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The Tattoo

by Terdell Lee Johnson 9 months ago in Short Story

Food is easy to come by, but for a son and his father it may be more difficult...

I hated grocery shopping.

The store was about to close when I rushed inside with my father from the winter weather. Traveling was dangerous and more than once, my dad almost lost control of the car over the icy road. We had to venture out in the weather. The family needed food, and I was one of three mouths to feed. We got all the healthy food needed; no junk food this time! Looking over the list, we found that all the items were in the basket, so walking quickly to the cashier, we placed each item on the belt; happy that we had done it under ten minutes. The cashier was a fine fellow; at least he looked to be and even engaged my dad in light conversation about his favorite sports team. The grand total flashed on the digital screen; and with a grin, the cashier announced the sum.

“That will be twenty dollars even.”

My father presented the single twenty-dollar bill, but found that the cashier responded as the others. It was the same response we got at the hardware store and even at the gas station. The cashier remained still, as if the action offended him. His once cheerful mood slightly became distant as he crossed his arms. I dropped my head, knowing what was about to take place. I wanted to tell my dad we could get groceries somewhere else, but whose going to listen to a seven-year-old kid.

“It’s real.” my father said, “I don’t want any trouble. It’s late and my family is—”

“I don’t want any trouble either,” said the cashier, still with his arms crossed. “But you’re missing something.”

I looked at the price on the screen again, and then at the bill in my father’s hand as it shook from his nerves. My dad was angry. I could tell by the twitching lip and the blank stare on his face. The cashier chuckled. I didn’t know why. Maybe seeing my dad angry gave him joy; but leaning forward, the cashier presented his arm. He rolled up his left sleeve, revealing a variety of tattoos that had something to do with his past, but he pointed to a specific one. It was indeed an odd one and so small; that if it had not been shown to us, we would have paid no mind to it.

“You don’t get it do you? You need this mark and the money if you want your food. I don’t sell to anyone who doesn’t have it. Don’t take it personally.”

“I understand just fine,” my dad said with some frustration. “I don’t have that tattoo on my arm.”

“Then get it. After that, you’ll have no more problems. Cost about fifty bucks per person.”

My dad placed the money back in the wallet; and looking at the cashier with pity in his eyes, my father said:

“I have a family to feed—a little kindness please.”

The cashier’s face became red as a fresh tomato, and with the force of a brilliant speaker, he made his position very clear.

“It is ten minutes past closing, sir, and I have to be back at work very early in the morning. I can’t give you anything without this mark. No store will sell you any food until you get it! If you value your life and your family’s get the tattoo. Now, please leave. I have to close the store.”

My father shook slightly, and I thought he would leap over the counter to strangle the man; but placing his arm behind me, we left the store quietly.

I hate grocery shopping.

Returning to the car, the engine was started, and I found the courage to address my father.

“It would be easy. That tattoo is tiny and looks cool.”

“No, son.”

I was afraid to ask the next question because who cares what a seven-year-old thinks, but my youthful curiosity got the best of me.

“Why?” I said.

Instantly, my father winced as if something sharp had struck him. I was sorry that I had opened my mouth; it was better for a seven-year-old to be silent.

“I can’t,” my father said, putting the car in reverse, “I won’t. We’ll get the food we need. We always do.”

Our car pulled from the parking lot and continued down the winter paved road, not knowing where our next meal would come from. I was angry at my dad. I was angry at the cashier. What was the big deal about this tattoo? We tried a twenty-four-hour convenience store with the same result: no food. It was nearly ten at night. My father was hunched over the steering wheel like a crazed man. He didn’t speak to me. It was about ten minutes and my dad pulled up to another convenience store with a gas station. My father did not get out of the car as quickly as he had before. He scanned the area like a predator. The parking lot was empty except for our car. He opened the glove box and pulled out the gun. He stuffed it in his jacket.

“Stay in the car. I’ll be right back.”

I hate grocery shopping.

There was yelling and then I heard two pops that sounded like firecrackers, but much louder. I flinched at both sounds. My dad rushed from the store with two bags, opened the car door, and flung the food in the back. I could smell the smoke from the gun. It burned my nose. He put the car in reverse and we sped down the icy road. I said nothing. We had the food that we need, but it would last long.

“Don’t tell you mom how we got this, understood?”

“Ok.” I said under my breath.

I hate grocery shopping.

Short Story

About the author

Terdell Lee Johnson

Terdell Johnson's aim is to glorify God through writing.

He lives in Tacoma, Washington.

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