Cynthia J. McGean
Carted Away
by Cynthia J. McGean
Semi-finalist, 2012 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest

	The first time Cecile saw the Scarab Man she was walking back from Zupan’s carrying a bag of single portion meals and herbal teas.  After a month in Portland, she hadn’t yet adjusted to solo living.  Reynold’s death had vaporized half her world.  Their twenty years of shared existence still molded her brain.  Shopping was an excuse to escape the deafening emptiness of the apartment.      
	She should have chosen a different store.  The endless assortment of exotic sauces and inscrutable grains conjured Rey’s presence too vividly.  He was the one who'd introduced her to quinoa and pad thai and tabouleh.  She turned to the frozen food section and counted out six individual servings of Lean Cuisine chicken teriyaki.  Prepackaged food prevented the inevitable leftovers leering through tupperware masks.  
	The wine aisle was just plain cruel.  Rey had perused wine labels the way an art critic perused paintings.  The clever and beautiful ones always pulled him in.  Now they called out to Cecile in a chorus of reminders.  “Never drink alone, Cecile,” Rey would say.  She hurried on to the tea, where she grabbed one box each of Rose-hip Renewal and Celestial Comfort.  
	In the checkout line, she kept her eyes on the merchandise to avoid conversations.  On impulse, she tossed in a bar of dark gourmet chocolate laced with sea salt and crystallized ginger.  The indulgence pushed the total cost beyond what she'd planned.  She'd have to pay with a card.  The idea made her queasy.  Since Rey's death she'd taken to paying cash so she owed no debts to the future.  
	She bought the chocolate anyway.  She ate it the minute she left the store.     
	As she wiped from her lips the last bits of salty, spicy and bittersweet, the Scarab Man loomed into view - head down, shoulders hunched, knees working like pistons.  He was tall, easily six feet, with a permanent shrug to his shoulders.  His great oblong beetle-like torso rolled back and forth atop two skinny heron legs.  He pushed an old shopping cart covered with a tattered black tarp, exuding the ominous energy of a ghostly pirate ship on the prowl.  A straggly curtain of beard swung from his chin.  When he fixed his searchlight eyes on her, Cecile froze.  For a gaping moment, neither of them moved.  
Interested in reading the rest of Carted Away?  Contact me at

CARTED AWAY copyright 2012 Cynthia J. McGean.  All rights reserved.