Crackers by Karen Walker

First published in The Womb Department Anthology

content warning: death

Dressed in the cleanest clothes she has, Wendy shops at Grocery Giant on Mondays when selection is best, her pocket full of coins. People give the most on Sundays. She nods to the cashiers as she enters the store. They call the manager: “Crackers is here.”

Wendy shops in aisle six – Snacks. She passes the candy and the chocolate because sugar upsets an empty stomach. It makes her shake, gets her so jumpy that the camp in the park thinks she’s using again. 

A childhood of cookies is next on the shelves. Wendy walks by. Hers was not bad. Her mother loved her, her stepfather was an understanding man. It’s just she’s not yet ready to follow the crumbs to Brian. Hes better off where he is, she thinks.

Further along the aisle are granola bars. Wendy admits she’d give in if her boy asked for one before dinnertime. “Pllleeaasse!” he’d say with those baby brown eyes she last saw the day he was born. Bet the people who have him dont give in.

She can’t eat the bars. A front tooth is loose. Must get to a dentist someday, so when she sees the little guy again he’ll say: “You have a nice smile, Mommy.”

Wendy arrives at her destination: crackers. She squints through the glasses she found on the park bench, looks up and to the left to avoid the crack and scratches on the lenses. Accustomed to the dimness of her tent – to the all-day everyday twilight cast by the blue plastic – life is bright in a shiny clean grocery store.

Wow! Look at the choice. Swiss and sea salt. Rosemary. Sweet potato. Asiago. Smoky gouda. Sundried tomato. Kale. Flax and honey. Whats flax?

Some pretty cracker boxes invite Wendy to afternoon tea, promising an abundance on a shady veranda. Others show her how to host the perfect dinner party: serve with cheeses, grapes and olives, sliced tomato and sprigs of green. But she’s not here for appetisers, or to visit. 

Wendy sees Bites-On-The-Go and likes the brand name. Handy in case the police clear us out of the park. There are rumours.

Water crackers. Hmmm. Wendy asks a kid stocking shelves what she wonders every time she shops. Why are they called water crackers? Would it mean she wouldn’t have to catch drips from the tent when it rains? Or scoop from puddles, as pigeons do? The teen shrugs.

Never mind. Wendy selects an old favourite – an honest, unassuming cracker made from real cheese. She shakes one box after another, guessing at how many may be broken inside. Pieces don’t make as much of a meal as whole crackers. 

A fellow shopper approaches. The woman’s eyes are sad. “I’ll buy whatever you’d like, dear.”

How kind. And how nice of the store manager, too. He’s hurrying down Aisle Six towards Wendy and will, as he does every Monday, offer her a free box or two of whatever is destined for the food bank.

Wendy pulls coins from her pocket, counts $3.50, and pays the manager for the cheese crackers. A dollar rolls from her fingers into the woman’s hand. “For you,” Wendy says, as the people on Sundays do.

About The Author

Karen writes fiction in a basement in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Reflex Fiction, Sunspot Lit, Defenestration, Funny Pearls, Unstamatic, The Disappointed Housewife, Blue Lake Review, Blank Spaces, The Ekphrastic Review, and others. People say Karen is fun and frustrating.

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