I clutched a decorative flowerpot, cheap plastic bird feeder, and small bag of birdseed against my light gray three-piece suit. On a whim after work, I’d driven to Shaunders' Warehouse to purchase a house plant. My girlfriend, Alyssa, was always harping on me about the importance of having indoor plants to create a more “inviting environment” in my otherwise “sterile décor.”
I didn’t mean to pick out bland colored furniture; it was just what caught my eye. Her delicate voice echoed in my memory. “It’ll give a little color to the dentist office waiting room you call a home.” I remembered her popping out her petite hands in mimicry of flesh-colored fireworks and hearing her soft giggle, which followed many of her statements.
The hum of three large silver oscillating fans bounced off the strips of thick plastic that hung from the doorway leading outside. Pink streamers shimmered on their metal grates, and imperceptible ripples climbed up and down the temporary barrier that led outside. I shoved aside three of the plastic strips, and the strong smell of fertilizer accosted my nose. A large, impatient shopper, dressed in an orange and pink flowered jumper, shoved past me and grunted in displeasure as she entered the hardware store. Her arm knocked into mine, and the items I had been carrying scattered out onto the concrete. I muttered half to myself and half to the rude shopper, “Excuse me,” but she never acknowledged me, or the destruction caused by her tirade.
A beige clay pot, embossed with grey swirls, lay in pieces on the concrete. I shook my head as I picked up the intact bird feeder and seeds. An older grey-haired gentleman wearing a green smock with “Shaunders'” stitched across the chest and a name tag that read, "Jerry," looked me in the eyes. “Don’t worry about it, sir. Happens all the time.” He waved his arm in a large arc. “Would you like me to get you a cart for your items?” His grey speckled eyes seemed to hide sadness that betrayed his friendly tone.
I stood up straight and cradled two of my recovered items in my arms once again. “Ah. Um. Yeah, sure, thanks.”
Without another word, he rushed past me. I continued to the nursery in the store’s outdoor section. A bird fluttered above my head and dropped the husk of an acorn, which bounced off the seed bag I was carrying. The smell of ammonia that was heavy at the store’s entry door was replaced with mingled scents of pine, flowers, and stone. The display of plants was larger than my entire apartment. On three sides, tall, twisted pines surrounded roses, daffodils, other various colors and species of flowers, and plants of all shapes and sizes. There was even a row of sunflowers standing in the back.
I tried to remember the plant Alyssa insisted would look perfect in my apartment, but I was drawing a blank. I was struggling to even remember what her favorite flower was, which was probably the same one she suggested I get. A large-leafed fern caught my attention. I squatted down to read the yellow tag, "Jurassic Stegosaurus Holly Fern." It could apparently grow up to two feet tall and two feet wide. I imagined the plant jumping out of the pot and chasing me around the store, snapping its newly grown teeth at me. I was chuckling to myself when the employee from earlier rolled a cart up next to me. “Here you go, sir. If there’s anything else you need, don’t hesitate to ask.” He gave me that empty smile again and sauntered away. His radio crackled, and a young female voice said, “There’s a cop.” The radio went silent for a second and then the girl on the radio cleared her throat and continued, “I mean, officer, at the front of the store, looking to speak to a manager.”
I placed the two items I was carrying into the cart. Jerry had already retrieved a duplicate of the busted flowerpot. “Nice.” I lifted the Jurassic Fern into the cart as well before rolling up to the register and waiting behind three other customers. Beyond the checkout area, in the parking lot, three police cruisers surrounded the large lady who had bumped into me earlier. She was in handcuffs, and one of the officers had his meaty hand on her head as they guided her into the rear seat of a cruiser. Alyssa’s words from the other day played in my mind, “We should watch some of those criminal shows together. My sister says they’re hilarious.”
Experiencing the scene unfolding before me in real life, I couldn’t imagine how watching it on T.V. would be funny in any way. My heart was heavy, and the corners of my mouth curved down in a frown. I wished I could help the stranger and convince her to walk the straight and narrow. There was no glory in going to jail, and whatever her crime, there was no way it was worth the cost she was now going to pay. I was no longer frustrated at her earlier rudeness. The sadness I felt overrode any animosity I had held for her.
The five-story apartment building where I lived was three blocks of different colored buildings. The left block was pale green, the right was blue, and the middle, where I lived, was a putrid yellow. I walked up a flight of stairs to my second story apartment. Shoving my key into the lock, I turned the handle with the same hand and nudged the door open with my foot. After passing through the entrance, I kicked the door closed. While I was passing the living room window on the way to the kitchen, a Shaunders' Warehouse delivery van pulled into a spot across the street.
I never seemed to remember that I could sit at my computer, order whatever I need, and have them deliver it to me. It's such a great convenience. I promised myself that next time, I'd forgo the drama of going to the store and getting battered by self-absorbed shoppers. Of course, then I'd miss the kindness of employees like Jerry. Going out of his way to get me a cart and even replacing my broken flowerpot was good customer service that most employees seemed to lack. My grandfather liked to brag about the old days, when he would go to the gas station to have them fill his car and check his oil and tire pressure. Then, he'd go to the grocery store, and workers would load his purchases into his vehicle. I, however, could save gas and have grocery store employees hand-deliver my items to the front door. “Look who's bragging now," I could hear my grandfather's jovial voice chiding me.
