homeless and on the streets if not for him. She does this. She sucks up to her younger brother, because he got her this job and created a plan to pay back her debts.
The truth is, interviews don’t take eight minutes, because people don’t want to spend any longer in a grocery store than they have to. And people think she’s crazy when she starts asking the questions, so they don’t invest the time in answering that Carter anticipated. Carter insists on market research though. This grocery store is big, but not big enough, apparently. There’s a giant competitor going up less than a mile away. That store will have concierges in each section and triple the amount of prepared food. The owner of Carter’s store challenged all of the assistant managers to come up with a groundbreaking idea that can put their store on the map before the other store opens. Carter is determined to win, so he’s paying Bethany out of his own pocket to conduct the interviews. He wants the data, and Bethany needs the money.
Bethany closes her eyes to better focus on the taste of her drink. Carter gives her an allowance of ten dollars a day, and she always uses some of that money for a treat in the café. She tries to consume slowly and mindfully. To realize the simple pleasure of an iced coffee is all she needs at this moment. To acknowledge that it is enough, to be sitting in a café and enjoying a beverage, and that she doesn’t want for anything. Of course, that’s a lie. She wants, she wants. She wants to run out of this store and drive to the mall and buy everything she sees in her size, as well as everything one size up in case she gains weight and everything one size down in case she loses weight. She wants to calculate the cash back she’ll earn on each purchase and silently congratulate herself on how kind she is to each salesperson. She wouldn’t be in this grocery store working for her brother if she didn’t want, if she wasn’t in a constant state of want. She opens her eyes, and Carter is there, staring at her from the produce section. He points to her clipboard, and she nods. She sighs and looks around for another person to interview.
Carter usually works the 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift or, sometimes, the 3 p.m. to midnight shift, which includes closing the store down at eleven. Either way, Bethany has to stay at the store with him, because he doesn’t trust her to be alone.
On the nights they’re done at seven, Carter’s neighbor Stella comes over for dinner. Bethany often finds herself alone with Stella in the living room, in front of the television, while Carter cooks.
“How was your day?” Stella asks.
“Long,” Bethany says. She works the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. stock shift. She unloads the truck that arrives at six, and she places products on shelves and greets the first customers through the door at eight. She gets a lunch break at eleven, and she clocks out at three. Then several hours of interviewing, until Carter’s done, but since she’s not paid by the store for that time, it’s not illegal.
Stella shrugs, which is the reaction Bethany always gets when she complains about anything to Stella. You brought this on yourself, Stella’s shrug seems to say. You should be grateful you’re not in jail, Stella’s expressionless face insists. You’re lucky your brother could get you that job, Stella’s silken hair whispers.
At first, Bethany thought Stella and Carter were dating, but she finally decided that Stella is in love with Carter, and Carter is oblivious. Stella constantly compliments Carter on his big idea for the contest, on his cooking, on his ambition to move up and own a grocery store one day. They would make a good couple, but Bethany is not going to tell Carter because she doesn’t want to risk hearing him have sex while she lives with him.
Still, Bethany is glad that Stella comes over. She keeps things civil. If Stella wasn’t there, Bethany thinks that she wouldn’t be able to stop the impulse she has to wrestle Carter to the ground, to hit him in his stomach and sit on him the way she did when she was younger. It would be nice, she thinks sometimes, to remind him that he’s still her younger brother.
On her breaks, Bethany roams the aisles and plays Supermarket Sweep in her head. Supermarket Sweep was a show on Lifetime in the 90s, and Bethany was obsessed with it. Women with teased hair and men with suspicious mustaches solved clues about products, all to earn a few minutes to run around the grocery store set, throwing things into their carts during the sweep. The team with the highest dollar total for their groceries won and could play for the grand prize of five thousand dollars.
Bethany always thinks of the show when she passes the meat section; most contestants’ strategy was to go for huge hunks of beef and beachball-sized turkeys. After the meat, they’d run to the aisle with garden hoses, and then to the aisle with diapers. It was glorious to watch people shop with abandon, though now it was impossible not to wonder if that show had been the beginning of the end for Bethany, if that’s where she’d found a high impossible to regularly replicate in real life without going broke. When Carter was promoted to assistant manager, Bethany asked him if watching Supermarket Sweep had influenced his decision to work in a grocery store. He claimed to have no memory of the show.
