The modern big-box superstore was an odd contrivance, when she really thought about it. The notion that Dorothy could buy auto supplies, big-screen televisions, furniture for her patio, and fresh produce all under one roof disturbed her in some way she couldn’t quite articulate. It was remarkably convenient. That was indisputable. But when the bog-box store also managed to carry the best selection of everything she needed, Dorothy started to wonder about the quality of things with which she was infecting her life. Was the music on the CD really significantly different from her pre-packaged Kraft singles? Would the tee-shirt with the edgy slogan make her as unique as it advertised, despite the lean-cuisine frozen dinner in her cart that exactly matched the one in the cart of the woman wearing the Hawaiian print muumuu?
Dorothy, frightened by that idea, fled from the frozen food section, seeking solace in the produce aisle. It felt healthier, somehow. She pushed her cart, complete with its requisite wobbly wheel, which swung playfully from side to side, then kissed every fifth tile on the floor and pulled the cart slightly to the right. The cart made its lazy slide away from the tomatoes she wanted to buy, towards the cauliflower and broccoli.
A flash of shimmering green caught her eye. At the edge of bin next to her, a large head of broccoli, six or seven inches long from the tip of the trunk to the top of the tree and branching out almost as wide, called out to her. Literally. “Hey,” it said. “Buy me.”
Dorothy found this understandably disconcerting. She opened her mouth to speak, looked to her right and left, and thought better of it. It was one thing to hear a voice from a head of broccoli, but, no matter how lovely its color or impressive its dimensions, it was quite another thing to reply. Instead, she gripped the handle of her cart with excessive force and tried to push away from the broccoli as quickly as possible.
“Wait!” the broccoli said. In spite of herself, Dorothy obeyed, but she refused to turn and face the broccoli. “Hey,” it hissed. “I know you can hear me. Come back. Buy me. If I’m in your cart no one will notice you talking to me. Just put me in the cart.”
Dorothy found this advice almost sensible. Without turning her head to face the broccoli, she took a blind step backwards, grabbed the stalk with a groping hand, and tossed it into the child-seat portion of the cart in front of her, propping it up against her wallet. Even then she wouldn’t look down at it. She stared straight ahead, storming out of the produce section, making a hard left at the butter, and stopping in front of the glass doors housing the milk. No one shopped for milk at that moment, so Dorothy opened the door and let the cold air hit her face. She pretended to examine the milk, as though weighing the merits of Whole, 2 Percent, and Skim. She breathed the cold, waxy, slightly fetid air, hoping some deadly milk-born toxin would clear her head or put her out of her misery.
No such luck.
“Hey,” the broccoli hissed. “Thanks for choosing me. I’m Marvin. You can call me Marv.”
“I don’t want to call you anything,” Dorothy snapped. She looked immediately to her right and left. No one was staring at her or obviously averting their gaze from the crazy woman who seemed to be speaking to the milk. Still, the spot was very exposed. A woman nearby grabbed two bags of shredded cheese and continued toward her. Dorothy looked up at her and blanched when the woman met her gaze. She knows, Dorothy thought.
Dorothy pulled her cart back violently, then leaned against it, shoving it past the cream cheese, the packaged sliced meats, the end-cap of hostess wax-chocolate donuts. She left the grocery section entirely, turning into the furniture department. In a hallway made of bricks of folded, plastic-wrapped bed linens, Dorothy allowed herself to confront Marv.
“I cannot talk to you. You have to stop talking to me. Stop it. Stop-it-stop-it-stop-it.”
The broccoli was unmoved. “Look, lady, I have needs. You aren’t sensitive to those, that’s your problem. You want to buy me because I’m good. You can’t deny that. I’ve grown up well. I am well made. So you’ll purchase me. That’s that, right?”
Dorothy couldn’t deny the virtue of the broccoli. The milky green stalk, thick and smooth, wore a soft pink rubber band. Above the neckline of the rubber band the stalk split into fat branches that exploded into dark green buds, thicker than any afro an animated Jolly Green giant could possibly grow. Marv was a lovely specimen. Dorothy found him to be… good.
Marv didn’t give a rip what Dorothy thought of him. Marv was on a mission. “Okay, so you’ve chosen me. Consider me purchased. Now, I want to go buy some things.”
