Unfocused by Josh Rank

Eye to Eye by John Chavers
Eye to Eye by John Chavers

It’s easy to get caught in the momentum of an event. You can’t blame someone for being swept away. This is why riots are immediately followed by caveats. They were angry. Nobody would listen. It’s not their fault. But, anybody who gets caught up in the moment has forfeited their free will and given themselves up to the commands of the masses. It’s the same as when you get a little tired and your eyes fixate on a nowhere spot of the wall without truly focusing. You might as well be one of those bees impregnated with the eggs of the parasite that turns them into zombies. Zom-bees, as the lazy journalist would call them.
You’re really coming across like an asshole, she told me just then.
I almost forgot I was speaking. We stood in the grocery store near the produce, watching the full carts and baskets as they were toted to the checkout lanes. I didn’t know her name.
What’s your name? I asked.
Do you know how many times I’ve heard that question?
So am I just supposed to intuit your name?
You speak from the point of view of the great watcher, the outsider giving us perspective on our tiny lives. But you’re no different.
I shrugged and told her maybe she was right. The bananas were either bright green or covered in brown spots. I didn’t care if she was right. In fact, it didn’t matter if she was. I didn’t tell her that, though. My nature was no different than any other person throwing a TV through a window or clipping coupons from the paper. The only difference was that I realized this wasn’t my fault. Perhaps a copout to write off my bad behavior? Perhaps. But maybe that was yet another symptom of the evolutionary leftovers from generations of selfish people being rewarded with meat and sex while the meek waited hungry in the bushes for the scraps that would never appear. I told her that last part.
So what? We’re all just apes with phones? she asked.
I reached to my left and held up a cluster of green bananas.
And off season fruit, I said.
But what’s the point? What’s the point of bringing all this up if there’s nothing to be done and everybody’s equally susceptible?
I looked toward the registers, where all the people were gathered. I glanced back to the woman in front of me. She had seen me looking at the pistachios three minutes earlier and offered me a coupon she brought from home. But why would she have a coupon for something she didn’t want? It had been a few moments since she hung her question in the air above the fruit. Did I have an answer?
The point is to illuminate it. Solving a thing like human nature is impossible.
And what purpose does that serve? To exploit it?
I opened my mouth but paused. Exploit it? Why would someone want to do that? I shook my head and told her that no, exploitation was not there answer. There is no answer. The point is to embrace it. Once you learn the rules of the game, you are free to operate within them as you please.
But that’s limiting, she said. What if someone wants to operate outside of the rules of the game?
I abandoned the bananas and the bag of pistachios in my nearly empty cart and walked past her. I turned my head and spoke over my shoulder.
There’s no point in exceeding the game until you excel at it.
She might have responded but I was already walking around the first cashier line. Soon, I was at the front near the baggers and the security guard. I cleared my throat.
The four cashiers turned their heads toward me and simultaneously sighed. The people in line craned their necks in opposite directions until I could see every pair of eyes. I had an idea of an idea, but not an actual idea. I knew what I wanted to see at the end, but how to get there? I unfocused my eyes and drew in a breath:
Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise
Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day
I recognized the melody by the end of the first line and let the song continue to roll out of me. Even with unfocused eyes, I could tell people were straightening their backs, focused and attentive. By the time I reached the end of the first verse, only a few of them joined in with the stomp stomp clap, but the sound was thunderous when the chorus came in. The store became a choir and I heard the woman from the produce department a few steps off to my left.
We will, we will rock you!
I turned my back on the crowd, again bringing my eyesight into focus. I held a fist in the air above me and pumped my legs in place. The woman was next to me now, mirroring every motion I made. As the second verse got started—
Buddy you’re a young man hard man
Shouting in the street gonna take on the world some day
—I kept my knees high and marched out of the automatic sliding doors. I turned around once I reached the fire lane outside and saw the patrons filing out of the grocery store. Their voices filled the parking lot, bolstered by stomps and claps. The store was soon empty. Even the stockers made their way to the parking lot and joined in the song; marching, singing, laughing. They moved in imperfect synchronicity; similar but not the same.
I looked to the woman next to me and she didn’t bother to share a knowing smile, complicit in the act, instead electing to continue the song without questioning why it felt so good to do so.
Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and has since had stories published in The Missing Slate, The Feathertale Review, Hypertext Magazine, The Oddville Press, The Satirist, Corvus Review, Inwood Indiana, and elsewhere. He currently eats sandwiches in Nashville, TN. More ramblings can be found at joshrank.com.
John Chavers enjoys working as a writer, artist, photographer, and general creator. Most recently, his writing and artwork have been accepted at The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library – So It Goes 2016 Literary Journal, Cream City Review, The Roaring Muse, The William and Mary Review, Meat for Tea, THAT, The Ogham Stone, and Verity La, among others. He has a fascination for the diminutive, the desert, and works of art on paper. This May he will attend a residency at The Hambidge Center.

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