Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and You Remind Me of Me, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. Chaon's fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and was the recipient of the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon lives in Cleveland Heights, and teaches Creative Writing at Oberlin College.
You aren't going to hurt her, but you single her out right away as someone you maybe would like to hurt.
You think her hair might be a wig. It is white—"platinum?"—and shoulder length, and why would someone do something like that to their actual hair? You'd have to dip it in some kind of horrible chemical, and smoke would rise up with a hiss. There is an almost fluorescent quality.
So say it's a wig.
Her clothes are tight and she's got a good body. She might be a rock star or someone you'd come across in porn videos on the internet.
So, then: What is she doing at a Dave's in the suburbs of Cleveland?
It is so easy to follow someone down the aisles in a grocery store, because everyone meanders along the same rambling path. Here: the diversity of breakfast cereal, you both lift the nearly weightless boxes to read the label. Here: the meat. She presss the pad of her finger against the plastic covering on a package of chicken breasts. With your back to her, you pick up a package of "marrow bones," and you consider what might be done with a marrow bone. What if you brought a package of them home to your children?
Your metal shopping cart makes a rattling sound as it wheels along the smooth polished floor,
as you trail after this woman whose life you can't imagine. Does she have a husband or a lover? Has she ever given birth? How old is she, actually? Late thirties? Forties? Maybe she's younger, but the drugs have given her a hard face?
There is a sadness to her selections. Two twelve packs of diet Pepsi. Boxes of frozen dietary
meals. Kale. She lives alone, obviously. If you were going to kill her, you would suffocate her slowly in her bedroom. You'd find a way to immobilize her underneath the blankets of her bed, and you'd put a plastic bag over her face. The plastic would tighten over her mouth as she tried to breath, and there would be condensation on the inside of the bag.
And now she is over at the fish counter. Of course: no doubt she eats a lot of fish.
Which reminds you of your Dad. You think of fishing with him down in Chillicothe, how he wanted you to be a daddy's girl, a tough girl who isn't quite a tomboy. Bullfrog legs and crawdads cooked over a fire, potatoes he cut up with his pocket knife into a dish he'd fashioned out of aluminum foil. Men like a girl who knows how to go camping, he told you, and put a boozy, companionable arm across your shoulder. They like a resourceful gal.
You hate the woman's shoes so bad. You hate the way they tip tip tip along the floor, you hate the way they are arched, the way her bare toes peek out of the end of them, bunched and pink like they are being garroted.
You haven't talked to your father in a long time. He has never seen your children, and he
might not even know they exist, he might not know that he's a grandfather. Maybe one of your cousins has told him, who knows? In any case, he's a long way away.
When you get home, your father's grandchildren will be waiting for you, waiting for their groceries. The little boys will be rolling around on the couch, wiggly, playing video games, wrestling. The twelve-year-old, Jessica, will be making a video of herself, you will walk in with your bags and she will be singing so clear and plaintive along with a pop song that for a moment you will pause stealthily in the doorway to listen.
Whose life is worse? You wonder.
If you had to choose one, which would it be?