Fiction Page


Just Bread, Milk, Eggs.

Helen E. Davis


“Not much sense in going all the way to Daisy’s Food Mart for just eggs, bread, and milk,” Bob Ferrel grumbled as he made a sudden right-hand turn into the Giga-Mart parking lot. What with the price of gas these days, it was flat ridiculous to go driving all over God’s creation when there was a brand new Giga-Mart only five minutes from the house. Sharon refused to shop there. She claimed it was an abomination to turn a perfectly good farm into yet another oversized grocery store. But as far as Bob was concerned, anything that made shopping faster and more convenient was a good thing.

He found a parking spot, one that looked to be more than a block away from the store entrance. Bob drove past it. A man his age shouldn’t have to hike for miles just to buy a few small things. He searched for a closer one by driving up and down the unbroken rows. Every now and then he would see a car pull out of a space a row or two over—but by the time he reached it, a shiny new SUV would be parked there and some young, muscular person would be climbing out. Finally he gave up and drove back to the edge of the parking lot. He took a space that was twice as far away as the first one he had seen.

It still wasn’t as much trouble as driving to Daisy’s, he told himself as he pulled his creaking frame from the creaking car. The summer heat smothered him and roasted his lungs. At Daisy’s he still would have had to park at the edge of the parking lot, but the lot was much smaller and lined by shade trees. Still, the savings in not driving so far was worth the extra discomfort.

And once he reached the sliding doors, he knew he had made the right choice. A flood of air, glacial as a mountain stream, tumbled over him. Daisy’s air was barely cool enough to keep the melons from going sour.

Just inside, he stopped.

His earliest memory, decades before, was of the wonderful afternoon his mother had taken him to the most marvelous place on earth, a store devoted to nothing but toys. Giant shelves stretching in all directions held colorful boxes that whispered of great adventures. Reverently he had walked up and down each aisle, in awe of the resplendent treasure. Never again had he experienced such wonder—until now.

Wide, clean aisles stretched back as far as the eye could see, and pristine goods gleamed on either side. No shopper staggered under heavy loads or had to push a cranky cart, for everyone had a motorized cart with a huge basket on the front. Robotic arms reached from the front of the baskets to lift goods from even the highest shelves, and it didn’t even look as if the customers had to steer. This, Bob decided, was as close to heaven as he could ever get.

And there wasn’t any obnoxious elevator music, either. Heaven was a wonderful place.

A feminine voice purred at his side, “Welcome to Giga-Mart. Please take this cart.”

Bob turned and saw no one.

“Please sit down. I will take you wherever you wish to go.” The voice, Bob realized, came from one of the carts. Its video screen flashed invitingly.

He slid into the padded seat. “I want eggs, bread, and milk.”

“Thank you,” responded the cart. It moved smoothly forward. “Please do not reach beyond the perimeter of the seat while I am in motion. I have been provided for you by Mastodon Entertainment.”

A cart with the voice of a sweet, young thing. Daisy’s was missing out on something good, Bob thought as the cart slid down aisles of pastas, sauces, and canned vegetables. But his smile dropped when they stopped in an corridor bordered by bins of small plastic boxes. “What’s this?”

“Movies and music, all the classics of the past and the future, distributed by Mastodon Entertainment.” The mechanical arms unfolded. “Please state your selection.”

“My selection? I didn’t come in for any of this!”

“Please state your selection, sir.”

He ground his teeth together and thought on the stupidity of machines. “Look, all I came in for was bread, eggs, and milk.”

The console hummed, blinked lights, then said with metallic regret, “I’m sorry sir, we do not have the title Bread, Eggs, and Milk in stock. Would you like to pre-order it?”

“No! I only came in for some groceries!”

“I’m sorry, sir, we do not have the title Some Groceries in stock. Would you like to pre-order it?”

“No! It’s not like I even have one of those Fancy- Dancy CD players, anyway!”

Apparently getting the message, the cart moved on. A few moments later it stopped in an aisle of large brown boxes. “I’m sorry, sir, but we do not carry the brand name Fancy- Dancy CD Player. May I suggest the Giga-Mart Super-Saver Model instead? The progressive scan, multi-format system plays all of the following: DVD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD+R DL, DVD RAM, CD-R/RW, VCD, SVCD, WMA, MP3, JPEG, MPEG-4, DivX, and XviD. The media slots support a wide range of memory cards, and have 1080i upconversion with HDMI. Would you like to hear more?”

Head swimming from all that alphabet soup, Bob snapped, “No!”

“Then shall I put it in the cart for you?” The mechanical arms hovered in readiness.

“What? No! I don’t have the money to waste on that sort of nonsense!” The tension in his jaw spread to a ring under his cap.

The console blinked. A second voice, this one male and professional, said, “Please state your name clearly.”


“Please state your address clearly.”

The tightening band began to throb. Slowly Bob counted aloud to six, then he asked, “Just what are you doing?”

For could measure he continued counting to ten.

Lights danced across the console. “I’m sorry, sir, but there is no record of a Mr. What living at one-two-three-four-five-six What Are You Doing, zip code 78910. Please restate your name and address, and include your correct zip code.”

As bad as a telemarketer who called during dinner. Bob crossed his arms. “No, thank you.”

