It was beautiful and sunny on the streets of the town that day, but Sawyer took little pleasure in the warmth and cloudlessness of the day. He walked briskly down the street, not making eye contact with anyone, but keeping his eyes forward. A little girl he passed dropped her lollipop on his shoe and began to cry. He did not turn around, instead kicking the candy into the filthy street amid the protests of both the girl and her mother. When he arrived at the greengrocer with the purple awning, he was thoroughly irritated at having already had an unplanned interaction after only fifteen minutes of being in the outdoors. Mr. Dentini, the owner of the shop, waved hello to him and shouted a short greeting. Sawyer did not respond, instead taking a brown paper bag from the shelf next to the oranges and filling it with two apples, three plums and a pomegranate. He climbed the ramp into the dusty store. Cracks in the walls and ceiling cast thin beams of light across the dimly lit room, illuminating particles of dust that floated through the air and came to rest on the tops of the stacked cereal boxes in the corner. Dentini stood just past the pastry cabinet, idly sweeping the floor with a broom that was chipped and beaten with age. A slow, steady scraping noise filled the air with each stroke Dentini made. A small cloud of dirt rose into the air, and Sawyer wrinkled his nose at the sight of it being lifted from the ground only to re-settle back in the same place moments later. He wondered why he still chose to buy his groceries here of all places, given how truly uncleanly the shop was. Dentini paused for a moment to wipe a trickle of sweat from his bare head. He sometimes reminded Sawyer of a nursery rhyme he used to read to himself. Humpty Dumpty, that was the story. Dentini’s bald head was distinctly egg shaped, and Sawyer had always found himself immensely enjoying the aesthetic of it, although he could not often place why. Perhaps he had a specific connection to the story, but this seemed odd, given that as a young boy, the only times he read ‘Humpty Dumpty’ were when he would hide in his closet under a pile of his father’s old shirts. He stopped short. Flashing lights arrested his vision, and he could suddenly hear nothing but radio static and muffled voices. Faraway voices talking of… him? Stay there, you fucking brat. I don’t know how to handle him anymore. Shut up. He could see the closet, could see the door opening as he was thrown violently inside before it shut, leaving him in darkness. More static. More flashing lights. He groped around in the darkness and found a plastic candle with a switch. He flicked it on, to reveal a storybook in his small hands: Humpty Dumpty. There was a pounding on the door that shook the whole closet as screams resounded from just outside. He could hear nails being dragged across the doorframe, could hear fists hammering down the walls of his tiny prison cell. More yelling. More shrieking. More noise, until Sawyer could not distinguish between the pounding of the door and the frantic beating of his heart. Sawyer. Sawyer. Sawyer.
He opened his eyes to find himself lying sprawled on his back. He turned his head the right, glancing at a forgotten lime and a moldy walnut that had found their way underneath the sandwich display case. Looking up to find his nose merely a few inches away from Dentini’s concerned face, he thought of how funny Dentini looked when he was worried, his bushy eyebrows knit together like an intricate lace design. Slowly, he sat up and rubbed the spot on the back of his head that had caught his fall. He winced as it ached in protest. Dentini was now on his feet as well, his potbelly barely peeking from underneath the collared tee that his wife had undoubtedly sewn. The shirt itself was not much to look at, especially given the person that wore it, but through the three years that it had been given a place in the greengrocer’s dresser, it had managed to somehow remain intact. Months upon months of semi-constant use had turned the cheerful golden color of the fabric to a sickly looking yellow. Coffee and underarm sweat marked the shirt, and Sawyer hypothesized that were he to be in close enough proximity to Dentini, he would be unsurprised by the rancid smell of the clothing. He braced himself against a basket of green beans as he stook shakily to his feet, brushing off Dentini’s offered hand, and immediately spotted her. She was dressed in a hoodie and shorts, a bandana covering her jet black hair and sunglasses shielding her eyes. Her hips swung enticingly as she silently moved from the potatoes to the freshly sliced roast beef sitting on top of the decrepit freezer. Back, forth. Back, forth. He found himself transfixed, wondering what she’d say in her last words were she bleeding out on the asphalt. Would she cry? Beg? Plead? He imagined those words escaping her plump lips and resisted smiling at the cold shiver that ran down his back in anticipation. Sawyer decided that she would be his, then and there.
“Ms. Edwards, are you all set over there?” Having sufficiently helped Sawyer, Dentini’s attention was now fixed on the woman and her small bag of groceries.
“I’m just fine, thank you.”
“Sure, sure, just let me know if you need anything.”
The woman quietly paid for her food and began to walk out the door, before pausing.
“Hope you feel better,” she said to Sawyer. He did not respond, and she turned and disappeared out the door and into the crowded street.
Dentini turned back to Sawyer.
“You still doing alright, son?”
Sawyer bit back a scowl, shrugged, and began to walk out the door as well. When he was sure Dentini’s back was to him, he swiped a sandwich from the display case, as well as a loaf of bread, leaving his produce scattered about the floor of the greengrocer’s.
Once outside, Sawyer’s gaze darted around the street for signs of the woman. Taking a few steps in each direction, he laughed to himself as he contemplated how similar he must have looked to a baby deer lost in the woods. A woman with a stroller passed him, but it was not her. An old man in cherry red high heels crossed the street. Short skirts and identical shirts with low necklines made a thick mane of black hair stand out not unlike a highlighted passage in a textbook. He recognized the purple bandana and the long legs of the woman from the shop. What had Dentini called her? Ms. Edwards. Before she disappeared down the alley opposite him, he crossed the street, pushing various people out of the way as they wandered like a herd of sheep across the lanes of traffic. Giving himself a moment’s rest, Sawyer began to follow the Edwards woman as she made her way down a well-lit side road. Every step she took seemed to contain an ethereal grace that almost lifted her feet from the ground, until she seemed to walk on air itself. Step after step, his paced quickened until he felt he could reach out and touch her, grab that black hair that fell in sheets. She turned, and vanished into a doorway, and he stopped short, his heart pounding inexplicably. He cautiously approached the doorway. The door was made of frosted glass, clear letters spelling out the barely audible words: ‘Psychiatric Services and Personal Therapy’. So she had some connection to this building. He pulled out his phone, searching his social media platforms for ‘Edwards Psychiatric Services and Personal Therapy’. An article appeared. ‘Amelia Edwards to join practice at Psychiatric Services’. He grinned, and began to chuckle. It would almost be too easy. Then again, when it came to others, he’d never really been challenged to begin with. Sawyer peered through the window before turning back and walking the way he came, laughing the whole way.