I unloaded the items I had purchased from the hardware store and the few bags of groceries I had picked up after my trip to Shaunders'. As I was putting away my groceries, a large fist pounded on my front door. I placed the half gallon of coconut milk on the shelf, closed the refrigerator, and walked to the front of my apartment. Canon in D played from my doorbell chime, and the fist knocked several more times before I reached the door. The second I turned the knob, the employee who had helped me at the warehouse slammed my door open, stepped inside, and shut the door behind him. He still wore his work clothes and his Shaunders' smock. The sadness in his eyes was replaced with cold, hard steel, and his voice was no longer friendly. “Where is the flowerpot I put in your cart?”
I pointed toward the table that held my groceries, not taking my eyes off the intruder. My mouth was dry, and nerves jittered throughout my body. Buzzing began between my ears.
His gaze followed where I was pointing, and he grabbed my collar. “Don’t mess with me. I’m taking the pot and you with me. If you don’t want to end up in my trunk or somewhere worse, you’re gonna tell me what you did with that flowerpot.”
It felt like a lemon-sized obstruction was lodged in the back of my throat. The taste of bile gurgled up past the imaginary object, and I lost the cheeseburger and fries I had consumed in the car on the way home. The brown chunks and green slurry sprayed onto Jerry, and he jumped backward. I took the opportunity to run past him and into my back bedroom, slamming the door behind me. Leaning my back against the door, I shook my head to clear my thoughts. Thankfully, Alyssa had insisted that I put a lock on my bedroom door. “You never know when you might want to lock your door. What if there’s an intruder in your house?” She had punctuated the question with one of her trademark giggles.
A second after I had locked the door, the handle rattled, and the intruder bellowed, “You better open that door, or I’ll bust it down and you’ll wish you could’ve ridden in my trunk.” His voice lowered in pitch, and he growled, “I swear you won’t make it out of your room alive if you don’t do what I say right now. I’ll slice your stomach open and pull your intestines out with my bare hands. Then I’ll shove my knife down your throat.”
I thrust myself off the door and stumbled toward the window. My knees weren’t working quite the way they were supposed to. I unlatched the window and heard a loud bang that was followed by the sound of splintering wood. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that the door frame was cracked. I knew it wouldn’t withstand more than a few more assaults from the man on the other side. My entire body was shivering, and my fingers didn’t have quite the strength they were supposed to. After fumbling with the window screen through a second splintering of the door frame, I finally loosed it from its setting, and it tumbled from the window. Scrambling after it through the opening, I jumped from the second story window.
I landed hard on my feet but was able to absorb enough of the force to avoid broken bones. From the window above, Jerry leaned out and bellowed, “You’re going to be very sorry for the decision you made.” He then turned from the window and disappeared. It was only a matter of seconds before he would be out of my apartment and around to this side of the building. I balled my fists and shook them when I remembered that the keys to my car still lay somewhere in my apartment. I ran toward the other side of the street and saw that the Shaunders’ Warehouse delivery van was still sitting there and was running. There was no one in the driver’s seat, so I assumed it must be the intruder’s vehicle. He obviously was lying about putting me in a trunk, and my instincts told me he had planned to kill me and needed a quick getaway.
I raced to the van, hopped into the driver’s seat, and put it into drive. As soon as I stepped on the gas, Jerry opened the door and tried to pull me out. I mashed the pedal to the floor, and the large man lost his grip on the door handle as the van lurched forward.
At the police station, the officers were finishing up their interview with me. A new officer walked into the interview room carrying the clay pot I had purchased earlier. He placed it onto the table. “Here it is.” He waved a white envelope in the air. “This is what the thieves stole.”
I squinted at him and raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”
He chuckled and placed it in his pocket. “I wish I could tell ya, kid, I really do.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t worry about it. You’re safe now, and that’s all that matters.”
I placed my hands on the table and stood up. “Seriously? After everything I’ve been through, I don’t get to know what I was almost murdered for?”
He winked at me and left the room. The two officers sitting across the table from me looked after him until the door clicked back into place. The smaller female officer, Officer Mandace, placed her hand on top of mine. “Listen. We need to take care of the rest of the paperwork, and then we’ll get you finished up here. You just sit tight. We’ll be right back.”
"What about the guy who tried to kill me?"
The female officer shook her head at me. "Sorry." She placed her hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll find him soon enough." She smiled at me as if that was supposed to ease my worries, and they stood up and left me alone in the small, windowless room. I turned the flowerpot on its side and looked inside. The remnants of the product tag hung loose from where the officers had ripped the envelope out from under it. I stood the pot back up on the table and then shoved it to the floor, where it shattered into pieces.