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Peach by Glen Pourciau

Grocery store, traffic in the produce section, not much room to maneuver, shopping carts crowded around a long bin of locally grown peaches that are on special.  I pick out a few bruise-free peaches, put them in a plastic bag, ready to roll, but a great big guy with his shopping cart turned at an angle is blocking the aisle and someone else has pulled up behind me.  The big guy has a moist look, light complexion, pink face, thin fuzzy hair on top, not unpeachlike in his appearance.  His stomach is so big it pushes his belt buckle over so that it faces the floor, and if he had a buckle under his butt it would be facing the floor too.  As he picks through the peaches he has to shift his whole body around because his arms aren’t long enough to reach over his stomach.  Already he has a plastic bag almost full of peaches, even their weight might be putting bruises on them, but who am I to tell him how many peaches he should buy and how would I know why he needs them?  I’m not aware of it till after I do it, but my mouth makes a smacking sound, a smack of impatience.  He looks at me.  I’ll be finished in a minute, he says.  I nod as if I accept his right to select peaches to his heart’s content, lean on my shopping cart, don’t look at him, don’t ask myself if he’s ever thought of losing some weight, a minute from now it’ll be over, minor inconvenience, what’s the difference if I’m here or pushing my cart ahead to greater grocery horizons?  But the guy senses I want him to be on his way and cuts his eye at me over his well-padded shoulder, resentment and self-consciousness in his look, embarrassment that I can’t get past him.  His embarrassment reminds me of someone.  I was out to dinner with my wife at a bustling steak house, lots of small tables closely spaced.  As we waited for our food I saw a fat guy and a woman being led to an empty table by a hostess, the fat guy turning sideways and hopping on tiptoes to get between the tables.  At the end of one of his hops his stomach collided with a table and knocked it over, spilling food and wine onto the floor and the people sitting at the next table.  The fat guy covered his face with his hands and apologized with all his might, and restaurant staff appeared and began cleaning up the mess.  My wife looked away from the spectacle, but I kept watching.  He and the woman he was with sat at their table for a minute or two before he told her he had to leave, he couldn’t enjoy his dinner.  He apologized again on his way out, and the people whose table he’d knocked over pulled the table back to let him pass, trying to seem considerate of his needs yet reminding him of the potentially destructive reaches of his girth.  What if he looks over here? my wife said.  He wouldn’t want you staring at him.  Same size and complexion as the peach collector, who gives me another angry look over his shoulder, and I drop my eyes to avoid a stare down.  His anger embarrasses me, but it annoys me to think that’s just what he wants.  Has it occurred to him that he could push his cart around the corner of the bin so people could get by?  Is he not in some way bringing this conflict on himself?  Couldn’t his behavior be described as passive aggressive and is his volume of food intake some form of aggression, a desire to devour who knows what?  Don’t look up, whatever is showing on my face wouldn’t look good to him, but then he takes a twist tie from the tube at the corner of the bin and I raise my head.  He holds the bag up by its top, spins it as if at the conclusion of a performance and twists the green tie around it.  He puts the bag in his cart, gives me a mocking nod, and pushes his cart forward.  The acting out bothers me, the flourish with the plastic bag, the mock nod.  I’m not accepting his finale.  I haven’t done anything to this guy.  Easy to catch up, I pull alongside him on his left, and he stops.  I ask if he’s ever been to the steak house.  One night when I was there, I say, a man who looks like you couldn’t fit through an aisle and he knocked over someone’s table.  He seems to get bigger as my words sink in.  The pain in his face hits me, in my mind his pulpy hands grip my throat, but I still stare at him.  I want to know if he was the man I saw at the steak house.  I want it to be him.


Bio: Glen Pourciau’s collection of stories Invite won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press.  His stories have been published by the Antioch Review, Epoch, failbetter, Guernica, Mississippi Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and other magazines.