BY SHANE JONES
Ted is in the soup aisle again. At the end of the soup aisle is his wife. Except it’s not his wife, just a woman he thinks looks like his wife, and after he places three cans of Italian Wedding soup into the woman’s cart he realizes his mistake. The woman isn’t upset. But Gina is.
“She has a burned looking face,” Gina says.
Ted thinks how the woman looks exactly like Gina. They could be sisters or twins. Ted thinks the woman’s name is probably Gina too. So he says, “Honey bear, you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m having one of my off days again.”
Ted reaches for a box of Chocolate Disaster. When Gina stares at the box Ted grabs a box of Organic Morning. Ted says, “I promise, it’s my off day for the week.”
Ted walks a few steps behind Gina. He looks at her body. Gina looks exactly like the woman.
Gina stops, turns to Ted, and says, “You think I’m ugly.”
“No,” Ted says. “You’re baby soufflé. You’re beautiful.”
“But that woman was ugly,” says Gina. “And you thought I was her. So you do. You do think I’m ugly.”
“I don’t know what to say,” says Ted. “Besides that it’s my off day.”
At the register the cashier tells Ted that Italian Wedding soup is five for five. So Ted does a slow jog, which is slower than his fast walk, and gets two more cans of Italian Wedding, his favorite soup. Ted is thrilled. He has lunch every day of the week now. Maybe it’s not my off day after all, thinks Ted.
Back at the register there’s no Gina, just the woman.
“Hey, you’re not Gina,” says Ted.
“I’m Gina,” says Gina.
The woman is identical to Gina but ten years older.
“Come on, let’s go,” says the woman. “The Sanders are coming over for tuna noodle casserole and you need to do the brownies.”
“I guess,” says Ted, and goes along with the woman, who may or may not be Gina.
The tuna noodle casserole that evening is wonderful. But Ted overcooks the brownies. The Sanders say they like the corner pieces but nobody likes the corner pieces. Everything, thinks Ted, is my life, just a little off.
“Baby dragon,” says Ted, later that night. “I’m tired. Something isn’t right.”
“Because it’s your off day?” says Gina. “Is that why you’re going to bed so early?”
“Yes,” says Ted. “Because of that.”
“That’s too bad,” says Gina. “I was hoping you’d stop having them. I was hoping today wasn’t really an off day.”
“In my dreams,” says Ted. “Just make sure you put my Italian Wedding on the kitchen table.”
“Already did. And your Organic Morning, ready to go in your football bowl with plastic wrap over it. Just how you like it. You need your health.”
“I guess I do,” says Ted. ”Thank you baby cakes.”
When it’s time to go shopping again Ted buys more Italian Wedding soup. He sees another Gina. This Gina is ten years older than the previous Gina. Ted is confused. But he goes home with this Gina because he can’t find the other Gina. Ted questions how he’s structured his life. Things are a little different, just a little off, thinks Ted. I’ll get back on track, he thinks.
“Geez,” says Ted during the car ride back home, “another off day.”
“You’ve been having a lot of those,” says Gina. “Maybe cut back on the soup.”
“No way,” says Ted. “The soup works.”
On the following weekend, the next trip to the grocery store, it happens again. Gina ages ten years and so does Ted. This time, Ted is less confused. He wants to live a comfortable life with Gina. Gina has a temper. Once during an argument over pasta shapes Gina bit his face.
Ted does nothing to change the structure of his existence so in five trips to the grocery store, five consecutive Sunday’s, he ages fifty years.
“Pumpkin patch,” says Ted. “Would you mind, just this once, if I get Chocolate Disaster instead of Organic Morning?”
Gina shuffles forward. “Are you having an off day again? Is that why you want Chocolate Disaster?”
“Good question,” says Ted. He pokes the box of Chocolate Disaster with his cane from his scooter. “Nah,” says Ted. “I’m done having off days.”
“Then go ahead,” says Gina. “Get Chocolate Disaster.”
At the checkout Ted knows he will see the woman who is both Gina and not Gina. Ted doesn’t want to age ten years anymore. He doesn’t want to lose his life in weeks. But this time there’s no one. The supermarket is empty and everything is light pink and translucent, including hundreds of birds flying around the soup aisle. Some of the birds sit perched on cans of Italian Wedding soup.
“I guess that’s it,” says Ted. “I guess that’s my entire life.”
Ted drives around the supermarket in his scooter looking for Gina. The box of Chocolate Disaster and his Italian Wedding soup are in the scooter basket rattling around. Ted drives and drives. At one point, he takes a sharp corner and almost falls over. There’s no Gina.
In the produce aisle Ted smashes open a dragon fruit with his cane. It takes a little while with the cane. Ted realizes he’s lived his entire life having never seen the inside of a dragon fruit. It’s amazing. He looks at the dragon fruit and cries for several minutes curled up in his scooter.
Ted drives out of the grocery store. There’s a little bump at the automatic doors and Ted catches some air. Some of the pink birds fly out with him. Ted drives across the parking lot, across a three lane highway, and into a field. Ted turns the power off to the scooter. He coasts down a long hill and into a hole.
Shane Jones is the author of the novels Light Boxes (Penguin, 2010), Daniel Fights a Hurricane (Penguin, 2012), and Crystal Eaters (Two Dollar Radio, 2014). He lives in
upstate New York.
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