In the name of research, Carter is cooking his way through the meal kits that come delivered to your door with pre-measured ingredients. These boxes, he believes, spell disaster for the grocery store industry, but he’s convinced the store could do something similar but better. He just has to figure out how. Unfortunately, improving meal kits can’t be his idea for the contest because he’s heard that another assistant manager, Wilson, is already working on a box-of-ingredients idea.
Carter splits the meals he cooks with Stella, but he’s said that if Bethany eats his food, he’ll charge her, to teach her the value of a dollar. Bethany eats oatmeal for dinner. She has hundreds of packets of oatmeal because her ex-boyfriend, Leo, thought he might want to hike the Appalachian Trail, to add meaning to his life, and Bethany had tried to be a supportive girlfriend by buying him a bunch of gear and food. Then he realized he could add meaning by subtracting her, so he took the gear but left the food. One day soon, she knows she’ll die of eating too much oatmeal, and then they’ll all be sorry—Leo, Carter, and her parents, who are currently driving around the country in an RV. “Don’t expect any money from us when we die,” her mother told her before they left. “We’ve put everything into the RV.” Her mother calls every Sunday night and spends exactly fifteen minutes talking to Carter and exactly fifteen minutes talking to Bethany. From what she can hear of Carter’s side of the conversation, her parents are constantly thanking him for looking out for his big sister.
She can eat five packets of oatmeal in one sitting and still feel hungry.
Carter almost always works afternoons, but one early morning, he’s the assistant manager on duty when the stock team unloads the truck. He watches the team work, his hands in his pockets, his head cocked to the side like he wants to say something. Bethany tries not to look at him; no one on her team knows they’re related, per his request. The truck parks directly in front of the store, and half the team works outside, scanning the boxes and placing them on a conveyor belt that runs into the store. The other half of the team works inside, opening the boxes and putting the contents in shopping carts; when the truck departs, they’ll run the carts through the store, placing as much as possible before taking the extra merchandise to the back. They’re short-staffed this morning, though, so a few people are running in and out to alternate between the inside and outside work. Finally, Carter speaks.
“Hey, Stock Team! Quick huddle!” The team leader cuts the stereo, which plays ’80s pop to keep them moving. Carter waits as everyone leaves their post and forms a circle around him. He smiles. “I want to thank you all for your hard work. Our store couldn’t function without you. I have a huge favor to ask, though. Those sensors”—he points at the squares framing the doors —“count how many people enter the store. And then, each month, we have to present a statistic showing how many people entered against how many items bought and how many dollars spent. When you guys leave and come back in, you’re really affecting those statistics. So let’s keep the crossing back and forth in front of the sensors to a minimum, okay?”
The team leader was already saying they’d be more careful, but Bethany couldn’t help herself. “The store’s not open yet. Can’t you just subtract the number of entrances from the hours that the store is closed?”
Carter’s eyebrows twitch. “Unfortunately, we can’t. So please just be more careful.”
The team leader gives Bethany a dirty look. “We will definitely do that,” he says to Carter.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Bethany says. “The truck is outside, and the food needs to get inside. Some people are going to have to go outside to make it happen.”
Carter starts to speak, but the team leader pushes play on the stereo and turns the volume up. Carter gives everyone two thumbs-up before walking away.
Bethany watches from the pasta aisle as the magazines are changed out. It was one of her greatest disappointments to discover that she couldn’t get the old magazines once the new ones went on sale. The store has a relationship with a very mean woman named Tinsley who comes to collect the magazines and return them to the publisher for credit. When she started working at the store, Bethany brought Tinsley an iced coffee—a sacrifice, on her allowance—and asked if she could have a Vogue, an In Style, and a Real Simple. Or anything, really; she was so desperate for content. Tinsley looked at her and said, “I guess I could do that. If you’re okay with being a thief.” Bethany was certainly okay with taking expired magazines, but as she paused and waited for Tinsley to hand the issues over, she realized that Tinsley took her job too seriously. She did not get any magazines.
If the store on Supermarket Sweep had magazines, that would be where Bethany would focus some of her attention during the game. The glossy promises of perfection do not come cheap, and Bethany’s dad would always complain that she was paying for ads, but oh, the thrill of getting to see what was new, what was now possible because a designer and an editor had deemed it so.
