: Bob's Grocery :

an excerpt by Ben Miller

Overnight the utility company had shut off electricity to Bob’s Grocery. Friends and customers of the bankrupt owner were rescuing warm meat from dripping cases in the back. The air may not actually have smelled of blood, but on entering, my father and I were caught in the rush of hamburger, round steak, and pot roasts toward the propped-open powerless door, and it colored my perception of the odor. I smelled red.

Pale morning light bathed aisles. Most wooden shelves were bare. Some shelves crooked as if carried a few feet and put down. A wan lady attempted to buy a battered box of oatmeal as an elderly companion dabbed eyes with a lilac hankie. A man near a denuded check-out lane, kept starting sentences: “When Bob gets re-orien-tay-ted—”

The stock boy, stunned, tongue rolling, prodding the inner cheek, trying to loosen the joke stuck in there. Flies crawled floor shadows mixed with cooler melt or sawdust or both. Behind the empty cold-cut case trailed a long cord, rat-sized plug. Buzzing of an inept emergency generator. Again, that smell—moist and sweetish like cherry licorice. 

Well.” My father made the word rhyme with whale. “Where’s Bob?”

His buzz-cut head swiveled—attempting to pick out a legal client amid chaos.

He had stopped ten steps in, so had I, and there we stood as meat streamed by.