There’s a solitary cucumber lying on the ground in the supermarket car park, its shiny shrink-wrap protecting it from grime.
Is it acceptable to just take it? Is that stealing? Or should I hand it in at the store? Whoever dropped it might come looking for it.
I’m pondering the etiquette of this situation when I spot another man two or three feet away. He’s also staring at the cucumber. He looks at me. I expect to see thoughts similar to mine in his eyes, but no. There’s nothing but a steel certainty. His lips curl into a smirk. His eyes narrow. He wants this cucumber. That solidifies my resolve. I hadn’t been certain previously, but now this cucumber is the most important thing on Earth. I would walk over hot coals for this cucumber. I would eat glass for this cucumber. I would most certainly punch this doofus in the face for this cucumber. Except none of that would be for the cucumber in reality. It would be to show said doofus which of us is the real man around here. Here being a dusty supermarket car park just off the A473.
My arm twitches. So does his. He makes a ‘wanker’ gesture with his fist. I show him the middle finger. He edges towards the stranded fruit. I do the same. Suddenly we’re cowboys in an old Western, circling a loaded gun on the saloon floor, wondering who’s going to be the one to grab the prize and shoot down the other. He swivels his shoulders and suddenly takes a swing at me. It misses by miles and it’s my turn to smirk – what an amateur! – but too late I realise it’s a decoy strike, distracting me while he ducks swiftly to grab the cucumber. He clasps it in his paw. There’s a grin on his face. He’s won. He’s the man. He’s the victorious sheriff throwing the bandit out of town. He’s Johnny Big Cucumber. And I’m the loser, sprawled face-down in the dirt. I turn red. I never knew salad could leave me so emasculated.
Then the cucumber is snatched abruptly from his hand. An old lady clutches it triumphantly. ‘’Scuse me, lads, I dropped this on the way to my car,’ she tells us. She beckons at a knackered brown Mondeo. ‘Thanks for finding it for me.’ Her husband leans from the driver’s seat window, sniggering, as she returns to him, the cucumber erect in her fist. We, now each as emasculated as the other, watch them leave. She waves her prize at us as they chug away.
I look back at my former foe. Our eyes meet once more, then we stare at the ground. ‘Okay,’ he says.
‘Bye,’ he says.
We walk off in opposite directions. Then I realise I’m heading away from the supermarket and turn around. I still need to buy food.
Later, shopping complete, I run into him again in the gents toilets, but we don’t acknowledge each other.
David Cook’s stories have appeared in the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine and more. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter. Say hi on Twitter @davidcook100.
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