Bethany gives Tinsley’s back the evil eye before turning around to see Carter, standing all the way at the other end of the aisle, watching her. She wonders if he can read her mind, if he knows that she’s thinking about leggings and T-shirts with cheeky slogans and the perfect everyday dress, with an A-line skirt and a Peter Pan collar and polka dots. If he knows how much she hates being stuck in the black polo shirt and khaki pant uniform of a store worker and how tired she is of the yoga pants and hoodies that shoppers wear. If he can tell that being separated from her phone, one of his conditions for letting her living with him, makes her skin feel like it’s on fire, how she’d willingly murder him if she could get five minutes on Instagram to see what everyone is wearing. He points to his watch, and she remembers that all he cares about is winning the contest and a promotion, so much so that he’s paying her, even if the money goes immediately back to the credit card companies.
Bethany steers clear of the mothers with the babies and toddlers ensconced in the front of the shopping cart until those children are old enough to push the mini-cart, the one labeled “Shopper-in-Training.” She needs the people with baskets, not carts. The people who have taken two bananas from a big bunch, who have at least one frozen meal, who have selected the smallest carton of milk available. They tend to congregate around the salad bar or the hot bar. They need just a third of a pound of deli meat, not the two pounds that the mothers request. They do not wear wedding rings.
“Excuse me,” Bethany says to a woman who is looking at her phone in the canned soup aisle. “I don’t want this to sound weird, but are you single?”
“Uh, yeah,” the woman says, reluctantly. “Why?”
“I was wondering if you had a few minutes to discuss a possible new shopping experience.”
Most of the time, people say no, which doesn’t bother Bethany. It’s more surprising when people say yes, which Canned Soup Woman does. Bethany begins to read from her clipboard.
“On a scale from one-to-ten, one being not interested at all and ten being extremely interested, how interested are you in a grocery store designed exclusively for single people? This grocery store would package all the things you see here”—Bethany gestures at the aisle, at the store in general—“in serving sizes meant for just one person.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you could have a craving for an Oreo, and instead of having to buy the whole package for a few bucks, you could buy two Oreos for thirty cents. And then you wouldn’t accidentally eat all the Oreos in one night.”
“That would be good.”
“How often do you cook for yourself?” Bethany continues.
“A few times a week,” the woman says.
Bethany wants to ask if she is counting the times she heats up a can of soup. “When you make a meal, do you find yourself having to eat a lot of leftovers of that meal, because you live alone?”
“I have roommates.”
“You understand the point I’m making, though.”
“Yeah. I’ll crave something like lasagna and then I have to eat it six times in a row.”
“Of course. This new concept would offer you the opportunity to buy the ingredients you need for just one or two servings, at a reduced cost. So if you need half an onion for a recipe that feeds four, you could buy just a tiny bit of an onion. If you want, of course. I think they’ll still have entire onions.”
“It sounds really great,” Canned Soup Woman says. “You can say I’m a ten, the most interested.”
“Perhaps,” Bethany says, “you’re also thinking of the fact that by shopping at this new concept, you would be surrounded by other single people, and it might be a good place to meet people?”
“I wasn’t thinking that, but it’s a good point. So yeah, I’m really interested.”
“That’s great,” Bethany says. “I just have five more minutes of questions for you.” Then it’s on to questions about food waste, packaging waste, the price a person would pay for such convenience, the relative importance of a bar with beer on tap within the store, and whether a person would like someone in the store whose sole job is to divide recipes for four, for six, for eight into recipes for one. Canned Soup Woman provides so much feedback that Bethany decides to split her answers into two interviews and take another break.
The grocery store on Supermarket Sweep was small, probably so it would seem really chaotic when all of the contestants were running through the aisles, looking for the big-ticket items. In a big store, there’s so much more contestants could grab. Sushi and fresh-baked baguettes and personalized cookie cakes. Double points for organic. Triple points for curating a custom charcuterie tray.
During the sweep, the contestants could grind a bag of coffee beans or pick up huge inflatables in the shape of products—steak sauce, a two-liter soda—for cash bonuses. It was usually impossible to win without a few bonuses. Bethany watches Kip, the clueless cashier, try to find a pack of American Spirits and wonders how much of a bonus could be awarded for a challenge where you had to describe the location of a certain brand of cigarette to a blindfolded clerk. The show would have been a lot different if the show had acknowledged vice. A bonus for the contestant who takes the time to show her ID for allergy medication and the biggest jug of cheap wine.
