“She’s rather outspoken,” Granny muttered. We were sitting at a deli next door to Wal-Mart, her wire shopping-cart filled with potato chips, Danish, and Depends. “That mysterious stranger over there.”
I turned toward the counter where the lunch crowd hunched over devices, most of them texting, sexting, or hollering into cells, “yeah,” “sure,” “what the -” The woman Granny was talking about was mysterious. Despite the hot day, she was wearing a large puffy coat with the collar turned up, a gypsy peasant skirt, and what one could only call hobnailed shoes.
She ordered a ham on rye, and then began to harangue the counter person about how he should tuck his damned greasy ponytail back under his hair net and wash his mitts before working on her sandwich. She punctuated her command with, “All you dirty white boys need to learn that people don’t want dandruff and hair oil mixed in with their mustard.”
We looked at each other, Granny and I, eyes widening as we shared the same thought.
Granny leaned over, her strands of beads dangling into her coleslaw, and said, “My father would have said, those were fighting words.”
We watched as the dude behind the counter ripped off his hairnet, picked up a ketchup bottle, one of those plastic ones you recognize because of the red color and the nozzle, and squirted a generous amount into his palm and rubbed his hands together. Made me think of an evil mad scientist.
Granny made a little “Oh” sound and sat up straighter. I didn’t move.
The dude spread his dripping fingers wide and ran them through his hair. The splotches on his forehead looked like blood. He snarled back his lips to reveal a neat row of tiny, pointy spears.
The room was still, all cellular devices momentarily forgotten, the only disturbance coming from one little kid, saying, “Mommy. Mommy, what’s wrong with that man?
The woman smothered the boy to her chest. Granny’s hand snaked over to mine. Her bony fingers were sharp and strong.
The mysterious woman gawped at the dude. Birds could have flown into her mouth.
The dude slapped slices of bread down on the counter, wielded his spatula like a conductor. With his other hand, he grabbed mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup in rapid succession, splattering everywhere a Jackson Pollock on rye.
Everyone held their breath.
The woman’s head bobbed as she turned to see if everyone was paying attention. Her lips were pursed, her eyes blazed. Her twitchy movements, her slanted chin, her screechy voice saying, “See, see. Is nothing sacred?”
We all knew the moment the blade slammed into the back of her neck, not because we saw the dude fling it – we were too busy watching her, our minds blank with the strangeness of the moment – as if we were at the movies knowing something might happen, but not sure when or how.
Her gurgling “ooph” is what woke us up.
Then the blood, which could not be mistaken for ketchup, began to ooze from the back of her head and inside her puffy jacket, the white shirt beneath staining crimson.
Still gripping my hand, Granny stood, teetered slightly, then yanked my arm under hers and headed for the exit. I stumbled after her, but thoughts of the police flicked through my head. Shouldn’t we call them? I glanced through the large paned window of the deli. Everyone was on his or her cell: texting, tweeting, videotaping, posting to Facebook, Instagram.
The distant siren sounded like a moan.
Bio: Gay Degani has had three flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books published her collection, Rattle of Want, in 2015 and the second edition of her suspense novel, What Came Before will be published by Truth Serum Press in late 2016. She blogs at Words in Place.