Prose by Katherine Beasley

A Streamlined Reality Has No Room For Tuna

I wouldn’t have imagined that tuna fish could be invisible. Especially not these examples of the species: entombed in sheet metal, which has been shrouded in tree pulp, which has been anointed with polychrome inks (petroleum-based) and then laid out in aisle 4, a towering tribute to tuna.

But I was wrong. Perhaps it was the pure spring water that effervesced them above the mundanely visible. Had they instead been embalmed in, say, canola oil, perhaps they would have slipped more easily over the rim of that shopper’s contact lenses, past his cornea and through his vitreous humor — into his streamlined reality.

He’s not even buying tuna.

I pause, calculate; examine my lexicon of incantations. “Pardon me,” I say. A subtle movement of my grocery cart completes the spell, and the reverie is broken.

A packet of wasabi peas falls from his hand. His eyes are wild – where did that tuna display come from? I jostle my cart and the man hastily removes his own, unblocking the aisle and cutting off an approaching woman headed for the tuna.

Minutes later in aisle F two mothers mutually defy each other’s visual detection. Not until Toddler A detains the lollipop of Toddler B do the moms realize that, inexplicably, they have parked side-by-side and that an elderly man trying to reach the dog biscuits has become trapped between their trolleys.

But my shrewd eye catches it even as they bustle past, trying to pretend nothing has happened. In both carts — tuna.

In the parking lot, I pile the least tuna-like of my newly acquired foodstuffs into the front passenger seat: goat cheese, baby spinach, cane-sweetened organic soda. The charity food goes in the trunk. Sorry, Tater Tots. Gotta know your place, mac ‘n’ cheese. If you ride next to me, I’m dead meat on the freeway. Safety first.

As I drive, I balance a packet of wasabi peas on my head and hope it’s enough.

Five miles away, a boy only I can see helps unload the back. His eyes are the color of root-beer-barrel candies, and he giggles when you say the word “fart.” A charming boy, really, except for that plaguey invisibility. Not even his mother has ever seen him–not since he went to the hospital nursery. Not since his HIV test came back. Not since she slipped back to the streets and regained her own transparency. Not since he came here to Casa para los Niños, where he has watched the white kids (only translucent) get auctioned off on QVC.

But now I know. Now I can tell him. “Raymond,” I say, “you gotta lay off the tuna fish.”

I stuff the wasabi peas partway into my collar, climb back into my car, and drive into the three megapixel sunset of streamlined reality.

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