Fiction: All of America Shocked and Heartbroken
By Alex Miller
On the first day after the breakup, Lucy realized she would be fine. She spoke the idea aloud to manifest it. I’m fine. I can handle this. I’m great. Immediately she posted on Twitter. Announcing the news felt freeing. Exhilarating. She posted again on Facebook. She took a selfie of her smiling face for Instagram. She felt certain that anyone who saw the photo would recognize her as a fun-loving gal enjoying the prime of her life. Jake was a fool for leaving this strong, confident woman. She explained this to her mother over the phone. I’m fine, mom. I’m happy. Hours later she explained it again to a hastily arranged conclave of her closest friends at a wine bar. By then, the words had taken on a life of their own. Girls, I don’t know what to tell you except I feel fantastic. Lucy cradled a deep red goblet of Zinfandel. I haven’t felt this good in forever. I have so much energy. I could run a marathon. Who wants to run a marathon with me? This … this breakup … this thing … whatever it is. Honestly, I’m starting to think it’s the best thing to ever happen to me.
Two days after the breakup, Lucy awoke in her bedroom with a thumping headache. She pulled the covers up to her chin. She did not venture out of bed until evening, when she rummaged through her kitchen for a tray of Oreos. She consumed the entire package while leaning over the kitchen sink, then returned to bed.
Three days after the breakup, Lucy called out sick from work. She ordered fried rice and Mongolian beef from the Chinese place down the street. She drank copiously from a Bota Box of mixed reds. She re-watched a season of The Bachelor. She laughed and cheered until tears streaked her face. She hurled insults at the screen and sobbed as her favorite contestant got sent home. Injustice! When the woman broke down weeping in front of the cameras, Lucy was moved by her bravery, her willingness to share her pain with millions of viewers. The woman’s rejection was a collective trauma, a gut punch to the spirit of the nation, perhaps even the world. Lucy felt as if she and the woman shared the same grief. An invisible cord connected them through time and space, transmitting electrical nerve signals of deep loss and sadness. Lucy communicated words of consolation through the cord. You deserve better. He’s making the worst mistake of his life. You are not some toy to be thrown away.
Four days after the breakup, the Bota Box produced only a gurgling noise when Lucy depressed the valve. She disassembled the cardboard box, removed the plastic pouch and squeezed the last dregs of wine into her glass. She drank and sulked on the couch. She realized something terrible—there was no more alcohol in her apartment. This led to a second and more dreadful realization—she must get dressed and go to the store.
Lucy scavenged a pair of yoga pants from the laundry strewn across her bedroom carpet, along with a pink sweatshirt decorated with the word Princess in fancy script. She donned a wool scarf and hat. She hadn’t raised the blinds for days and didn’t know if it was rainy or sunny, so she slipped on a pair of boots just in case.
She left her apartment and started up the sidewalk in the direction of a supermarket. The February morning was overcast and cold. Lucy crossed her arms over her chest and cursed herself for not wearing a heavy coat. The world that greeted her was painted from a palette of grays and browns—bare trees hunched with sadness, sidewalks littered with broken glass and decaying mounds of dog shit. Up ahead, a jogger approached. She wore spandex and sunglasses, her blonde hair trailing like waves of golden light. Lucy noticed the slimness of the jogger’s waist and the firm muscles of her shoulders and legs. The jogger smiled warmly as she passed, and Lucy smiled back.
Bitch, Lucy muttered.
The wide glass doors of the supermarket parted for Lucy. She hurried toward the liquor aisle. On the way, she bumped into a display of Lay’s potato chips. She wasn’t aware of hitting it, but suddenly there it was, toppling in front of her. She grabbed for it—purely on reflex—catching and righting it just in time. She looked around to see if anybody had noticed. Near the entrance, a security guard eyed her from his perch on a tall stool. Lucy didn’t like how he stared, his eyes glued to her tits.
Pervert, she muttered.
Lucy made her way to the liquor aisle, passing long shelves of red and white wines. She didn’t fool around with bottles anymore—she bought wine by the box. She reached for a Bota Box but missed and jammed a fingernail against a bottle of red wine. Glass clinked against glass. The bottle tottered, tipped and fell. For an instant, the world moved in slow motion. Her arms lanced out—too late. The bottle hit the floor. Shattered. A great dark wave of wine spread forth.
Lucy covered her mouth with her hand. A vinegar odor rose from the spilt wine. Tiny daggers of glass jutted like teeth or bones from the blood-red liquid. She felt strange. Dizzy. Muddled thoughts flitted through her mind. She imagined it was not a bottle of wine she’d dropped but a living baby. She imagined kneeling and lapping the wine off the floor like a wild dog. Imagined shards of glass rending her tongue into blood-soaked charcutiere.