Bethany walks down the greeting card aisle, thinking about how she’d like to be the kind of person who always has the right card on hand. She looks at the fresh seafood and wishes she threw the kind of parties where she served oysters. She wants to crawl inside the freezer and eat gourmet ice cream until her entire body, inside and out, is numb. That’s what her brother doesn’t understand, that it’s not just about the clothes. That’s what got her in trouble, sure, back when she was a manager at a department store. Even with the employee discount, her entire paycheck went back to the store, immediately, and then there wasn’t enough for rent, especially after Leo left. She’d skimmed a little from the registers, and they’d found out. Fortunately, they didn’t prosecute, but she was fired, and then evicted, and then Carter had to help her move, and that’s when he’d found all the clothes, most still with tags. He thinks he has to keep her away from clothing, but working in the grocery store, Bethany has realized she wants everything. She wants to find just the right notebook and pen because she knows with the proper supplies she could write, or draw, or something else she’s never done before. She wants to try all the different kinds of tea so she’ll know which ones she likes. She wants to see if probiotics make a difference. She wants to find a signature candle scent, one that will instantly make her room smell like potential and inspiration and future accomplishment. She wants to use an air fryer. She wants, she wants. Everything she wants will make her life better, if she only had the time to figure out how. The other day she held a starter pack of essential oils—one for focus and clarity, one for energy, one for relaxation and stress relief, and one for sleep—and she wanted it so badly she started to shake.
She couldn’t just take it, though. She had tried that, once, when she was a teenager and her mom wouldn’t give her an advance on her allowance to buy a spaghetti-strap tank top. She’d stuffed one in her bag and walked out, and no one noticed. But she couldn’t wear the tank top. She couldn’t just have the thing and feel better. She had to be the kind of person who could buy it. She wants to insert a chip card. She wants to see if she has exact change. She wants the plastic shopping bags that accumulate into blobs, tucked away in the pantry. And now she was stuck in a place where there was nothing to do but buy, and she had no way to do it.
Stella and Carter huddle in the kitchen, whispering so Bethany can’t hear. Stella volunteered to sell a lot of Bethany’s clothing online, and then she turns the money over to Carter. She brings Bethany articles about how to shop your own closet to create new outfits. She has offered to sit with Bethany in the apartment, if Carter has to work, because they agree there’s no telling what Bethany would do unsupervised. There is no way to shop, she wants to scream. She knows because she’s thought about it. The closest store is a pharmacy, and it’s two miles away. She doesn’t know the passwords for Carter’s computer. Bethany hates feeling like a child and hates knowing that it’s her fault.
After Stella and Carter eat a vegetarian, dairy-free meal from a kit, they join Bethany on the couch for an episode of Shark Tank, where contestants pitch investors on their business or invention.
“I could just see you on this show one day,” Stella says to Carter. “You’ll probably make grocery stores for single people go nationwide.”
“I read once that the average person has a million-dollar idea every year,” Carter says. “Most people just don’t act on it. Like, you know that company where you can rent fancy dresses?”
Bethany sees Stella stiffen and look her way at the mention of clothing, but Bethany ignores it. She tries to focus on the skinny jeans one of the contestants is wearing.
“I definitely had that idea a few years ago,” Carter continues. “Why spend a ton on something you’ll only wear once? I thought there should definitely be a place with one of every dress, in every size, and you could request to borrow it. I just didn’t act on it.”
“Well, you’re acting on your idea now. I can’t wait to hear how the presentation goes this week,” Stella says.
“Bethany, I’m probably going to start on my presentation tomorrow, so just a few more days of interviewing. Then we’ll have to find something else for you to do in the afternoons.”
“How are the interviews going, Bethany?” Stella asks. “It must be so fascinating to get to talk to all of these shoppers.”
Bethany rolls her eyes. “No, it’s awkward, because everyone thinks I’m hitting on them when I ask if they’re single.”
“You’re getting great information,” Carter says. “You should be proud of yourself. I can really make the case for my idea.”
“You know what you should do? Supermarket Sweep.”
“As a promotion.” Bethany had only played the game by herself in her head, but now, she sees it so clearly. “I bet people would pay fifty bucks or something like that to solve the riddles and run around the store. The store could keep the money or donate it to charity.”
“What is she talking about?” asks Stella.
“Some show we watched when we were little,” says Carter.
“I’m serious, Carter! Think of all the products we learned about from watching that show. We knew the names of all the dishwashing detergents and even the obscure candy bars from playing along. Not only would people want to play, and want to watch, but you could spotlight so many products in the store. The manufacturers would probably pay you to be featured.”
“The risk for injury would be insane,” says Carter. “There’s no way you can do that in real life. Eyes on the goal. Focus on the grocery store for single people and helping me with the presentation.”
Bethany sighs. “What are you going to wear for your presentation?”
Stella stiffens again. She clearly can’t stand when clothing comes up.
