I finally finished “Expiration Date.” Nearly 6800 words, and it will require a fair amount of research in rewrite. But I like the ending, and hope I can rewrite it shorter.
Then I immediately started on another story I only finished in outline form last year. This one I started while at the laundromat, being annoyed by parents who bring their children in and let them run wild and noisy, ignoring them for several hours while they play on their iPads or talk on their cell phones. So this one has kids who are obnoxious at laundromats, the ones it seems their parents don’t even notice, disappear into laundromat limbo. I’m 4800 words into it, but I think I’m almost done.
Snippet from “Expiration Date”:
I came forward toward the counter, wiping my grimy hands on my apron, and smiled at them. “Welcome to Jane’s Pantry. How can I help you?”
“It’s–” the man began.
“Our daughter,” the woman sobbed. “She’s dying. Strep. The doctors give her hours at the most.”
I nodded. “How old is she?”
“Born in 2010, then?” I asked.
“Yes,” the man said. He approached the counter and set the plastic bag full of cans down. “We heard . . . I was told. . . .” He shrugged and raised his hands.
“You can help her, that’s what we heard,” the woman completed his sentence.
“You’ll have to do this yourselves. Follow me.”
The back of my shop consists of many rooms. 17, at last count. I write dates on the doors with chalk, because their contents change over time, of course. Halfway down the hall was the door labeled 2010-2012. “In here,” I said, swinging the door open.
A stale smell, dust and mildew, puffed out. I’d only recently moved the 21st century into this room. Before that it had been 1940-1960.
The room was dimly lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling. Boxes and cans loaded the shelves, with very little order. I try to keep each year’s goods together, but sometimes I can’t.
I gestured to the shelves to the left of the door. “2010 is there and the back.” The couple followed me in, staring around in some dismay. “There’s a step stool, if you need it. I can’t guarantee I’ve got her date, you know.”
“We know,” the man muttered, not moving his gaze from the shelves.
“Aprons on the hook there.” I pointed. “It can be dirty work.” I let myself out and closed the door gently as the couple, eyes wide and faces pale, grabbed aprons and pulled them over their heads.
In the front of the shop, I opened the plastic bag the man had left on the counter. There were seven cans inside. I set each, bottom up, on the counter. ‘BESTBYOCT262009′ was printed on the can of green beans. One can of soup had nothing printed on the bottom, so I turned it over. ’31/12/2012′ was printed next to the pull tab. The tomato sauce said ‘BEST BEFORE 31 AUG 2010.’ The second can of soup said merely ‘BEST BY JUL 2004.’ I sighed and set it in the waste bin. The cans need a full date to be useful.
Six cans I could use, though. I stacked them according to which room I’d take them to, and turned as the door to the back opened. The woman was crying again, but the man held a can aloft, victorious. “It was there, it was there!”