Monday, October 25, 2010
Kenneth and Macy had been going steady for six months when she asked him to pick up some whipped cream. He smiled when she said it; his lips turned all the way up. Macy handed him the keys and he was off to the Bigsby Food Market in Seton, Kentucky.
The truck tires gobbled up highway, as he raced past the Piggly Wiggly en route to his destination. The Bigsby Food Market sat at the end of town where the only lights visible were the ones shining from the market parking lot. Customers loved the market, because it was local; Kenneth loved it, because it offered dairy products.
He pulled the sleek black Silverado pickup into his favorite space and shifted into park. Out of excitement, he revved the throttle twice with quick jabs to the rubber gas pedal.
Kenneth felt more alive tonight than he had all summer.
He felt more excited than he had at the Seton Fair that had packed up and moved out a week ago. More eager than all of the Saturday night livestock auctions combined. Kenneth laughed and waited for the automatic doors to allow him entrance to the store.
The smell of the Bigsby resembled citronella coupled with cedar chips. It was always a nostalgic moment for Kenneth each time the double doors opened. He thought back to the summer trips his family had taken to the Kentucky State Dock up on Hwy 421, and he remembered Off bug spray used to repel mosquitoes. The lemony fresh aroma of the market produced thoughts of S’mores, burnt marshmallows, and ghost stories his sisters had once told him.
“Fancy charcoal they’re selling these days huh?” A blotchy faced man in overall’s muttered. He was fondling a bag of Kingsford.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Kenneth said.
“What about the mesquite flavor?”
“Haven’t had that one. Just the hickory. But the hickory is good,” Kenneth added.
“Hickory. Yeah, I’d say so. Would make a mean burger, I bet.”
“Charcoal always does.”
“You ain’t kidding. Love putting them on the grill. Letting them turn gray and adding moist wood chips. That’s how a man’s supposed to grill. Not with some fancy propane contraption. Almost burnt my arm hair off once with one of those,” the man said. Kenneth thought the man was warming up to tell a story.
“Yeah they’re dangerous. But I better get to the milk section. Nice talking to you,” Kenneth countered.
“Oh, I know how important those runs are. Milk, bread, and eggs. Don’t come home with one of the three you’ll be in trouble. Just remember to tell the lady at the register that you want to comp it, and they’ll get you the good price like you’d pay at the Piggly. I love comping things,” the blotchy faced man said, waving Kenneth along.
Dairy Section. Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Where was the whipped cream? Kenneth thought of the times he’d seen the aluminum can before. It was sometimes placed in the refrigerator; sometimes it was on an end cap by itself. He didn’t understand the refrigeration methods and how they could vary. How was it possible that whipped cream could sometimes stay at room temperature and at others alongside the eggnog? Remembering again why he needed the can, his worry left him; he had a lady waiting for him.
Macy was the first girl Kenneth had ever really looked twice at in Seton High School. It wasn’t that the other girls were ugly, just that she was so unique. She had dark brown hair, her complexion a smooth chocolate, and her eyes a stark, rich contrast—green. Kenneth’ skin prickled from the chill of the cooler, as he reached for a can of the whipped cream.
Macy’s appearance made him think of Hollywood actress Jennifer Connelly. She even walked like her a little bit. Kenneth remembered how his hands had sweated when he first asked her out, and how her forest green eyes seemed to stare into his soul. The dark skin and eyes made him feel vulnerable. Shaking his head, he now noticed that the wet can he held was blue and claimed to be Reddi-wip’s extra creamy option. He hadn’t known there was an extra creamy option.
The refrigerator held four varieties of Reddi-wip: Original, Fat Free, Extra Creamy, and Chocolate. All were in a seven ounce can excluding Chocolate, which was only available in 6.5 ounces. Kenneth took all four cans out of the refrigerator and inspected their nutritional information. He debated which one Macy would want the most; he gleaned that all of them said Made with Real Cream and three of them only had fifteen calories per serving. The Fat Free option only had five calories per serving. The Original and the Extra Creamy Reddi-wip claimed to be new and improved. Would Macy be worried about fat? He was the one planning to eat most of it anyway, and he didn’t care about calories. He just wanted to be able to place his mouth on her. Besides, the Reddi-wip was her playful suggestion not his.
The cans were beginning to chill his hands when Kenneth heard footsteps behind him, turned with a can in each hand, and saw the blotchy man from earlier. The man looked from the Original to the Extra Creamy to the two cans wedged in Kenneth’s elbow’s crook. Without waiting for any elaboration, the man said “You know how Reddi-wip got its start?”
