The Shark Wore Flannel

Contributor: Catherine Weiss

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Edna had bagged groceries for the people of Sockville, Oregon for almost a decade. Once a nurse at the local hospital, she had retired only to find a life of pure leisure to be dull and unfulfilling. Instead, she filled bags of groceries for 9 dollars an hour and that seemed to be enough. She liked the apron, and the uniform that went under it. She liked her black New Balance sneakers and the gel-filled mats she got to stand on that made the job a little easier on her ankles and knees. She liked saying hello to the townspeople and she liked knowing who was eating potato chips again after swearing they'd diet all summer. But most of all she liked the swish of a plastic bag being opened and filled.
One warm spring afternoon, Edna was walking home through town--she always walked unless it was cold, which it usually wasn't--when her route led her past a young man in a bright yellow work-vest. He was tall and handsome, in his early twenties. His tidy dark beard indicated he was a progressive, yet there a wholesome quality too, maybe it was that twinkle in the eye, which made him seem trustworthy. Edna disliked him at once.
"Spare a minute for the environment?" the young man said as Edna approached. He held a clipboard in one hand and a silver pen in the other. He clicked the pen several times, it flashed in the sunlight. Clickity click clickity click.
"Well, not really, I have to--"
"My name is Sean. We just got into town and we're raising support for legislation that would ban plastic bags. They're really bad for the environment." Sean smiled dazzlingly. So many teeth, thought Edna. Like a shark. Clickity click.
"Bad how?"
"Well, ma'am, they don't biodegrade too well and they also encourage waste. We hope that one day everyone will bring reusable bags to the grocery store. Until then, paper bags are much better."
"But what about the trees?"
Sean smiled at her with blank eyes, and Edna was vaguely reminded of when she used a computer at the library and the curser turned into a little spinning beach ball icon when she ran too many programs at once.
"We will encourage reusable bags. Will you sign this petition and join us?" He clicked the pen out again—clickity—and held it out to her.
“No… Um. No I don’t think so. Sorry.” Edna hurried away. Half a block past Sean she looked over her shoulder and saw him watching her, a terrible grin on his face.
Edna knew about paper and reusable bags. Paper bags sometimes cut her fingers and left her hands dry and uncomfortable. Reusable bags were all right, but the people who brought them were often rude and pushy. The simple truth was that Edna liked her job with plastic bags. If that changed, she didn’t know what she would do.
There was something off about that Sean, Edna decided. She didn’t have work the next morning and would normally have spent the time puttering around her small flowerbed but she decided to take a walk through town instead to see what the bearded young man was up to.

***

Edna found Sean on a corner near the local drug store. A small crowd surrounded him. As Edna shuffled past, ears straining to hear what he was saying, Sean caught her eye and smirked. Edna looked away quickly, face burning. All she could hear was the clickity click clickity click of the pen.
At work, Edna noticed an uptick in the frequency shoppers asked for paper bags. Sure enough, she had two cuts by her break. When Dr. Smitt, a man Edna knew from her days at the hospital, checked out and passed Edna three stiff new canvas bags, she was taken aback. Dr. Smitt had always asked for extra plastic bags because he used them to clean up after his poodle Skippy.
“Canvas, Doctor?” Edna asked him as she struggled to fit a box of Cheerios into the floppy unsupported fabric bag.
“That young man in town convinced me the error of my ways this morning. No more plastic bags for me,” he replied.
“What about Skippy?”
“Poor thing. Have to put him down this afternoon.” And with a vacant smile, Dr. Smitt took his canvas bags and went.
By the end of the week, almost every person of Sockville either used paper bags or canvas. Edna was miserable. She rubbed balm on her hands but the cuts stung anyway.

***

One morning as Edna was pulling on her apron, a young cashier approached her.
“Did you hear? So awful.”
“No, what?”
“There was a murder. Right here in Sockville by the train tracks.”
“Oh my. Who was the victim? Have they any idea who did it?”
“They don’t know who killed him. The guy on the sidewalk downtown all the time getting signatures. I think his name was Shane.”
“Sean,” Edna corrected absently. “How did he die?”
“My cousin is an EMT and he said they found him dead, hit on the head with a shovel or something, and then suffocated with a plastic bag tied around his neck.”
“That’s awful,” said Edna. “But I really should get to work.”
After a few months, customers began to forget their canvas bags in their cars or their homes, and by July, only weird old Tim Goggins asked for paper bags and nobody minded him too much.
A cheerful Thursday morning found Edna on her hands and knees in her garden. Grateful to spend some time in her flowerbed, she watering the zinnias when she heard something that made a shiver race down her spine. Edna set down her watering can very gently in the dirt next to her trusty old spade. It was coming from under the soil. It was quiet, but unmistakable. Clickity click. Clickity click. Clickity click.


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Catherine Weiss is a poet and author living in Northampton, MA with her dog, cat, and boyfriend. She has recently published a book called Haiku for Ex-Boyfriends (haikuforexboyfriends.com) and edits a literary journal online called Rogue Particles Magazine (rogueparticles.com)
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One Response to this post

  1. Anonymous on May 26, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Evocative eco-scaries in a small town. Excellent!!!

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