Chance Encounters: Death in the Orange Juice Aisle


Thomas woke that morning as usual, remembering a dream. He ate cereal while reading a magazine. By the time he finished, the computer had warmed up, ready for the first password. A little dizzy, he remembered lyrics of a song his satan father played often: ‘This’ll be the day that I die.’ Humming, other lyrics hit the sieve in his brain, ‘Chug-a-lug chug a lug, makes you want to holler hi-de-ho’.

Looking at the screen, he noticed a shimmering box of lines floating across his vision. It was a warning that a migraine was starting. He needed to quickly take measures to prevent serious pain. Thomas opened a drawer in the kitchen, took out ibuprofen, swallowed 3 tablets. He turned off the radio, lights and lay down. Sleep ensued.

On waking, for the second time this morning, he discovered he broke his spectacles’ arm during deep sleep. They were on the bed with his old New Scientist, books, notebook, pencil, pen, beanie and Ipad. Somehow he had rolled over and squashed the glasses. ‘Damn it, I need to see!’

He also needed to buy food. On arrival at the shopping centre, he deposited his glasses at Ali Optics, hoping to get them fixed. They are called ‘transition’ spectacles, but nothing to do with gender reassignment. He wondered about his sister’s child; is it John or Joan?

At the supermarket, he filled the trolley with vegetables, tins of corn and sliced peaches, cereal, chicken and fish, Meandering to the far side of the store, he found strawberry yoghurt, rye bread, and wanted to kiss a Maketu. Thomas remembered he needed juice. Finally, stumbling a bit, he found the right aisle and picked up a bottle of Light cranberry juice. ‘Don’t need orange juice on this trip,’ he said, slowly pushing the trolley towards the cash registers.

Lucky – there’s an empty lane. At the checkout counter, as usual, the woman greeted him, ‘Hi, how’s your day been?’ while he loaded the conveyor belt.

Not the best.’ he said, ‘I had to get my glasses fixed. Can’t see very well right now.’

I need to get my eyes checked again.’ She said.

Oh. How long has it been?’

Ummmm 3 years, no before that because I died about 3 years ago. It must have been 3 and half or 4 years ago. They’re getting bad, too.’

What do you mean you died 3 years ago?’ he asked not knowing if this was the right track or not, but she mentioned it first.

Madelon paused, looking at his bag of bananas and then the scanner, screen and keys. Her lower left 1st and 2nd bicuspids are missing. The couple in the queue behind him were listening. They wanted to hear about death and resurrection. No one was in a hurry. The anorexic woman at the back of the line, wearing lime green top and pants, matching Reebok shoes, was taking a phone photo of a recipe in Women’s Day.

We waited. ‘What happened?’ he finally asked. She continued to move the food across the scanner.

Oh, my death. About 3 years ago. I took a break at 2:15 and walked down the juice aisle to the back of the store. My feet were hurting. I’d been here since 7 in the morning. I got wobbly and fell. Hit my head on the Ribena shelf they told me later.

I was fortunate. They have a defib in the store. A customer saw me fall and ran for help. Linda and Philomena grabbed the defib and hit me with it. They were quick. I love ‘em. They saved my life. I was dead.’ She stared at him, her blond red and green streaked hair in fashionable disarray. On her right inside wrist, an hourglass tattoo crossed the veins.

The ambulance took me to hospital. Heart attack. I don’t know how, but – don’t listen to my partner about this – my brain is still the same and I never complain much, anymore. I forget things sometimes. Nothing to do with the heart attack.’

I’m glad you recovered so well, and now it’s time for you to get new glasses.’ He put the food in his trolley and inserted a credit card into the small black machine on the food counter, typed a PIN. ‘Thank you. I’m glad you made it.’ He said, taking the receipt.

Have a good day’ she said, pulling the next lot of food towards the scanner.

You too.’ He pushed the squeaky wheeled trolley out of the store. ‘I will.’ He thought out loud, ‘We don’t always appreciate how lucky we are. Migraine, broken glasses – no problem. Coming back from the dead … the day the music almost died.’

Thomas had to buy new spectacles. ‘Sorry. You’re way past the warranty period.’

I know.’ He said. A singing taniwha swam in his head.


Lee Switzer: Short story and image by Lee Switzer. Lee is a regular contributor to ARTbop – photo essays, articles and poetry. Lee has suggested “Chance Encounters” could develop into a series of short stories, so ARTbop will wait and see! Lee is multi-talented producing sought-after images of local artists and exhibitions. He has been an archival photographer around Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty for some years – how to see this body of Lee’s work are below. ARTbop also has a “back catalogue” of several photoessays by Lee to publish – so keep an eye out for these. You can find examples of Lee’s previous contributions in our ARTbop archives


More photos by Lee Switzer


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