“Nope,” Kenneth said, keeping it short.
“Well, a guy named Bunny Lapin came up with it when milk men were going door to door. It was a big hit with families, especially around the holidays.”
“That’s nice. Listen, I really need to be heading home. Do you have any idea which one of these would be best plain?” Kenneth asked.
“Hmm. I can’t say, because I’ve never had Reddi-wip plain. Always like Jell-O with mine. Plus, I love gelatin jigglers. You had those?”
“Sure. I’ve had those, but about the whipped cream. Do you have any recommendation, Mr., er, sorry I didn’t catch your name?”
“Frank Pyles. Lived in Seton a large part of my life. Can’ t say that I’ve seen you around much, but then again I’m getting older and haven’t seen much of the younger crowd. Arthritis in both ankles is pretty fierce, and the docs been saying that I need more exercise, but I told him that I…”
“That’s a tough thing, Mr. Pyles. I’m sorry about the ankles, but I need to be getting back to the other side of town. Do you have one you’d recommend?”
“Hmm. Well, I don’t rightly know. If I had to pick just one of the four, I’d probably go with the Chocolate just because it stands alone in flavor. I mean, you don’t even really need to put it on anything. You can just spray it right out into your mouth and it’s like having a chocolate treat without the mess. Did you know that it came out just a few years back and Reddi-wip…”
“Thank you so much,” Kenneth yelled as he pushed the other three cans back into the cooler. Thinking of chocolate spray on Macy’s chocolate body, he raced on adrenaline-filled legs to the front of Bigsby.
At the checkout, Kenneth made eye contact with the cashier, an adolescent boy about his own age. Both nodded at the canister as if in agreement. The cashier knew what the single can of Reddi-wip was for; his lips pursed in a “Go get her,” type of manner.
Kenneth was about to collect his change, grab the plastic grocery bag, and head out into the night, but the cashier opened his mouth. Over the citronella and cedar chip scented air he said “Isn’t it crazy how they put it in an aerosol can? How it’s propelled by nitrogen and can keep its fluffiness?”
“Excuse me?” Kenneth asked, more shocked than intrigued by the boy’s comment.
“I’m just saying, it’s wild how whoever made Reddi-wip was able to get it to stay fresh for so long. Doesn’t seem like cream could keep that well, does it?”
“Is this some sort of joke?” Kenneth asked with confusion in his voice.
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just telling you that compressed cream is some crazy shit. That’s all I’m saying. I didn’t ask you what you were doing with it,” the boy added, his voice rising.
“Alright. I just keep hearing people talk about Reddi-wip, and I just want to go home and use this stuff. Understand? I want to use it. Not be told how it works,” and with that Kenneth grabbed his change and the bag and hurried towards the exit.
The doors opened to a vacant asphalt parking lot decorated with a few buggies that hadn’t been collected from earlier. As he walked towards his pickup, Kenneth fumbled for the keys in his blue jeans. The walk to the Silverado made him note the emptiness of the evening, the lightness of his plastic grocery bag. Before the truck door’s lock opened, Kenneth stopped short and brought out the aluminum can. Popping the cap off, he pushed the valve sideways with his left index finger. Slowly, steadily, the cream came out with a soft whirring sound. Kenneth brought his mouth to the valve and lapped up the excess. The sweet blissful taste of cocoa and the cool temperature were pleasing to his mouth. He thought of his dad letting him lick the bottom of the chocolate gravy bowl before breakfast; he remembered how rich chocolate could be just by itself. Kenneth pictured his parents still being together. He laughed at the canister, remembering the way his dad had playfully squirted his mom; he longed for those days back.
Kenneth placed the cap onto the whipped cream and tucked the can back into the grocery bag. Then, he retrieved the proper key and inserted it into the truck’s door and turned. The drive across the small Kentucky town’s foothills was rendered uneventful by the darkness. He couldn’t see the sugar maples, the poplars, or the beeches that grew along the road running through the town’s simple twists and turns. Kenneth wanted to hear his truck’s engine crackle loud and clear, but the cicadas and crickets distorted it. He thought of Frank Pyles and his knowledge of charcoal and whipped cream; he smiled as the stop light turned green, the color urging him home.
Brian Tucker is a current graduate student in Eastern Kentucky University's MFA in Creative Writing program and was recently published in SouthernGrit Magazine with his short story titled "Animal Control." He has hopes of compiling a short story collection for this upcoming fall semester. Brian enjoys recreation on Lake Cumberland and writing realistic fiction in southern Kentucky.