Ten new short stories from Shelby Davis: A couple decide to divorce themselves from mainstream culture in an attempt to find food and life for later years, a family watches home movies as tension and apathy collect, and a bizarre intersection of folk music and mental illness is explored. A college student develops his own brand of pretension, a man discovers a life on a city bus that he'd never thought possible, and a grown son attempts to make meaning of his mother's shopping lists. Plus four more.
Excerpt from LISTS.
My mother’s shopping lists were ordered by rules known only to her. As you slid your finger down the columns of groceries and toiletries, you would invariably be stopped by something along the lines of “2dozjumHerbal Essences” or “1pepperoni TC,” with the “TC” underlined twice and flanked by gnarled masses of pencil scratch-outs. When we were kids, we dreaded accompanying her to WalMart, or worse, the Cosco at the edge of town, where the echoing rafters and limitless aisles seemed to mock the confusion into which we were inevitably thrown when handed torn-off fragments of the list. Of course, it was easy enough to see in hindsight that “2dozjumHerbal Essences” was merely the bastard child of two drunkenly weaving columns--we had been supposed to get two dozen jumbo eggs and a bottle of my mother’s favourite brand of shampoo (ever inventive in creating proprietary abbreviations--“TC” standing for, what else, thin crust pizza--my mother scrupulously wrote out brand names in full).
It was a little like ordering chemicals for a laboratory, sans any knowledge of chemistry--or, for that matter, laboratories, although my ignorance of the distinction between baking soda and baking powder cannot be entirely the root of my confusion. Eventually I--and my siblings--learned the difference between tomato paste and tomato sauce, and could readily distinguish one brand of laundry detergent from a similarly-styled knock-off, but my shame-faced trips back to the mothercart never ceased. I would track her down, most often in the produce section--she was usually loath to trust us with the delicate task of selecting the very best fruits and vegetables--and hand her back my portion of the list, asking for an explanation. Usually it amounted to a failure of awareness on my part--get the kind of soap we always get, of course! If I pointed out that we were in the habit of buying several different brands at different times, I would be informed that it had been weeks since we had bought Brand X, and we only got Brand Y when my father took the children shopping, and the slowly-diminishing pile of Brand Z had been entirely due to a single purchase, a regrettable experiment unfortunately conducted with a bulk package. This cycle of pattern-recognition failure continued even after I left for college--when I came home, every few weeks, and in later years, on breaks, it was a remarkable point of contention that I didn’t know what cereal my siblings ate for breakfast every morning. When I pointed out that we had never bought Chocolate Sugar Warheads when I was in the house, I was immediately reassured that I had indeed had them bought for me.
“Besides,” she added, “it was your father that got that box last week.”
Perhaps we dreaded these shopping trips so much because the magnitude of a mistake could be enormous. Ever thrifty, my parents bought in bulk--the idea of buying a single toothbrush was anathema to them, as was the thought that one could purchase toilet paper in anything less than a full pallet. We regarded the label “Family Size” the way professional chefs regard upscale kitchen appliances, as something that might hold some promise of fulfillment for the masses but were pale imitations of the real stuff. Because of this, a mistake at the store could disrupt family life for a month, consigning us all to an inferior brand of butter for however long it took to consume eight pounds of it. If that wasn’t bad enough, my parents hated to shop as much as we hated to accompany them--with the consequence that, despite having six mouths to feed, trips were infrequent--and thus protracted--debacles.
When I married, it was at my parents’ church. I stayed with them beforehand. I debated getting a hotel room, but my parent’s wouldn’t hear of it--who stays in a hotel when they have family? I also suspected they didn’t like the idea of Kelly and I sequestered in a hotel together--better to keep an eye on this strange newcomer and invite her to stay, too. The first time we went shopping, it was just my mother and I, but the second time, Kelly accompanied us, reaching for her own cart when we arrived and taking, just as I did, a portion of my mother’s list. I worried that she would see a side of my mother that she wouldn’t like, but if she did, she didn’t say anything. My mother, also, was gracious, and when Kelly pulled her own cart alongside my mom, laden with 2 rather than 1% milk, mom kept her mouth shut. The next day, however, I noticed that my father made a run to the convenience store right after breakfast, returning with two gallons of 1% milk. The gallons of 2% languished in the fridge, and as far as I know, were still there when Kelly and I pulled away from the church and started the drive to South Carolina.