Skip lay in bed, naked from the waist up. His desire was to sleep. But, intending some months ago to paint his bedroom, he had removed all the window coverings. It was around 8:51pm in the early summer, not quite dark, and what drooping light there was left in the day kept him awake. He wondered if the neighbors across the way could see him, and if they cared that he was shirtless. Their shades were always closed, but Skip was convinced that they peered out from gently lifted corners to observe him frequently. Although he felt repellent without a shirt on, this was actually a welcome scenario bordering on fantasy for Skip. What if they, unlike he, were pleased with what they saw? Sometimes Skip would even linger near the dresser, pretending to check the weather or email on his phone, indulging these voyeurs across the courtyard.
9:04 and still light. And now Skip was losing his resolve to sleep. He sat upright in bed and scanned the floor of the dimming room. Clothes all fading to the same dusky shade of grey lay, limbs contorted, about the place. Leaving his legs on the bed and supporting his weight against the ground with his arms, in some bastardized fashion of downward dog, Skip began feeling around for a shirt. Something with long sleeves. The days were warming now that it was late June, but a chill still seeped into the valley each night. Short sleeves, blue jeans, too thick. Soon Skip was extended well away from the bed in his quest for a shirt, his upper body upside-down, legs nearly parallel to the ground, and his feet trying to hold him on the bed like an action hero hanging on to the edge of a cliff. Skip relished what the the spies across the way must think about this half-naked calisthenic spectacle taking place at twilight. Probably porno exercises, or something untoward like that.
Out of options within reach of the bed, Skip lowered his knee and crawled about until he found a knit shirt with the right weight to insulate his arms against what he imagined the air outside to feel like. He pulled the shirt over his head, laid on his back, and held out his arms. Probably blue-grey. Or perhaps green flecked with earth. Twilight was ending. Skip couldn't tell, and it didn't matter for a trip to the grocery store anyway.
He wanted a pumpkin to carve. Skip hadn't carved a pumpkin on Halloween or otherwise in at least five years. But tonight he wanted to cut very basic geometry into a pumpkin, making a classic Jack O'Lantern that he would light with a candle and set out front on his orange-tiled step. He would roast the fruit's seeds with plenty of salt and a little cayenne, and nibble on them while he carefully sculpted a face from the hollow shell. In his long-sleeve shirt, which the entryway light revealed as blue after all, Skip locked the door and headed to his purchase his raw material.
Past the front door of his conflicted admirers, out the complex's gate, east four blocks and over half a mile, Skip walked with self-congratulatory anticipation through the parting glass panels of Parker Puddin's Foodopolis. Bright, uneven light seemed to change the temperature at the threshold and welcome him to the great bounty of consumables. Skip headed down the paper products aisle, as this was the surest and most direct route to produce. Single rolls, double rolls of double-ply, triple soft triple rolls in six, eight, sixteen, or thirty-two count. How could one possibly decide correctly on toilet tissue from this wealth of options? And then again, how could one go wrong! The only thing to do was to try them all, to see which type, style, and brand of tissue best balanced comfort with effectiveness in wiping away residual shit fom one's ass. It was no different with paper towels. Well, somewhat different. Yes. If there was no difference, then one might use the less expensive product to wipe one's ass and one's countertop. Yet these are clearly unique tasks and surfaces, requiring entirely specialized tools. Thankfully, a handful of manufacturers who understand this have developed a variety of paper towel types that address the nuance of spilt liquid: dimpled paper, absorbent pockets, angular and curved patterns (a difference still open to scientific and scholarly debate). And all available with various aesthetic options, such as baby animals, or images of Americana to comfort one’s guests with a sense of timeless stability. A psychological antidote to the terror of having spilled a drink in another person’s home. Or for the stoic pragmatist, who advertises confidence through lack of decoration, no print at all.
Skip moved past all of these – and the facial tissues, the wet wipes, the innovations in paper-based dusting technology, all of it – without turning his head. He had come to Parker Puddin’s for a pumpkin. He did not presently care about how he would clean up the mess he intended to make on the kitchen floor. That would be a future trip to the Foodopolis.
The first items he encountered were the apples. Skip stood next to the large square bin of Braeburns and surveyed the area for gourds. Leafy greens, long root vegetables with bushy tops, multi-colored citrus balls, berries and more berries. And there, sticking up over the rolling hills of avocados, there was the hard-shelled flag he was looking for: the butternut squash. Skip approached, expecting to see the bottom of the tall pale surface tucked into a sea of deep green, bulbous yellow, and, of course, orange. Instead: more washed-out brown. More butternut squash. After scoping out the rest of the section, Skip inquired with a Puddin’ Pal, who informed him that all types of produce available were on the shelves for the consumer’s convenience. Skip thanked the Pal and meandered back to stare at the butternut squash. Maybe Gardner’s across town had pumpkins. Maybe. But that would require exact bus fare, and he didn’t like the way Gardner’s clerks always asked him how his day was going even if it happened to be 10:38 at night. Perhaps he should just put his plan aside until a more proper season bore the appropriate fruit. Perhaps he was tired enough to go to sleep now.
After twenty minutes of indecision, Skip picked out an eight-pound squash with a sticker that noted Chile as its origination point. He would proceed. He would cut out the insides from the bottom and design a small face for the lower third. So what if his Jack O’Lantern’s forehead was extra tall and long? Who would complain? And if someone did, Skip would invent a story about pumpkins in October, but butternut squash in June. With his Chilean squash, a baggie holding a pinch of cayenne, and a six-pack of single roll double-ply toilet paper, Skip checked out and went home to carve.