She knew from the moment that the notion entered her mind that it was surely a terrible one. The odds were too high that he would fully transform. It seemed these days that the slightest annoyance and the stiff orange hair the color of an emblazoned sun would streak the ridge of his spine and he was all claws and jagged teeth. He bit a boy on the playground last week. A smaller boy who’d done nothing more than deny Wallace the privilege of destroying his small diligent sandcastle. It was like watching a Godzilla movie if Godzilla were an outraged baboon decapitating beach condos with shoddy foundations instead of a giant lizard. And then they had all spent three hours staring at the sterile screaming walls of the ER while both boys were tested for rabies.
But she had to go to the store. They were out of fish sticks. And that’s all that Wallace was eating these days. Last week it was cold spaghetti noodles smothered in ketchup and the week before had been cheese and lima bean sandwiches with the crusts cut off. This week, the only food that calmed the rage was Captain Jack Frozen Fish Sticks and last night Wallace had eaten the last three.
Her son was growing impatient in the back seat. He had a plastic superhero figurine that he was flying in loop-de-loops around in the air then repeatedly colliding head on into the window next to him. The grocery store’s parking lot was a Tetris of reversing Prius’s and glossy SUV’s filling the vacant compact spaces. She
was idling in a lane with her blinker on, waiting for a Jeep who’s reverse lights had been glowing white in the early evening sun for nearly four minutes. The car behind began to honk its irritation. The Jeep sat squat, rugged and resolute.
“Hey bud, what if we got burgers and French fries on the way home instead? You can have ice cream with sprinkles and everything!”
The plastic superhero made a beeline for the dashboard, clipping her right ear in its hurled flight pattern.
“I only want Captain Jack! Only fish sticks!” His nails grew quick and sharp and clawed thin strips in the upholstery of his car seat that fell from its sides like they were made of frail blue paper. His breath became hollow and deep and she could hear his chest expanding and rounding, tight against the confines of the seatbelt.
“Ok, sweetie, ok. Fish sticks it is.” The Jeep began to back towards them; Wallace’s chest collapsed and he began to breathe normally.
A gust of cool air blew damp sticky hair from her face as they entered the automated sliding doors. She reached for a small black hand basket then turned in time to see a flash of yellow as Wallace pulled a young blonde girl from a plastic red car attached to a larger cart. The girl landed on her backside, tears already dripping from her shocked eyes as though this was her first time being denied anything.
Wallace gnashed his teeth at the girl, his muzzle oblong and jutted, thin lips peeled back over yellowing incisors. He folded his body into the plastic driver’s seat and began to whack hard on the already deflated blue fake horn over and over as he demanded from the entire store but specifically his mother to push the cart. She looked around, her expression already catching raised eyebrows and reproachful stares. She dropped her purse in and made her way past the small girl en route for the freezer section.
One economy size box of fish sticks later and they were headed for the check out line. The aisles, gleaming teal and white pearl under the stark fluorescent lighting, were a teeming hoard of large metal carts and women, some trying to calm or appease animal offspring of their own, others perusing the aisles at their leisure in tight brightly colored yoga pants and thin t-shirts. These concerned themselves with reading the backs of soup cans before carefully placing them in their hand baskets and discussing with the butcher which cuts of meat contained the least fat.
The only aisle not completely compacted was the cereal aisle; the doom of all mothers with its bright boxes, sugar coated offerings and display of toys, games and candy that occupied almost as much space as the actual breakfast food. She moved quickly and with determination, maneuvering the bulky race cart in a straight line down the center, the throng of those waiting at the check out lines presenting to her the final battle before escape. Just then, a stock boy toppled a display shelf and a wave of boxes containing shiny metal cap guns splashed all around them. She tried to grab the box closest to Wallace but his claws were quicker.
“Wallace, please don’t open that. We aren’t buying that.”
“Pleeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaassssssseeeeeeee?” His lips were turned down in a pout and eyes cast up at her under the roof of the red car.
“No. I mean it. Give it back to me.”
She was answered with a howl. She could hear him biting at the plastic.
“Wallace, don’t open that. You can pick out a different toy.”
She bent down to reason with him and caught a long thin foot on her left cheek. His claws had cut deep and she could feel thin trickles of blood begin to flow. She snatched at the plastic box that was now ripped and wet on one side where he was biting at it. He jerked away from her with elbows jutted out and pointed. His muzzle was fully formed now, his rounded nose just thin black slits atop an oblong row of gnashing teeth.
He escaped the confines of the red car and jumped onto its rounded roof, then from there to the shelf behind him, his tail knocking boxes of whole wheat sugar corn to the floor. His ears were pinned back and eyes wild while his small hands pulled and tore at the packaging. He leaned his head back and shrieked.
She grabbed the box of fish sticks and her son around his waist. He pushed against her grasp, his cries resounding through the building. He bit at her arm and clawed at her belly. Her jaw was set and eyes forward, not registering the reproachful glances.
They reached the sliding doors again and entered the stagnant heat of the evening, her stride was long and forward but stopped and turned when she heard a weak voice calling to her.
“Ma’am, you forgot to pay!”
She shoved a crumpled twenty into the open hand of the frightened looking manager in a green-checkered shirt then turned and resumed her pace. Wallace perched himself on her shoulder and hissed at the man, his tail wrapped around her neck with his beady eyes squinted through the sight of his shiny metal pistol.
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