“You want to what? Wait… what?”
“I have some money. I even have credit cards. I need some stuff.”
“But,” Dorothy stammered, “you’re broccoli.”
“No, I’m broccoli with needs. And I’m broccoli with cash. And I’m broccoli in a store filled with stuff. Put it together, lady.”
“My name is Dorothy,” she said weakly.
“Nice to meet you, Dorothy. Now, take me to the home electronics section.”
“No,” she said, but she was already wheeling the cart in that direction. “Why should I?”
“I thought we went over this. I’ve got some stuff to buy.” In his coarse, flat voice he belted out the store’s jingle. “What’s on your list today?” he sang. “You’ll find it-” He stopped singing and almost shouted. “In home electronics, Dorothy. I got a list. It starts with a bigger TV than you probably have. So, hop to.”
Dorothy couldn’t believe she was pushing the cart out of the furniture section, past the office supplies and the discount DVDs, towards home electronics. “You can’t buy a TV. You don’t have any money. And you’re broccoli.”
The cart hit an uneven tile, and Marv slid down a bit, revealing the wallet he was resting on. “What are you talking about? I’ve got money. You gave it to me.”
“But that’s mine.”
“No, you chose me. I’m yours. You have an obligation to provide for my needs. You gave me your wallet, which was… I don’t want to say generous. You don’t have much cash here, Dorothy. But you got credit, so let’s call it satisfactory. So you provide for my needs. I need a TV. End of discussion.”
Dorothy pushed the cart through the alarm sensors at the entrance of the home electronics section. “We are not finished talking about this, Mister,” she whispered. Then she looked at the man sitting behind the register. He looked down at his feet quickly.
In the back of the department Marv said, “Oh yeah. That one, baby.”
“Which one?” Dorothy asked her broccoli.
“The 48 inch plasma. That’s nice.” He drawled this last word out in a way that sound more than a little dirty, even for a head of broccoli. “Nice,” he repeated.
“That’s over a thousand dollars,” Dorothy gasped.
“Yeah. Look, you’re going to need help getting that in the car, so you should call a salesman over.”
“But why do you need a flat screen TV?”
“Do I ask you what you need? No. Do I ask you why you need it? Of course not. That’s private, right? Let’s just say we vegetables like our picture to be crisp, and leave it at that.”
Dorothy stepped away from the cart, towards the register at the front of the home electronics section. She nodded. It made sense. Produce. The crisper. It seemed entirely reasonable. “Wait a second,” she said aloud.
“I’m sorry,” the salesman said. “May I help you?”
“No.” She frowned and nodded decisively.
Dorothy turned back towards her cart, ready to walk back and let that broccoli know who was boss, but she stopped when she saw him. Even from a distance, he was a lovely broccoli. Clearly worth the $1.25 a pound. And if a crisp picture was his thing, who was she to judge.
“Um, wait,” she turned to the salesman. “I… I mean, my… We are interested in one of the TVs.” She looked at the eager high school kid and managed a wrinkled, apologetic half-smile.
After the salesman finished the paperwork and scurried off to the stock room with her car keys to load her new purchase, Marv piped up again. “Good. That’s done. Now, take me over to the jewelry department.”
“What do you need there?” Dorothy wasn’t feeling combative anymore. She had resigned herself to the situation.
“I’m hoping they have diamond tennis bracelets. I want one that’s silver. I don’t need platinum, but the gold ones look tacky. But it has to have real diamonds, or it will look cheap. Cubic zirconium is not flattering. You can tell it’s fake in the right light.”
“Marv, why do you need a diamond tennis bracelet?”
“A broccoli likes to look nice. Is there anything wrong with that? I can’t buy rings. I can’t buy earrings. You know why, Dorothy?”
“Because I have no fingers or earlobes.”
Dorothy couldn’t argue with that either.
“Besides,” Marv continued, “my pink rubber band… it chafes.”
