The Cart or the Egg
He was edging through the Sunday market crowd, smoking a cigarette like he’d done it once or twice before. His jeans were cuffed. There was a dog heeling at his side, content, but it wasn’t his. Its nose cracked like dry clay. The man—Have I said his name?—was approached by a woman who was suddenly very close and stepping on the dog’s paw, a green-gray patch of paste at her right shoulder from the ass of a parrot on a yarn leash.
The dog squawked and the bird snarled.
Hey, watch your step, that’s a dog right there, the man said to the woman, who handed him a sweaty gum wrapper from between her soft, liver-spotted breasts. She left and the dog left too.
The note said, Meet me two blocks south — ONE HOUR, so he set a timer and sat down on the steps of a brownstone. He smoked the rest of his pack and when the timer chimed up, he walked again. She was there, two blocks south. The paste, crusted now, was still at her shoulder, but the bird was gone and she gripped the chipped handle of a shopping cart.
Guess how many, she said—Did I say the cart was filled with eggs?—but, not waiting for his guess, started a heave-shove-roll, one wheel twitching like a goat’s lip.
I’ve got a good lead, she said. Someone overturned at a checkpoint back on Chatham—a real mess—but I was ahead of the jam.
Walking next to the cart, he had the urge to nudge the whole rig right over. It was the same kind of urge he’d had as a child during sermons, to stand up on a pew’s strip of cushion, unzip his fly, and gyrate his hips so his genitals flapped in the direction of the baptismal pool. But he resisted as she pushed the first-place cart, while the second, steered by a boxy, Lego-looking man with his jaundiced tan, was suddenly not so far behind.
She said, We’d better pitch it up a notch and make it count.
They could see the finish. An old woman, gawped with lipstick, rotating her arm in a third-base-coach roundabout indicated they should sweep all the way through. Her arm like a ratchet, cackt cackt cackt, like one of those sprinkler heads, acckt acckt acckt. The Legoman’s cart wheels were friction-hot-heat swiping at their heels.
I’ve got these eggs, she said, and gave the cart one rogue fever-heave. A dandelion pushed out of a crack by the table where the judges checked the eggs to see that they were not. Cracked.
He wouldn’t ask her to share the prize because it would be like grocery shopping on a full stomach, which they say you should do but he thought not. He walked across the street, sat on the stoop of another brownstone—or maybe the stone was some other shade of business casual. He lit a cigarette and looked for the dog that wasn’t his.
Brenna Womer is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University where she teaches composition and serves as an associate editor of Passages North. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New South, The Pinch, New Delta Review, Booth, Grist, and elsewhere. More work can be found at www.brennawomer.com.