Self Immolation

“You’re not going out to the store like that?” said Glynnis, peering over her glasses, her pen frozen in the middle of a grid in the sudoku book.

“Do I have a choice? We’re out of eggs, down to our last three rolls of toilet paper, and I’m going crazy all cooped up in here,” said Herb.

“You really should try sudoku.”

That suggestion, offered daily, did not deserve anything more than an eye roll and a “pfft”.

Even though the early evening still held the remains of winter’s chill, he had to drive with the windows down to stop the smoke from obstructing his vision.

Despite the government’s pleas and requests the car park was half full. People have to eat. And people that eat have to wipe their asses. It’s the circle of life.

He drew strange looks from a hipster couple pushing a cart stacked with bags of dry dog food, from an ancient woman bent like an umbrella handle, from the bored teenagers hanging around chugging energy drinks and vaping.

“Woah! Granddad! Hot!” one of them shouted at him. The other three trotted after him, following him to the automatic doors, blowing fruity smoke in his wake like over-stoked steam engines.

Inside the store he couldn’t get a grip on the plastic handles of the baskets. He found a battered red one with the old logo fading on the side and rusted wire handles. It worked for him.

He grabbed a carton of eggs first. At least people were social distancing. It was the only thing they were doing right. The concern was somebody was going to cough too close to him, even in his direction. Would holding his breath work? Or should he exhale?

Only two-packs of toilet paper were left. Three ply. That would do. Normally he’d go cheap and single ply, Glynnis hated that, but why not some comfort in these trying times. He’d come out again, after a couple of puppy-soft ass-wiping days. Lately, Glynnis was making everything out of beans. He’d be back for more Tuesday at the latest.

The checkout was awkward. The cashier scalded his hand on the basket handles. Then he threw the change Herb dropped into his hand. Most of it went behind the guy, over his shoulder, as he whipped his hand away. The manager had to help him find it and pick it up. Herb wasn’t going to help. It wasn’t his fault. He paid the right amount and it was goddam rude and untrusting to keep him there while they crawled around.

“It’s all there, sir.”

Of course it was.

“Have a nice evening.”

He took the bag from the packer and gave the kid a nod and went back to the car. Good thing paper bags came back in. Still, he had to keep swatting at it to stop it from burning and it was basically on fire when he put it in the trunk.

The driver’s seat was going to need replacing. This pandemic was costing them money. He lowered the windows and tried not to think about their retirement fund.

The situation had fixed the traffic problems. Making everyone stay home would fix just about every problem. Except the economy. Every light was green. A miracle. He hadn’t made the trip in under eight minutes since 2001.

He’d go in the back, drop the smouldering bag on the kitchen counter, head straight up to the shower to wash off any airborne germs he might have picked up and to extinguish the incendiary gel. Some moisturising was in order. Leaning over to look in the rearview mirror, he had to shake his head. Eyebrows completely gone. Another casualty of COVID and government regulations. He couldn’t bear to look down at his lap.

“We’ll get through this,” he muttered and hit the signal for the left turn into his street.

The End

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