“What I wear every day, Bethany. Most people don’t need a new outfit for every occasion.”
Bethany pushes her cart of merchandise around the store, replenishing the cereal boxes, moving the bread with rapidly approaching expiration dates to the front of the shelf. Sometimes the carts are well-organized—one person will sort them by aisle as they come in—but today, it’s chaos, and Bethany walks from aisle two to nine and doubles-back to five. On Supermarket Sweep, right before the contestants set off running, the host would give them a three-item grocery list. Potato chips, hair color, yogurt. Hot dogs, a broom, lemonade mix. If they grabbed all three, they’d get another bonus. Bethany would recite the list under her breath as the contestants ran, willing them not to forget about those extra points as they loaded their carts with dog food and charcoal. Bethany would be so good at that part now, she thinks, as she places cans of flavored tuna. She knows where everything is.
Bethany usually forgot that there was another part after the segment where the contestants ran around and filled their cart. The carts were totaled, and the team with the highest dollar value earned a chance to play for the grand prize, which was a three-question scavenger hunt around the store. Five thousand dollars was hidden behind the third item. It was anticlimactic to her. Who wants to look for just three items after getting to fill a whole cart?
The day of the presentation, Carter lets Bethany go home early. Stella babysits her and makes a cake in Carter’s kitchen. “I have a feeling we’ll be celebrating tonight,” she keeps saying.
Just get drunk and kiss him already, Bethany thinks.
When Carter walks through the door, Bethany can tell it went well. He’s beaming, and he’s even slouching a little, as if he can let himself go for a moment, for just one moment of success.
“They loved the idea of a grocery store for single people. Or at least a section of the store geared toward the shopper who is cooking for one.”
Stella shrieks and throws her arms around Carter. “I knew they’d see that you’re a grocery store genius!”
“Yeah, I think I have the promotion in the bag,” he says, and Bethany is happy, because Carter is happy, and he really has done a lot for her, and he deserves to be happy.
Later that evening, after they’ve eaten meal-kit fish tacos (Carter whispered to Bethany that the meal was on him tonight, and Bethany wondered if he could only be so generous because there were six tacos in the kit, rather than four) and cake, Stella asks again for Carter to repeat everything his boss said, everything that happened in the meeting.
“I just explained the concept and showed him all the information from the interviews Bethany conducted.”
“And then what? Tell me exactly,” Stella says.
“We, just, uh, talked about the idea, and then we talked some about the new megastore going in, and he happened to ask if I had any other ideas.”
“Oooh, what did you tell him?”
“Um, well, I did mention your Supermarket Sweep idea, Bethany. And he loved it. He wants to host a local version. Maybe get like, the local news anchor to play with a single mom or something.”
“You used both ideas?” Bethany asks.
“Yes. Are you excited? You’ll get to see that show again.”
“You used both of my ideas?” she asks again.
And there’s the pronoun that’s gone unsaid these past few weeks, the one Bethany has been itching to say every time Carter called the idea his. She was the one who came up with the idea of a singles-only grocery store, years ago, two boyfriends before Leo. Carter was still just a senior cashier at that point, and she’d told him that she deserved the dignity of being able to make one nice meal for herself, without having to eat it eight more times in leftovers, and without having to find five more recipes to use up the giant tub of tahini sauce or miso paste she’d bought.
Carter, ever practical, had tried to explain why it wouldn’t work and she’d deflected his arguments one-by-one. Wouldn’t people be embarrassed by shopping in a singles market? No, she told him. The convenience would outweigh the embarrassment, and there’d be the possibility of meeting someone you knew was single. Wouldn’t the concept become obsolete once people paired off and needed bigger portions of ingredients? Yes, but the pool of single people was never-ending, and it would be like the way people first bought clothes at Old Navy, and then moved on to staples from The Gap when they made a little bit more money, before splurging on a suit or a statement necklace from Banana Republic. All that money stayed with Gap, Inc., and all the singles’ money would stay within the umbrella of the store. A customer for life. The extra food prep, the packaging, the pricing—she explained it all.
She hadn’t said anything when he started presenting the idea as his own. It had to go unsaid because of everything Carter is doing for her. Giving her a place to live, helping her pay off bills and save money, keeping her addiction in check. She tries to say thank you, tries to live perfectly so she can get out on her own again. And now Carter thanks her for these two promotion-securing ideas by letting her eat two fish tacos instead of oatmeal? Everyone—her parents, her coworkers, Stella—thinks he follows the rules, but he steals too.