A nervous voice spoke up behind her.
“I’m so very sorry, ma’am. I’ll clean this up right away.”
Lucy turned to see a young man with red hair and freckles. He wore a blue apron and held a mop. A badge pinned to his chest identified him as Eugene, assistant manager.
“Oh my god. I don’t know how it happened,” Lucy said, her hand still covering her mouth.
“Are you OK?” Eugene began to mop the spilt wine.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m fine. It’s just … it was a shock.”
“These things happen all the time,” Eugene said, mopping furiously. “It’s nothing to worry about. All in a day’s work.”
Lucy exhaled. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath. She smiled at Eugene. She reached past him and took a Bota Box from the shelf.
“Um,” Eugene said, frowning. “Ma’am … I’m sorry ma’am … but are you sure you want that?”
“What do you mean?” Lucy’s skin prickled with electricity.
“Maybe you’d rather have something to eat.” He planted the mop like a fence post and leaned against it. “We just now made some bread in the bakery. Doesn’t that sound good? Fresh bread? I bet it’s still warm.”
Lucy rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t bother responding until she was out of earshot.
Nerd, she muttered.
The Bota Box was all she’d come for, but instead of going straight to the cashier she veered down another aisle. She didn’t want to give the wrong impression, didn’t want anyone to think she was some alcoholic. She took her time perusing Cheez-It and Goldfish crackers before grabbing a package of Oreos. She carried the cookies and box of wine to the checkout.
Only one lane was open. A young woman operated the cash register, but—to Lucy’s dismay—Eugene stood behind her. Lucy’s stomach flipped like she’d eaten bad sushi. Eugene whispered to the cashier, who nodded soberly, as if Eugene had revealed a secret of grave importance. Lucy placed her groceries on the conveyor belt. She fumbled in her pocket for her wallet. She hated the pockets of yoga pants, too small for human hands.
“I’m sorry Miss, but I can’t sell you that item,” the cashier said, glancing down at the Bota Box.
Lucy had had enough. No grocery store had ever given her so much bullshit, and she said so to the employees behind the counter. It wasn’t fair for them to treat her this way. She was fine, and if they could just be patient she would pay for everything.
Eugene stepped forward. He fixed both his hands squarely on the conveyor belt and stared Lucy in the eye.
“Ma’am, state law prohibits me from selling alcohol to any customer who is visibly intoxicated.” His face looked stern and serious; his freckled cheeks flushed red. “I can sell you the cookies, but you’ll have to leave the wine.”
Lucy exploded. She told him she didn’t appreciate being talked down to by some Dungeons and Dragons geek. He was harassing her. He was acting fucking ridiculous. She emphasized her words with forceful gesticulations of her hands.
Just then, the security guard dismounted his stool. He ambled over and planted his feet behind her. He stood close enough for Lucy to smell him—cigar smoke and strong cologne. He cleared his throat. Lucy groaned inwardly. She hated cops. They never listened.
“Officer I have my ID. I’m fine. Really I’m fine.” Words flew from her mouth with desperate rapidity as she fumbled for her wallet.
The security guard sighed.
“Princess, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store.”
Lucy exited through the automatic doors. Her face burned red. She’d never felt so mortified. So humiliated.
Narcs, she muttered.
Lucy took a moment to compose herself. Inhaled. Exhaled. She looked around the shopping center and spotted a liquor store right next door to the supermarket. A warm feeling of relief descended upon her, as if a calming drug had been released in her bloodstream. She straightened her posture and walked purposefully toward the entrance. Just then, her pocket vibrated. She stopped in front of the door and retrieved her phone, swiped a finger over the glass surface. Lucy was surprised to see a series of messages from Jake.
Keep thinking about you babe.
Miss you like crazy.
Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life???
Lucy huffed. She appraised her reflection—dim and wraithlike—in the glass entryway. An awkward clump of hair had clawed its way out of her hat. Her breasts hung like sad lumps beneath her sweatshirt. She tapped her phone several times to delete the messages. Tapped again to block Jake’s number.
Loser, she muttered.
A wide smile spread across Lucy’s face as she entered the liquor store. The scent of old whiskey permeated the room. She marched to the wine aisle for a Bota Box. She liked the feel of the box, the weight, the coarseness of the cardboard against her hands. She imagined warm rays of happiness and pleasure radiating from it. When she approached the cashier, she was pleased to find his manner polite and professional. He returned her smile as he rang up her purchase. He remarked about the weather. He asked about her day.
Lucy took a deep breath.
Alex Miller is the author of the novel White People on Vacation (Malarkey Books, 2022). His fiction has appeared in Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House and MoonPark Review. He lives in Denver.