“What the fuck?” I whipped my head around and glared as the front end of a grocery cart bumped my backside. How was I supposed to know some frail old woman was using her cart for support and had momentarily lost her equilibrium? It wasn’t personal, simply a reflex reaction on my part. But there she was, face all aquiver, clinging to the handle of her cart as if her life depended on it. I meant to apologize. Okay, maybe I didn’t. She never gave me a chance to get the words out anyway. She straightened herself up, released her right hand from its death grip on the handle and pointed a misshapen finger at my nose. “Karma, my dear,” she said softly, “be mindful of karma.” Did I mention I was in a bad mood? “Oh, please,” I sneered. “Who believes in that crap?” I huffed and turned my back on her again. As I turned away, I could have sworn I heard her say, “You will, Mr. Atkins.” Must be getting tired, I thought. No way could the old bat know my name.
Out in the parking lot, I loaded my bags into the car, got behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. The engine sputtered and died. After five minutes of trying and cursing, it finally turned over. I pulled out of my spot. And what did I see as I exited the lot? That same little woman struggling to get her groceries out of the cart, looking around as if someone was going to help her. I flipped her the bird as I drove by. I still had one more stop to make at the discount tobacco store near my house. Well, I got to that strip mall, parked the car again and walked toward the store’s entrance. Wouldn’t you know? Some dimwit in a huge SUV blew a stop sign and came at me like a tank. I jumped backwards to get out of the way, tripped over the curb and twisted my left ankle as I went down. After I picked myself up, I hobbled into the store and got my smokes. My ankle hurt like hell.
My neighbor, Mrs. What’s-Her-Face, was in the yard watering her precious flowers as I turned to enter my driveway. Something about her small, fragile frame nagged at my brain. Jeez, I thought, that was her. At the grocery store. That was her. No wonder she knew my name. I staggered from the car, fumbled around with the grocery bags and the keys while trying to hop to the door. What’s-Her-Name looked my way for a moment then turned her back and went into her house. Okay then. It’s not like I was asking for help. Snotty bitch.
Once I got myself and everything else inside the house, I poured a beer and lit a cigarette. My ankle was puffed and painful. I decided to make a sandwich. I would put some ice on the ankle and stretch out in front of the TV while I ate. But fuck all. The knife slipped when I was cutting the cheese and I sliced my hand. It was a deep cut, bleeding like hell. I limped out to the car and drove to the urgent care center. Three hours and ten stitches later, I finally made it back home. Screw the food, I thought. I had another beer, a few more smokes and went to bed.
The next morning sucked. That’s all I can say. I got to work late, moaning to my boss about my throbbing ankle and hand. I pretended to be busy for most of the day, fooled around on-line when no one was looking. Then right at the end of the day, they fired me. After three frigging years of putting up with all the bull, they fired me. They actually believed that little bimbo in accounting when she accused me of touching her inappropriately. And the slut in the mail room, too. I lost my job over a few friendly slaps on the behind? Or whatever? Ridiculous. That’s what I told them. All in good fun. Not one of them even cracked a smile. They just watched me clear out my desk and shoved me out the door. Bastards.
I stopped at a neighborhood bar on the way home but my ankle hurt so badly, I couldn’t stay very long. Back home, I flopped down on the couch and thought about how unlucky the last couple of days had been. Then it hit me. What the old lady had said about karma. I did kick her cat that one time. And there was the night I had a few too many and mowed down a few of her blooms when I misjudged the edge of my driveway. And the grocery store thing yesterday. I decided to apologize. What the hell. It couldn’t hurt.
I dragged myself next door and rang the bell. What’s-Her-Face answered promptly. She looked calm, unsurprised to see me standing there. When I opened my mouth to speak, she held up a hand to stop me. “Don’t say a word, Mr. Atkins,” she said. “I know why you are here. Come back when you remember my name. Come back then and I might accept your apology.” She started to close the door but hesitated for a second before adding, “Do be careful, won’t you? The world can be a very nasty place.”
© Karen Kleis – All Rights Reserved
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