How to Shop After the Death of Your Brother

Christopher Allen

As you walk through the automatic doors, keep this in mind: supermarkets—and now all other things—are arranged wrong. Heavy items like sacks of rice, number-ten cans of tomatoes, and five-liter bottles of your brother’s death are all on aisle 7—after bananas, after white bread, after eggs. Leave a hollow in your cart for the heavy stuff.


Shop alone at three a.m. Actually, you won’t be alone alone. Remember the woman who cornered you at the funeral and made a scene? She’s there, ramming you with her cart, shouting she knows you hated him, which sounds like she watches too much Days of Our Lives. Don’t engage. Don’t say it wasn't hate that ruined you; don’t say it was fear. Don’t say it was a war that turned cold as you got older. Don’t say your attempts at rapprochement were like trying to start a fire with wet wood. Two-line emails every six years. Forced Christmas cordiality, your brother trash-bagging gifts and leaving with the cider still hot in his cup. Everyone scattering, too scared to stay. Don’t say any of this. Soap opera-stare at her and wait for the commercial break.


If you think shopping at three a.m. is hard, try doing it in the cattle drive of day. If you panic, force a smile, say, Pardon me, you're blocking the tarragon, my brother’s death, the two-for-one T-bones. Be patient. You may find yourself also blocking the aisle, squinting at the microscopic print on the backs of boxes, trying to make sense of all this death—remember you’re not alone alone. All these other shoppers are difficult people dealing with the deaths of difficult people. Concentrate on your own list.


Supermarkets carry a lot of the same product dressed up in different packaging. Take for example the product YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR BROTHER. You’ll find at least ten variations of this product on every aisle. Freeze-dried, Tetra Pak, muesli—there’s even a green smoothie in the produce section called DISTANCE (best served over ice). But the ingredients—written so small—never change and death makes no difference:

Abuse (60% physical, 30% emotional, 10% sexual), ambivalence, fear,

paralysis, toxic stabilizers and natural aroma. May contain nuts.         


Once your cart is loaded with your brother’s death, go to check-out. The cashier—your mother—will whip and smack your purchases across the scanner then ask you in her lazy cashier’s voice if you've made peace with your brother. Don’t answer but don’t judge. Don’t say only people on TV make peace with their brother. Don’t go off script. Don’t say you need a receipt. Push your cart, now as dense and heavy as a black hole, past the automatic doors. Heave this mess into your trunk and shrug for anyone watching; shrug because you’re tired, shrug because nothing you’ve bought will sate or slake, shrug because you don’t understand what peace has to do with death.

Christopher Allen (@Christopher_All) is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins. He is Co-Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. Originally from Tennessee, he now lives somewhere in Europe.