“Which is your name, What or No-thankyou?”

A telemarketer he could hang up on. “I refuse to give you my name.”

The console blinked for several seconds, apparently scratching its electronic head. “Sir, I cannot issue you a Giga-mart Credit Account if you will not give me your valid name and address.”

The band now felt like a vice. “Look, dammit, all I want is bread, milk, and eggs!”

A young mother with toddlers perched on the arms of her cart sped past, and gave him a look of shock and disapproval. Her basket was filled with groceries, though surgery cereals and candy predominated.

The feminine voice returned. “Would you prefer a different sponsor for this cart?”

“I damn well would!”

“I’m sorry that I could not serve your needs today. If you have any questions about this sponsorship, please call 1-899-555-4343, extension 1209. Have a good day, sir.” Lights and sound died, and the cart stopped cold.

Now what was he supposed to do? Get out and walk? An elderly lady sneered at him as her cart pushed past. She had cat food, kitty litter, and a Karoke machine stuffed into her cart. What a mess her house must be with all those cats crawling over her counters after digging up the neighbor’s flowerbeds, Bob thought.

“Good day, sir.” His cart now spoke with a young, male voice. “This cart has been provided for you by Clerkston Home Improvements.”

“Look, I just want...” Before Bob could finish, the cart moved forward. He guessed it remembered his request, so he settled back to enjoy the ride. They passed paper goods, car tires, fashion dresses, and computers. Some aisles dead-ended into perpendicular aisles, others curved back on themselves, and two ended at circular roundabouts. He was completely turned around when they stopped before a display of lawn furniture and garden utensils.

His headache returned. “Now, see here...

Ignoring him, the cart said, “Introducing the new Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue, the environmentally safe way to contain your leaf piles! No more leaves blowing back onto your freshly cleared lawns! No more piles spilling out into the street, to be ground to a mold-ridden dust that will be tracked back into your home! Keep your lawn and house cleaner with Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue! Each can of Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue treats one hundred cubic feet of leaves. A necessity for every household! Do not ingest, compost, or burn any leaf that has been treated with Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue, as high-heat and degradation may cause the chemicals to convert to a highly carcinogenic form. How many cases of Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue would you like to buy today?”

“We don’t have leaf pick-up,” Bob shouted. “We burn our leaves in a bonfire!”

The cart moved down the aisle. “Introducing the new portable and completely safe, Indoor Electric Bonfire! This faux fire is suitable for rooms of 2000 square feet or more, and is easily...”

“That’s it!” Bob snarled, and climbed off the cart. It continued to talk to itself as he stalked away.

There were no signs, and no order at all to the store.  Bob hiked from one side to the other before he found the bread section tucked between plastic building blocks and sewing notions. The eggs were in a refrigerated section next to the prepackaged dinners, far to the back. The milk was somewhere in the middle, in a case alongside refrigerated dog food. These three items in hand, Bob searched for a straight aisle that led to the front of the store. He thought he found one—but it ended in a wall of fishing rods.

With a sigh, Bob shifted the items in his arms. They weren’t heavy, even for an old man like himself, but they were awkward. A hand basket would be nice, but there weren’t any to be found. Dasiy’s had hand baskets at the end of every aisle, he remembered wistfully. Every straight aisle.

He turned right, in the direction that should have been forward. Eventually he came to a corner, so he turned right again. The chances that he would be going to the front were now good.

Bob found another corner. With a sigh he turned right again. If the store was a giant rectangle, he would be headed toward the front. But he was ready to believe that it was, in fact, a greater polygon when an great expanse of glass windows and check-out lanes came into view.

He paused to admire it.

“Hey!” shouted a voice behind him.

Bob turned to see a cart bearing down. Jumping out of the way, he banged his hip into a stack of canned pumpkin. His groceries slipped in his arms, and he lost the bread. It tumbled down and was flattened by the rear wheel of the cart.

Looking at the crushed remains of the loaf, and thinking of the long hike to find another, Bob decided that Sharon could make do without the bread. He limped to the first open check-out lane where he set his goods on the counter.

There was no clerk. A computer console blinked at him.

“Hello?” Bob said. “Anyone home?”

“Good day, sir” the console replied in a flat, bored voice. Bob could imagine it doing its virtual nails. “May I summon a cart for you?”

“I’m trying to pay for my groceries. You want the money, don’t you?” He pushed his eggs forward.

The console blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry sir. I do not detect your cart, and therefore cannot verify your purchases. Please select a new cart, and try again.”


“I have summoned a cart for you. It will be here shortly. Have a good day.”

“A good day?” His headache boiled over, and came out in a shout. “I’ve been pressured to buy worthless junk, lost in a labyrinth, and assaulted by one of your carts, and you want me to have a good day?

“Good Day Premium Dark Roast Coffee can be purchased by the pound, the carton, or the case. Please inform your cart of your choice after you have accepted your sponsoring offer. We...”

Bob turned and walked away, leaving the eggs and milk on the counter. He paused at the door, looked back. The console was still talking to itself. With a firm shake of his head, he went out to his car and drove to Daisy’s Food Mart. Good old-fashioned, dependable, non-automated Daisy’s Food Mart.

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