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P.A. Farrell Fiction

The Shopping List

by P.A. Farrell

“Get some help if you need it” is swirling around in his head and lowly murmurs from his chapped lips as he approaches the store.

The cold wind, signaling a change of seasons, is pushing shoppers through the open arms of the market’s automatic doors. Once inside they disperse like so many insects.

Small clusters of shoppers, faces aglow and pink-blushed from the raw wind, form around bright, inviting displays of holiday merchandise, special foods and anything that will entice money from their pockets.

He is standing alone, his face a blank mask flecked with spots of beard. His mouth moves silently, uttering words only he hears. Why is he here? What does he want? No one notices. They bend their shoulders like football players and rush forward, attacking the next aisle. Carts bump into him—no explanation or comment. Short coughs and sighs of relief fill the air as the people melt in colorful streaks down the aisles, disappearing behind racks of food.

A thin man in his fifties, wearing a bicycle helmet. He is the only shopper not moving past this one display. His helmet is tightly strapped beneath his chin: someone wants him home safe. No shopping basket or cart. Only a single, clear plastic bag from the overhead rack clutched in his long hand.

The display is of fruits and small, delectable treats. He stands before it and raises a phone to his ear and says, “Apricots, you want apricots? OK, only four. Right, only four? Yeah, four.” He has the order, but he remains fixed in his spot. His eyes shift back and forth, seeking, but what?

Just then, as I select fruit, he turns toward me. I can see telltale facial features that tell me he has mental challenges driving his indecision that I don’t. Gingerly picking up one piece of fruit, he half turns to me and asks, “Is this an apricot?” He’s picked up a peach.

“No,” I answer in the kindest voice I can muster. “It’s not an apricot. These are peaches.” I point toward the apricots.

“I’m a little disabled. Can you help me?” He purses his lips, lower one forward, eyes fixed on the fruit display. It’s a request no one could refuse. An odor of mothballs surrounds him.

“You’re doing fine.” I begin picking up apricots and telling him how to select them. I point out bruises and spots. He watches intently until he has four for his plastic bag. I tell him to be sure to keep the fruit in the refrigerator.

He lifts the phone—the call, it seems, had continued while we spoke—and speaks. “You have to keep them in the fridge when I get home.”

“My name’s Tommy,” he says almost casually as he looks at the fruit. I tell him my name, and he repeats it back to me. Then he turns and walks away with his plastic bag and fruit, still on the phone. “No, I got four. A nice lady helped.”

Quickly, he is lost in the blur of aisles and people struggling with burdened shopping carts which continue to bump and push him with little regard for his direction or intention. He seems absorbed in figuring out where to pay, unaware of the disturbances around him.

That simple “I’m a little disabled” repeats in my head. No shame, just a statement of fact. I’m wondering if his mother was responsible for helping him with his self-esteem on that issue and if she was on the phone as he shopped, wanting him safe.


P. A. Farrell is a psychologist and published author with McGraw-Hill, Springer Publishing, Cafe Lit, Ravens Perch, Humans of the World, and Scarlet Leaf Review, writes for Medium.com, and has published self-help books. She lives on the East Coast of the U.S.