Bethany gets up and goes to her room. As she closes the door, she hears Stella saying, “She’s always so ungrateful for everything you do.”
You can owe someone your life and not want him to take it, Bethany thinks. You can be grateful you have someone to look out for you and not want him to constantly watch you.
Bethany is mad at Carter and disappointed, as always, in herself, and the thing that would feel best right now would be going to a store and trying on everything until her body got tired or they ran out of items, whichever happened first. But that’s not an option, and so she’s walking in and out of the grocery store. In and out, in and out, letting the sensor count her as a hundred different customers, none of whom will buy anything. The numbers this week will be ruined.
Carter finally finds her, and she wonders if someone—a customer, a cashier—told on her, or if he was able to know, by virtue of blood relation, that she was doing something that would bring him harm.
“Please stop,” he says.
“No,” she says.
“I’m sorry I used the Supermarket Sweep idea, Bethany. You did offer it to me, though.”
“Do you want credit for the ideas? I could tell the owner that both ideas were yours.”
“No, I don’t want credit. I just wanted to hear you say thank you.”
She continues to walk in and out of the store.
“I mean it.”
“I know you do.” She keeps walking.
“I’ll give you something if you stop,” he says, and he sounds like a kid again. Whenever Bethany had a reason to tattle, which was rarely, he’d promise her something, a dollar, a toy, to keep her mouth shut.
“My credit card?” she asks.
“You know those have been cut up,” he says.
“I can’t do that.”
“Just for ten minutes,” she says.
“I can’t tell you what it is right now,” he says. “Just please stop.”
She pauses, outside, then dramatically walks back inside again. “It better be good,” she says, wondering what meal kits he still has on hand, which would be easy to split three ways.
That night, Carter works the closing shift. Bethany sits in the café and watches the cashiers shut down their registers. Carter checks the purses and backpacks of the employees before they leave to ensure they didn’t steal anything.
“Ready to go?” she asks when he’s done. All he needs to do is flip the lights and lock the door.
“It’s time for your surprise,” he says. He locks the door.
“I get to work late? Awesome.”
“Wait here.” He disappears into the management office. When he comes back, he is fidgety, nervous.
“I turned the security cameras off, which I am definitely not supposed to do,” Carter says, his voice shaking. “I think they automatically come back on in twenty minutes or something, so we don’t have much time. I couldn’t think of any of the little riddles, so I figured we’d skip that part.”
“What?” She can’t understand what he’s saying or why he’d do something like turn off the cameras.
“The little clues that get you more time in the store? On Supermarket Sweep? I didn’t have time to come up with a whole game. Let’s just say you have three minutes, okay? Three minutes to run around the store.” He pushes a cart towards her, and she finally understands what he’s giving her. A moment of freedom.
“Are you ready?” he asks. He looks at his watch. “On your mark, get set…”
“Wait, Carter,” she says, stopping him. “The shopping list. The three things that I need to pick up for the bonus.”
“Right,” he says. He pauses, looking around, even though the aisles are hidden behind the produce section and the registers. “Garbage bags. Frozen green beans. And Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix.”
She smiles at him. Sometimes he makes those brownies, and he always gives her one, no charge, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. “Okay, I’m ready.”
He looks at his watch. “On your mark, get set, go!”
The meat department, the first stop of any good contestant, is in the back of the store, so Bethany starts running for that. The cart is loud in the silent store, but Bethany is grateful that she has a good one; there are so many with wonky wheels or death rattles or off-kilter alignments that make them impossible to steer. She realizes how tired she is; her sore feet ache at running on the concrete floors and her legs feel like lead, but her heart is beating rapidly; adrenaline will get her through the next few minutes. She can hear the hum of the fluorescent lights and her own breath.
She’s nearly to the end of an aisle when she realizes she doesn’t know the terms of this game. If it’s true Supermarket Sweep, she should be going for the highest dollar amount. She could do that: fill her cart to the brim and spend thousands. But then, she’ll have to put all the groceries back. Probably by herself; Carter seems unlikely to help. But what if there’s a possibility she can keep some of what she grabs? It’s a slim chance, but maybe Carter will let her use some of her earnings on her haul. There’s not enough time on the clock to go back and ask; if he has to second-guess what he’s done, he’ll call it all off. Instead of grabbing large chunks of meat, Bethany turns and goes down a different aisle, searching the shelves for something she wants.
Molly Edmonds was born and raised in North Carolina. She received her MFA in Fiction at North Carolina State University. Her work has been featured in Slate and the American Literary Review.