It was a greasy Sunday morning and there was a chill in the air for it being May. We pulled into the Walmart parking lot, it being dawn. Some stars remained in the bruise-colored sky. A few cars idled in their spaces. Someone was shouting. There was a warm sick feeling in my guts about how terrible life could be so early in the morning and here we were about to feed the terribleness by stepping out into a world full of people who didn’t feel much for each other, but instead they just liked to feel each other physically like creeps.
There was a man or maybe it was a woman, but it was hard to tell because they were dressed in all black, like in a long gown, and their head was on a fire; it was a head of orange flames and the flames sort of trailed off to one side because of the breeze in the air. This person on fire was pushing a shopping cart and when they turned in a certain way to unload their things into their car, I realized the head on fire was nothing but the sun creeping up on them like a silhouette.
And this is why we were at Walmart so damn early in the morning—because I was having trouble taking breaths and I was seeing things, too, and even sounds were becoming onto me something strange. Momma decided I needed some sort of over-the-counter medicine or maybe just a good walk beneath the bright lights, but I didn’t believe any of that nonsense. I tried to tell her I needed a real doctor because I really thought I was completely losing my marbles… Green, glass marbles, like eyes, falling out of my head and crashing to the ground and shattering and then I’d be blind.
And momma squeezed my hand as she dragged me to the entrance of the store and she looked down on me, spirit wholly crushed as usual, and she said to me, “If all else fails we can be prayer warriors and the man upstairs will hear us and make me all better… But I was so confused because I never saw no man upstairs. No one is truly upstairs except our lodger and his name was Jarrod Peeps and he was a strange bird, but after daddy ran off momma said she needed a lodger for extra money.
I thought Jarrod Peeps was a creepy name and he was creepy and his name did fit him because I often saw him, the door to his room slightly cracked, peeping out into the hallway, especially early in the morning when everyone was running around trying to get ready for going to school and we would be scrambling and fussing—that being me and my younger brother Jamison and my younger sister Revvie and me, that being Sharpe, and I’m a boy in case you were wondering. Maybe you even weren’t wondering. I don’t know.
But like I was saying, this lodger, Jarrod Peeps, which was probably a made-up name because I believe he most likely had a shady past. He was a mostly quiet and nervous man who came and went to his job and whatever else he did out in the world without much turbulence. Momma liked him because he always paid his rent on time, and he could also be around for us kids at night if momma had to run off to do something like go drinking or be with a man. Jarrod always wanted to play that Barrel of Monkeys game with us because he said he liked the feel and smell of the plastic pieces, and that the “mechanics of the game help me with organizational skills.” Yep, he was a strange bird all right. His job was working as a carpenter, and he always smelled of sawdust. He helped build all the new houses going up on the edge of town.
But that is that and this is this… Momma dragging me into Walmart on a greasy Sunday morning in May because I’ve got problems. What the hell did she think was going to make me better? Grape-flavored cough syrup? I don’t know.
Once inside, the store had that collective stench of all that’s wrong with humanity. Personally, I always preferred the smell of Kmart because it had that added tang from the popcorn popping at the snack counter in one of those silver circus machines. But our Kmart shut down and they turned it into a megachurch, and I suppose it doesn’t smell like popcorn in there anymore, but I can’t say for sure because we’ve never been inside. But then again, I can imagine Jesus siting around up there eating some popcorn and listening to all these people talk about his life and how we should all live because of it, and I bet Jesus would just be tossing back that popcorn and shaking his head at all the stupid things we’ve become through the twisting of his intentions.
Momma took me straight to the pharmacy counter and asked the woman there what she would recommend for a crazy child. She just looked at my momma like she was the crazy one. The pharmacist came over and started yelling at my momma for taking space in the line from real customers. My momma fumed and called him a “prick”, but I figure he was just trying to do his job but, in the end, I still felt crazy, and momma felt defeated.
