Expiration Dates

 “Oh, hey. I didn’t see you there.”

“   ?  ”

“This? Boxed milk. I buy it once a year. Be prepared and all that. Hey, check out the expiration date. Stuff’s good for months. No refrigeration needed. No electricity, no problem, you still got milk. For cereal, coffee, whatever.”

“   ?  ”

“No, no, no, I’m no prepper. Like on TV? No, not me. Prepared maybe. Yeah, ‘prepared’ is more like it. That’s it, ‘prepared.’ That’s me in a nutshell.”

“   ?  ”

“Yeah, sorry, it is the last one.”

“   .  ”

“I guess I do have ten in the cart. Can’t be too safe, you know.”

“   ?  ”  

“I suppose you could have one, this one, sure, this one, right here in my hand, you can have it, sure, here you go, that’s what neighbors are for after all. Right? Am I right?”

“   .  ”

“You’re welcome, more than welcome. Hey, now you’re a prepper.”

“   !  ”

“Just joking. Now you’re prepared, prepared. Like me.”

“   .  ”

“Well you will be when they restock. Get yourself ten or so more boxes—unless I get here first.”

“   !?  ”

“You’re not much for joking around, are you?—and that’s OK, OK with me for sure. I’ve got a serious side. I mean look at this cart. Boxed milk. Dried rice, beans—navy, lima, pinto, you name it they’re in there. Long shelf lives those beans. And water. Hard to believe you could get that many under the cart. And they’re 24 packs, each of those suckers.”

“   ?  ”

“No, you just ignore the expire dates on water. Water stays good, like these canned veggies, good for way past any stamped-on date. Now don’t get me started on canned foods, I heard of guys eating canned food from World War II for Christ’s sake.”

“   ?  ”

“No, I don’t usually take the Lord’s name in vain. It’s just a saying, that’s all, just a saying ‘for Christ’s sake’ is, that’s all.”

“   .  ”

“OK, you’re right, I did use it again. Hey, but not necessarily in vain, I mean it’s got us talking, got two neighbors talking, hasn’t it? And for the first time, I believe.”

“   .  ”

“Well that time wasn’t really talking, I mean, you were yelling, yelling at me as I recall.”

“   .  ”

“All right, fair enough—‘raised voice’—you were using a ‘raised voice.’ It did seem pretty loud though as I remember it.”

“   !  ”

“Now that’s not really fair, I mean, technically my dog shit—”

“     ”

“—all right, ‘defecated,’ fair enough. But technically my dog . . .  defecated . . .  on the easement, I’m sure of it, the easement.”

“   .  ”

“OK, yes, yes, true enough, most of us do consider the easement to be part of our lawns—”

“     ”

“—‘front lawns,’ yes, I’m with you on that.”

“   .  ”

“Yessiree, yes I do, I do mow the easement when I cut my front lawn.”

“   .  ”

“No, I don’t step in dog shi—poop—no, I don’t. No dog poop. Not usually. One time I did, before you moved in.”

“   .  ”

“Yes, old news, right. Come to think of it, it may have been my dog, probably was, I mean, it was. Yes. How’d you know that?”

“   .  ”

“She is the only dog on the block, that’s right, she’s the one, you are right about that. That’s what good neighbors do: they notice things, they see what goes on in the neighborhood, like you do, that’s good, that a good thing what you’re doing.”

“   .  ”

“So you’ve stepped in it more than once, sorry to hear that, sorry. But I doubt it was my dog those other times. I mean, sure, the time you yelled at me—”

“     ”

“—raised your voice, yes, the time you raised you voice, that time was me and listen, I apologize for it, right now, in aisle 6, right here and now, I apologize. And I did give you that carton of boxed milk don’t forget.”

“   .  ”

“Well, yes, you’ll be paying for it when you check out . . . unless you decide to make a run for it.”

“   !  ”

“Joking again, just joking. C’mon. You are the serious type, that’s for sure. And that’s not a bad thing. We could use a few more serious types on the street. And I am sorry about the dog shit—poop, dog poop—but I swear that was the only time. I mean other people walk their dogs, sometimes a long way. Doesn’t have to have been someone from our street, I mean, how can you be you so sure it was me, that it was my dog?

“   .  ”

Oh, surveillance cameras. You’ve got them set up, have you?”

“   .  ”

“And one pans the sidewalk does it? Well, that’s good, I mean, good for you, securing your place and all. I’ve thought about getting some myself. Be prepared, that’s me, like I told you earlier. Me in a nutshell. I’ll have to get you to show me your setup one day, when we’re both free, I mean, when we’re both not too busy.”

“   ?  ”

“No, I don’t want to see the footage of my dog, I mean, I don’t need to see the footage of Annie. It’s not like I don’t believe you after all.”

“   .  ”

“Yes, that’s true, I did say Annie didn’t . . . defecate on your lawn those other times. Just trying to be a good neighbor, not start anything, you know, not raise any bad feelings, memories, no ill will and all that.”

 “   .  ”

“Some might call it lying, fair enough, some might. But is it a lie when the intentions are good? Can’t some lies be good, if the intentions are good?

“   .  ”

“Well, aren’t you mister straight shooter? Nothing wrong with that. Listen, you take this, no, take these, both these boxes, here, let me put them in your cart, that way you’ll be prepared for whatever.”

“   .  ”

“I insist. I want you to have them.”

“   .  ”

“No, no, that’s not another lie. Hey, now who’s got the sense of humor?”

 

 

 

Richard Downing

Richard Downing has received awards/recognition from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, New Delta Review, New Woman Magazine, Juked, Split This Rock, Boston Review, Gemini, Firewheel Press, Press 53, Concrete Wolf, Ashland Press, Colorado Review, and Solstice. His work appears in journals and anthologies such as Arts & Letters, Dire Elegies, and Prime Number. He holds a PhD in English and is an activist concerned with systemic racism, income equality, and fostering dogs. Richard recommends Feeding Tampa Bay.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 12:24