The Price of Parmesan
Andrea Lynn Koohi
Mom’s purse is a cavern on top of the cart. A magical place that fits more than it should. It welcomes two chicken breasts first.
In the dairy aisle, goosebumps rise on my arms. It’s brighter here, wider, and I feel like Bambi in an open field. Mom moves fast, slips a brick of cheese into the dark.
Now to the non-perishables where things are safer, where the numbers under items mean they bypass the purse and make it to the cart. Soups and sauces, pasta and juice boxes, exposed and innocent on the square-stitched metal. The exception is my favorite: dried parmesan. It sits out of reach like an ivory tower on the highest shelf. Mom’s magic is quick, one hand reaching up, the other over to a soup can, and only the soup ends up in the cart.
When we reach the cash, a man taps Mom’s shoulder. My fawn legs freeze. My eyes dart to his nametag.
Bob, Senior Associate, asks, “Plan on paying for what’s in your purse?”
Mom doesn’t speak, just disappears down an aisle with a purse that now looks thin and frayed, bulging grotesquely on every side. I sense Bob’s gaze, his folded arms, but I don’t look up. I keep him faceless.
Mom returns, fishing folded bills from her deflated purse. She pays for the items and a plastic bag, muttering “asshole” as we walk out the door.
Later, Mom mixes pasta with a can of Primo, no parmesan. I watch her thin, doe-like frame as she sets a plate in front of me. Her eyes are wet coins while she watches me eat.
It still tastes good, I know I should say. But all I can do is swallow.
Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer from Toronto, Canada. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Passages North, Bending Genres, Lost Balloon, Pithead Chapel, filling Station, Flash Frog Magazine, Whale Road Review and others. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions, and was selected for inclusion in Best Microfiction 2022.