Who takes a shopping cart home from the supermarket? When does it reach the level of ‘Quest?’ (And who takes a shopping cart home when it isn’t the apocalypse or post-apocalypse?) Who threatens to get in the way? The fifteen year-old charged with wrangling the carts together and returning them to the store, imagining them as millipedes filling the streets as he does so? (Or a set of octopus legs in search of a body?)
The broadsword gently jiggled amongst the apples, apricots, energy bars, plastic-sealed strips of bacon, and jostling pearls tomatoes, amongst many other items he was still trying to place, somewhat incredulous at how certain things had been bagged. His breath moved into the winter air like a messenger pigeon being dispatched in slow motion.
“What, ho!” shouted a traffic cop. “What foolery is this?”
“A simple man taking his possessions back to his abode, good sir.”
The lights had changed. Cars had lurched forward, and — finding themselves blocked by the conversation — began to explore inquisitive honks.
“A simple man taking his simple possessions back to his above, sir? No, sir. The morning lark of our hearts will not declare today the first day of spring.”
“Wha — ”
“Draw your weapon.”
As the two did battle in the street, sword meeting sword, the conversation on the other side of the street ran so:
“What do you think it was? Parking tickets?”
“Could be a particularly great meal that the cop has to prove himself being worthy of being invited to.”
“Are you just going to echo everyth — ”
Across the street, the battle came to a conclusion when a pack of neighborhood dogs, large enough that people would express surprise at not knowing that that large an amount of pets lived in the neighborhood, sensing enormous amounts of food in public, began to chase him down the street, leaving the cop defended his crosswalk.
Under the overpass. Down well-lit streets. The further into the city he progress, the more the initial wave of neighborhood dogs peeled off, one-by-one. Passing through poorly lit streets where small families of deer would pop their heads out of foliage like an old Renaissance puppet or gentler version of Oscar the Grouch. Through a thicket of folks taking pictures with their rotary phones, realizing the error in their choice of phone when it was too late.
He passed a jogger, someone who had returned home from work so they could walk their dog, and a biologist fond of Gérard de Nerval who had decided to walk his pet octopus through the neighborhood, asking him if his kind really did resemble what aliens would look like if they were ever discovered on another planet.
He heard a hiss.
He looked to his left. A bus driver had pulled over to the side of the road and opened the door.
“You want a ride?”
“I spent all my money,” he said, gesturing to the contents of his cart.
“That’s fine. Just pay me with — I don’t know — one of those juicy little apricots you got there?”
The man with the cart smiled and shook his head.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Thanks for the offer, though.”
And on he went. He passed an abandoned Buddhist encampment where nothing but the litany of flags seemed to move in the wind. He passed an artisan from Berlin who was trying to hawk DIY copies of a mash-up of Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy called On/The Road, which featured lines like —
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside … Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional.
He passed a lemonade stand that was not happy with the fact that it was placed next to an ‘On/The Road’ stand.
Back at the supermarket, the stress level was high. “What do you mean we’re one shopping cart short?” A voice cried. “What the hell happened?”
The man who posed the question returned to his office and flopped with a sign into his chair.
“So I hear you’re one shopping cart short.”
The man jumped at the voice and turned around.
“It will be fixed! I promise!”
“Vladimir does not like mistakes.”
“It will be fine. Tell Vladimir it will be fine.”
The agent left the room, leaving the manager of the supermarket to stare down at his desk in a combination of sweat and anxiety.
The agent got out a cigarette in the parking lot, a match —
“Are you running your agent well?”
— and jumped a mile when he heard the voice.
“Of course, sir. Everything will be fine.”
“Mr. Jinping does not like mistakes, you know. An orange tree must be well-watered.”
“I have to say: I feel like my Mandarin has gotten pretty good over the years, and there are times when I feel like yours sounds like someone who just went to Google Trans — ”
“This meeting is finished.”
The agent left the agent to smoke the cigarette outside the supermarket. He got in his car and turned on the radio.
“And this song goes out to a Mister Zhang Wei, courtesy of — do I have this right? — ‘The Zombie Kray Brothers?’”
Miles and miles away, the shopping cart continued along the road. “I like the way the lights drop from the lampposts in the fall like glowing walnuts raining down from a tree from another world,” the man with the cart said out loud, as if he was conversing with someone walking alongside him.
“Maybe it’s Chomsky’s tree, the one he speculated lay at the root of all language. Maybe it’s another tree altogether. Who knows. Anyway: what do you want to eat tonight?”