When they came to the furniture section Dorothy was wearing the bracelet. She couldn’t figure out a way to let Marv try it on himself, especially in front of the very helpful and understanding saleswoman, but once she had it on, she found it difficult to remove. Opening the clasp and sliding the bracelet off her wrist reminded her of the credit card passing through the reader, and on some nearly-subconscious level she worried that removing it entirely would cause those glowing green numbers to flash again. She imagined another week’s pay disappearing into the digital ether, only to re-coalesce in the bottom of the box-store’s gigantic coffers. She pictured the store’s bank account. It looked like the vault Scrooge McDuck used to swim in, only it was filled with glowing green digital numbers, layered one upon the other until they formed a radioactive pile of super-heated goo. Any duck swimming in there would be cooked in seconds. That’s where all her hard work went. Best to just wear the bracelet for now. Marv didn’t seem to mind.
“I need a new coffee table,” he was saying. “Something formal enough for entertaining, but that I can put my feet on. So to speak.”
“So to speak,” Dorothy repeated.
“That’s what I said.”
When the heavy box containing the new coffee table was loaded into the space beneath the cart, sticking dangerously out of the front like Wiley Coyote’s Acme-Roadrunner-Ankle-Obliterator, Dorothy wheeled towards the checkout counter at the front of the store. The TV and bracelet were paid for, but she still had to buy the coffee table, the remaining groceries, and Marv, of course. She was starting to regret choosing Marv, now that she thought about it. He was turning out to be slightly overpriced.
As they neared the electronic checkout machines, chosen so that Dorothy wouldn’t have to explain any of her eccentric purchases to anyone else, Marv called out, “Ooo. Ooo. Grab some of that beef jerky.”
“But it’s $3.49 for a little bag.”
“Do you know how hard it is to make beef jerky?” Marv asked. “It’s labor intensive.”
“What do you need beef jerky for, Marv?”
“I don’t know. Impulse buy, I guess. Never mind. Just forget it.”
Dorothy walked up to the machine and almost pushed the “Start Checkout” button on the screen, but stopped short, suddenly standing up very straight when she heard Marv say, “Man, I never get anything.”
“What?” she shouted. The three other people using the nearby machines all stopped what they were doing and looked at her. Out of her peripheral vision she saw the attendant at the end of the bank of machines lean over to look at her as well. She ignored them and shouted at her broccoli, leaning over him and pointing angrily. “Now you look here, Mister! I bought you a TV today. I bought you this bracelet. I don’t even know why. Bracelets are silly, and you’re not really going to wear it. Sure, maybe on very rare occasions, but that hardly seems worth it. I bought you a new coffee table. Yes, you. It’s not for us, Marv. I like my coffee table. It’s simple, but it has lots of shelf space underneath. I’m going to have to find new places for all those magazines, and you don’t care. You know why you don’t care, Marv? Because you’re broccoli, and you can’t read!”
The woman at the nearest checkout machine took a tentative step towards her, with one hand outstretched, either as a comfort or to ward off an attack. “Ma’am.”
Dorothy silenced her with one upraised finger. “No. I’m sorry, but he needs to hear this.” She pointed at Marv again. “You are a broccoli. I chose you. You are mine. I don’t want to be mean or anything, but you… are not… the boss… of me. I decide when we get a new TV. I decide what kind of coffee table we will have. You are the most ungrateful broccoli I have ever known.” She stopped shouting and grabbed the block of cheese out of the cart. She slammed it down on the scanner, then ran it back over more gently until the machine beeped. As she reached into the cart for the package of Pad-Thai noodles she glared at Marv in the front basket, but she refused to say anything else until she’d calmed down. She didn’t like herself when she got this way, and she wasn’t going to give him the pleasure.
When the cart was empty she grabbed Marv by the neck and held him up in front of her. “I just… I just don’t know what else to say to you, right now. Just… We’ll talk later.”
“Dorothy,” Marv said. His tone was gentle, almost apologetic, but she didn’t trust him.
“That’s life, right? We’re all bought and paid for, in a way, right? I’m not trying to start our fight all over here, but just because you own me doesn’t mean I have to treat you with respect. That hardly seems fair.”
Dorothy experienced a flash of existential insight. Her own location in the universe had become just a bit clearer. She found it uncomfortable.
Dorothy paid for her purchases, dropped the bags back into the cart, and then held up the broccoli by the stalk.
“Let’s go home, Marv. It’s just been a weird day. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“That’s okay, Dorothy. Let’s go home, watch some TV, put our feet up.”
“So to speak.”
“So to speak.”