Paul O’Connor

Mother and Son

The items race forth, and work eagerly begins. Before they even reach the grasp of the bagger, one must mentally categorize the items, thinking about weight, size, fragility, perishability. Then, one must lift and scan the items until the bell of affirmation rings through. Next, one must peer through the bag’s opening, examining for rips or tears. And finally, the bagging. The bagging is distinct, complex, and purely personal, but the goal is uniform: efficiency, organization, and accessibility. Bradley and I differ by method, however, we’ve maximized our speed and efficiency, not suffering the tragedy of a ripped bag since our first year on the job. On top of that, we color code. It’s a large and difficult task, however, the challenge expands the artistic quality of the work. For twenty years, we’ve loved our jobs at the supermarket. In fact, our married life began here. Bradley proposed during our lunchtime break, the ring buried in a crinkly blue grocery bag. We’re a fantastic team.


We have a twenty-year-old son named Derek. He’s in college. We’ve both agreed he’s a bit of a disappointment. A practical thinker, cunning, ambitious. I truly can’t understand him. From an early age I would sit him in the living room, leave to gather plastic bags and soup cans, spices, fruits, and perhaps a bottle of wine, and show him the process. But he eternally despised it, protesting, complaining, insulting. He wanted to read, play sports, make friends, and through the years, an endless stream of teachers raved about his accomplishments: honor roll, football captain, class president. I only pretended to care. He’s not an artist, and I wish he were different.


Business school! How awful! That’s where our money must go?


Mr. Cripson, the long-time store manager, died yesterday. He was eighty-six years old, and died an immensely decent, pleasant man. The funeral was soft, dark, and musical. And the store’s absolute disorientation was completed by a teenage bagger quitting, citing a need for college. I thought of Derek and sent him a letter, telling him of the job opening. Our correspondence has been fleeting over the years, and I haven’t received an answer.


Today I entered the store and saw Derek, waving and smiling near the counter. I beamed, imagining he accepted the bagging position. I moved closer and read the shirt label. Manager. My heart began to droop. “Good,” I said. I took my station and began work, but everything was terribly wrong. My focus lagged, the bell was harsh, the items pointless, the color missing spice and life. Ms. Timmons, a usual customer, stretched her arm and lifted a teeming bag: the plastic tore, erupting in a tragic, endless crash. She cursed, and the eyes of my son gleamed from the office. I reddened, gasped, and collapsed among the splattered wine and bruised tomatoes.