I told my momma that I might feel better if she took me to the toy aisle and let me pick something out. Sometimes getting something from the toy aisle gives me hope and purpose and a reason to live onto the following day. I always loved the toy aisle at Kmart, it gave me a good feeling in my guts sort of like bursting out the door of the house on those few first days of spring and there’s only a few patches of dirty snow left, and all the grass is pushed down from the weight of January’s crush, but you can smell that it’s coming back to life. It always comes back to life. I dread the day the grass doesn’t come back to life. I wonder if anyone else ever feels like that.
I wanted a plastic model car to put together. I wanted it to be one of those cars from back in the day that old men like. I found a ’57 Chevy and I liked how the box felt in my hand. I imagined how all the plastic pieces were in there and how I’d glue them all together and put on the tires and paint it red. It gave me a reason to stick around awhile. I know that it sounds crazy pinning all my hopes for a sustained life on a model car kit, but that’s how I was, maybe still am.
My momma went off to find some shampoo or something and she told me to stay right where I was and so I did stay in that same aisle, and I walked up and down it real slow and I watched other kids looking at all the shiny new toys and some kids were getting what they wanted, and others were being yelled at for wanting things they supposedly didn’t deserve. One lady kept saying to this crying little girl, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” I felt really bad for her because she was nearly choking on her own tears. All she wanted was some stupid doll and her mom refused. Why? What’s the harm? I glanced into the cart they had, and she had all sorts of crap for herself. Nothing for the kid. I imagined popcorn-eating Jesus being real upset about that.
The aisle cleared out again and I was all alone, but then this odd man came down the along and he was looking at puzzles, but he kept glancing over to me and smiling really weird. I didn’t like it. He gave me the creeps, and then he walked near me real slow and reached out his hand and touched me on the rear-end and I jumped away and looked at him. I couldn’t say nothing to him. It just wouldn’t come out. He just stood there and leered at me like I was some sort of little rump roast he wanted for dinner. He was creepier than Jarrod Peeps and he wouldn’t go away so I ran. I ran to find my momma. But I couldn’t find her anywhere. She said she was going to be over by the shampoo, but she wasn’t there. I started to panic. I kept looking over my shoulder and the man who touched my rear end was lurking there in the distance and he was tossing me uneasy glances.
I set my model car down on a shelf where the bathroom towels were, and I ran for the exit. Once I was clear of the Village of Idiots, I searched the parking lot for our car, but I couldn’t find it. I wandered up and down all the aisles. I almost got hit by one crazy driver who apparently couldn’t fathom the fact surrounding the necessity of slowing down in a Walmart parking lot. They blew their horn at me like it was my fault for existing. I often felt like that, though. That for some reason I should feel guilty for existing. How does a 10-year-old kid end up feeling like that? I don’t know.
I decided to go hang out by the front of the store and wait for my momma to come out. It wasn’t long before the man who touched my rear end appeared holding a lone plastic bag. He saw me there and smiled. “Hi there,” he said. I wanted to run but felt frozen to the ground like in a dream.
He reached into the bag and pulled out the model car I had picked out. “I got this for you,” he said, and he moved it in my direction.
“No thank you,” I said.
“Oh, come on. I know you want it. Just take it.”
I reached my hand out toward it but then I thought about how awful I’d probably feel the whole time I was putting it together. I pulled my hand back. “No. I don’t want it now,” I told him.
“Are you sure? I could help you put it together.”
Misery deepened by the minute for me. But then the man violently jerked forward and fell to the ground. In his place was my momma standing there holding a big bottle of shampoo that she had used to club him with. The man groaned down on the pavement. I leaned down and took up the model car. While I was down there, I said to him, “You shouldn’t be touching rear ends in this here ghastly Walmart, mister. And I’ll take this model car after all and never think of you again.”
I got up and looked at my momma. “Let’s go, crazy boy,” she said to me. “Let’s go home and put you in your room and preserve your life for a while longer. That sound okay?”
“Yes, momma,” I answered, and it did.