She caught his eye, as she meandered down the aisles of canned goods. Shopping after his late shift on help desk, Gavin found females of her unique quality were rarely spotted at 3 a.m. in Wal-Mart. Petite build, long golden hair that kissed the swell of her toned bottom—she was a feast for famished late night eyes. Something about her drew him into her wake, caught in the currents.
He found himself following her, trying to keep a discrete distance.
Ten hours in a room full of geeks, all of them male, made him long for anything with breasts. He showered off his frustration every morning with cold water and spent his free hours on hopeless quests in online games.
“Why don’t you meet a nice girl at work?” his mother asked, every Sunday at dinner.
“Because there are no nice girls at work,” he told her, every Sunday. “There are no girls. The only female is a sixty-something lady who cleans.”
“What about parties? Clubs?” said his father, cocking an eyebrow. “You don’t go out on the weekends? Tie one on?”
“I work from six until two a.m. Dad. Six days a week, for the overtime pay. Everything is closed.”
“These men you work with, they have no sisters? Uncle Leo fixed me up with your mother, you know.”
Gavin fell silent, forking in meatloaf. He suffered every Sunday for a home cooked meal, but sometimes he wondered if it was worth it. Then his mother brought out an apple pie.
His co-workers consisted of six lonely, single men hovering around thirty, three living with their parents, the rest subsisting, as he did, on stacks of frozen pizza and soda water. Four of them looked like trolls out of children’s fairy tales: tall, bearded, and smelly. They tended to wear the same pants every day. He could only imagine what their sisters would look like.
All they talked about, after midnight when calls died down, was their latest rankings online in League of Legends and the women they wished they could bang. Or at least, be able to share for a brief minute, the same air with. No one in those cubicles was banging anything but game controllers.
Gavin’s wild weekend climaxed in buying laundry soap and chips at Wal-Mart. Sometimes, if he was lucky, a few old hooker stumbled by shopping for hair dye and condoms. The usual customers looked like him—sad, overworked people with no life.
The woman in the canned meat aisle put Angelina and Gwyneth to shame. Who looked that beautiful at three in the morning? She was wearing an aqua sundress, billowy and belted at the waist, made of some fabric that shimmered without shining. Her tan legs were bare past the knee, and she wore sandals. She reminded him of a fantasy book cover, not a real human. She was a siren, and he followed helplessly.
The sea of Wal-Mart never ceased to amaze him. Open 24 hours, shoppers of all kinds found themselves there, beached by tides of necessity in the middle of the night.
Come up with a reason to speak to her, idiot. There’s no one else in the aisle.He considered his cart as he approached. He buried the can of jock itch spray under the bread, stopping a discrete distance for reconnaissance. He picked up a can of chili, pretending to study the ingredients.
Looking at the label, he decided never to buy chili again. Who knew they put oatmeal and soy in chili? What was she buying? He glanced furtively.
Of course. Tuna was what beautiful, healthy people ate. People who looked like her.
She picked up a stack of cans, and placed them gently in her cart. Then more.
Was there some kind of supermodel tuna diet? Thirty-something cans of tuna, at least, ended up in her basket.
She glanced at him. Damn, he thought, trying to examine the canned pork loaf can in his hand. He almost dropped the unhealthy processed meat. Nobody healthy would even touch that can, the thought.
Her eyes were a shade of blue that reminded him of sunlight filtered through a wave, translucent, blue-green. The ocean was a short drive away, but he never went anymore. Why, he asked himself, thinking of those alluring waves the color of her eyes.
Sadness spoiled the perfection of her face. He noticed a tear stealing down the curve of her cheek. Crying and buying tuna?
No one in a superstore after midnight was ever entirely sane, he thought regretfully. Even himself.
He was putting the Spam back on the shelf when he heard something fall. She had dropped one of the cans of tuna, and now it wheeled toward him.
“Sorry,” she said.
She started towards him to retrieve the errant tuna, and he bent to pick it up just as she did, bumping heads.
Long strands of golden hair tickled his nose. She smelled like coconuts.
“Oops,” he muttered. “My bad. Are you okay?”
She smiled. She managed to look sad and smile at the same time.
He handed her the can of tuna.
“So, you must like tuna a lot?” he said.
Thank you, Captain Obvious, a voice whispered in his head. Get to talk to the most beautiful girl you have ever seen, and or ever likely to see, and all you can say is that?“Not really,” she admitted. “I hate tuna. Well, not tuna. The commercial tuna fishermen.”
“Oh,” he said. “I think I might have read something about that. Killing dolphins and stuff.”
“Not just dolphins. Anything that gets caught in the nets. Bycatch, they call it them.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “They drag them, sometimes for miles, struggling in the nets. They don’t want them, but they kill them anyway.”
“So why buy canned tuna?” Gavin asked, intrigued by the perversity.
She blushed, her face suffused with a faint pink glow. Her head dropped a moment.
“You will think I’m crazy,” she said, finally smiling. The smile made her face illuminate. She was, if possible, more beautiful, Gavin noted, his heart throbbing. He had never had a conversation with any woman so…so…alluring.
Calm down, he ordered his body. Don’t get a boner in Walmart. Don’t make this supermodel think you arer that pervert who shops in the middle of the night to fondle the women’s panties.He’d seen that guy. Almost every Friday night. He seemed to like leopard prints.
“I could never think you were crazy,” he managed to stay. His throat felt stuffed with cotton wadding.
“I bury them. The tuna cans. Someone…I knew someone,” her voice dropped, and she wiped a tear off her perfect cheek.
Okay. So she is a little psycho. How come the most gorgeous women are always psycho? Maybe she wasn’t that psycho?
His eyes drifted over the assortment of food in his cart, then at her cart filled with tuna.
Nothing else was in the cart.
She is that psycho. Run. Run fast. Remember how Jamal had his tires slashed, not once, but three times. Tires are expensive.
She was waiting for his reaction, a sad half-smile of anticipation on her lovely face.
The cotton in his throat expanded.
He couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.
“Have a nice day,” he muttered, his tone strangled. He considered heading to the beer.
At least you should sneak a pic with your cell phone. Idiot. Show the guys at work that this isn’t a fish story.
Trying to be furtive, he pulled out his phone, pretending to be looking at it. He managed a quick picture as she reached for two more cans of tuna.
In the beer aisle he looked at the pic, making sure it was good.
It wasn’t.
It was strange. There was the aisle. And a cart full of tuna. But the girl, who had been standing right by the cart failed to be captured on the picture.
She wasn’t there.
Blood racing with excitement, headed back in her direction. The canned meat aisle was empty, so he sped toward the registers. He arrived in time to see her pushing her bags of canned tuna out the door.
Before he could get closer, she went through the double doors, and vanished into the night.
Breathless, he pulled his own cart into the checkout lane, where he caught the clerk’s bemused expression.
“Damn fine looking woman,” the man said, as Gavin began to put his items on the counter. “Comes in every Friday night, just buys a boatload of tuna fish. I’d told my girlfriend to start eating tuna fish.”
Gavin began to tell the man that she didn’t eat the tuna. She buried it. But the words died in his throat.
“She comes in every Friday?”
“Yep. We have a name for her. She looks kind of like the girl on the cans, so we call her “The Little Mermaid.”
Maybe if he wasn’t too chicken, he’d look for her again next Friday.