2013 SA Writers' College Short Story Competition Runner Up

'Wholesale' - by Liam Kruger


My neighbour goes to the supermarket pretty regularly, because it's there she sometimes sees the face of God. It’s a new model – some no-name Mithras counterfeit, I think – but there’s a pretty loyal cult building up behind it. Some marketing kids out of a think-tank in Istanbul did their research, and targeted single working women in the city centre as their core faithful demographic. They wouldn’t be the first.

I found her wandering the more distant aisles, the ones they tend to put in there just for show – you know, the ones with the trampolines and gardening equipment, the treadmills from a bygone era and luggage made of anything other than stainless steel.

“Are you lost, maybe?” I asked her, because I didn’t want to tell her she looked doped up. “Narcotics are in the south wing.”
But she just turned that wall-eyed face of hers into a smile, and said: “No, I’m good, thanks. Just looking for Gracchus.”

It’s a neat set-up. There was some connection that convinced the church to partner up with the sales reps at a couple of supermarket branches. See the face of Gracchus and 50% off your purchase. I’ll tell you one thing, they’ve poured a lot of money into getting their deus ex machina just right; nobody’s been struck dead in the middle of a grocery list, which was a problem when Rome was still a player, and nobody’s running around with a fake stigmata either, trying to force a discount on their smoked stem cells. When people see The Divine Gracchus in the arrangement of canned tofu, they get all warm and ecstatic, post-coital and beneficent. Worst case scenario there’s a little temporary glossolalia and relief from scrofula. All of which is hard to fake in Aisle 5.

I wasn’t surprised by the religion. For as long as I’d known her, she’d been a tourist, flitting between Militant Zen, Orthodox Sapphism and Crust Buddhism without a backwards glance, sticking around only so long as their recruitment coupons got her free parking.

Which isn’t to say she was unfaithful – I mean, you can’t be. The recruitment guys can spot an atheist by their shoes. And when she was trying out Redundamentalism, you could hear her white noise speakers blasting from a block away. The new model can do three blocks. And I’m pretty sure she was planning to sacrifice me to Yog Sh’ggoth that time she came over with a basket of wine coolers and a fibre-glass hunting knife. She meant it when she put her name down on the insurance forms.

I mean, I think she was just looking for the god that was right for her - and was willing to devote herself to the wrong one until hers came along. Some people are like that; can’t get out of bed in the morning if they don’t have somebody to thank for the bed, or the morning. I don’t think more than a week went by without her being attached to one sect or another.

So I was a little surprised when she let it drop that she’d exceeded the trial period and given up her credit card details to the Church of the Divine Gracchus (Ltd).

I know all this because she had a habit of giving my address to recruiters, instead of her own. I get a small bible’s worth of parables, commandments, heresies and tickets to orgies every couple of days.

Nothing on Gracchus, though. After the first week she made sure those went straight to her place, devout-eyes-only, from Gracchus with love.

And, well – I don’t know, I’m Vanilla Catholic, alright? Not a hell of a lot excitement going down at my end. Some of her pamphlets were kind of fun, if you knew better than to show up at the orgy beaches (and boy did I know better), and the night with the wine coolers hadn’t been so bad, stitches notwithstanding. Figured it probably couldn’t hurt to do a little digging – caveat fidelis and all that, right?

So I started tailing her to the supermarket. I was worried she’d notice – I mean we took the same tram from the same stop to the same building – but she was so busy psyching herself out for a brush with the divine, I could’ve been tugging at her sleeve and offering her discount fare on pilgrimages, and she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.  Crowds parted for her, social advertising went mute, recruiters looked the other way; she walked with the calm and speed of the Faithful and it was a bitch keeping up with her.

It took seven visits, in the space of about two days; I thought she just went with the morning-evening vespers, but on the second night I figured out that she’d stopped sleeping and was slipping off with the midnight crowd to look for Gracchus under the fluorescents.

At this point I’d started to acquire some qualms – I mean if you go outdoors in the night, the newscasters don’t even pretend to be outraged about the state of your corpse. You were asking for it.

But, you know, I hadn’t had much sleep. And she seemed to carry it off okay. I followed her, out into the dark with its youths and its horrors, and so long as I stayed closed behind her, and more or less copied her weird, rictus expression, I didn’t feel too threatened. I made it to the supermarket just a few paces behind her, sweating but unmolested by the city’s indifference.

She started her usual route – along the rows of camping goods and dog food, imitation meats and drugs. I’d done this six times before, so I sort of zoned out and tramped behind her, mostly just surprised at not being dead yet. It was when we were in the games aisle – approaching a stack of Huxley’s All-Ages Suicide Kit – that it happened. She fell to the ground, ululating, her limbs jerking in some kind of epileptic dance, her changed voice singing something unfamiliar to me; one or two other worshippers attracted by the sound rushed over and immediately collapsed too, joining her in whatever ritual this was, which I hadn’t read the catalogue for. I stared hard at the shelves around me, trying to figure out where their sudden divine puppetry was coming from.

Not a damned thing. I stood around like an idiot in Aisle 6 at midnight, waiting for my neighbour to come out of it, so I could follow her home without getting myself murdered. Worst part is she used her 50% discount to a buy a stick of gum, the minimum required purchase for leaving the place. Did it with a smile.

I mean - she just looked so smug walking out past the security barrier. And there I was, out in the middle of the night without a revelation to call my own.
It’s a miracle I waited as long as I did before shoving her in front of the tram.

Anyway. Sorry about that Father, it’s been three weeks since my last confession. Do you take credit cards?



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