I stole the shopping cart, right out from under their noses. I bought the bread, dropped it into the basket, and rolled it right out of the market. The clerks didn't seem to think it was odd, pushing a shopping cart with nothing in it but one loaf of bread. Maybe lots of crazy old men roll that way.
I was nervous at first. I'd never stolen anything from a grocery store. My hands shook, and as I pushed through the sliding door and into the parking lot, I started humming loudly, intentionally making eye contact and smiling. It wasn't long before I saw that no one cared much about an old man and a shopping cart, no matter how far from the grocery they'd got themselves.
When I got to the edge of the parking lot, I just kept on rolling. Across Main Street at rush hour, drivers talking to themselves on their blue tooth phones. For fun, I tried to make eye contact but they never looked up. I guess their phones tell them when the light turns green.
Past the fire station, a bright red fire truck right outside like it was for sale by owner. One fireman outside, cleaning the wheels, making sure they turn when it's time to go. It's important for the wheels to turn. You don't go far without good wheels. If the wheels on the cart went out, I'd have to dump it.
Nobody in their yards asking questions about why I'm pushing a shopping cart down the street. People aren't curious about other people's business like they used to be. I figured not even anyone peering out their curtains at me.
At the park there's a lake, and there's a hedge behind that. It was hard to push the cart through the rough grass to the lake. Wheels want a smooth road to travel on, and the land around the lake is bumpy. The wheels tried to each go their own way, and the grass kept catching up in the wheel wells. It took me a long time to get to the lake.
Behind the hedge is the man who lives in the park, and he's the reason I took the cart. He looks about like you'd expect a man who lives in a park to look. There aren't any laundromats in a park. Maybe in a nicer park, but not in a park like this. No showers either. I took the cart because he asked for it. I figured not many people did for a man who lives in the park.
"I got your cart," I said. I figured on keeping things simple, sticking to the obvious. If I lived in a park, I wouldn't want some do-gooder poking around and trying to make me feel like less of a person. Or maybe spying, checking out my stash of stuff. The man needed a cart, and I had one for him. That's all it was.
"What's that inside it," the man wanted to know. I explained that it was bread because I couldn't take a cart without buying something. He said I must be some kind of chickenshit. I didn't say anything about how I thought he might like some bread.
"You can give that bread to the ducks," the man said.
"You don't want the bread?" I said, and he said he didn't need the bread, and there's a difference between the two.
I walked back up the embankment to the lake, and around to the other side, where ducks liked to gather, up by the water lilies. A loaf of bread is a good way to be popular with ducks. I didn't have more than one slice out of the bag before a dozen of those birds were all around me, squawking and demanding. They kept me pretty busy for the next half hour or so, tossing bread farther and farther away, to defend myself more than trying to help the ducks. When I'd thrown the last of the bread, like turning off a switch, the ducks swung around and slid back into the water, never even looking back. I'm not sure they as much as tasted all that bread, they only wanted it because it was there.
"The bread's gone," I said to the man, when I got back to his place behind the hedge.
The man kind of grunted something.
"What'd you do with the shopping cart," I asked him, because when I came back, it was nowhere in sight. His blanket was there, like before, and his duffel. He wasn't one of those park-living men who cared a lot about material possessions, like some you see. I was kind of surprised, to tell truth, that he wanted a shopping cart in the first place.
The man kind of nodded his head over to the side, where, at the end of an open space, there was a line of trees.
"What's over there?" I asked.
"The carts," the man said.
"More than one," I said.
"Yep. A lot more. Maybe fifty."
"What you need with fifty carts?"
"Don't need 'em. I want 'em. There's a difference. Already told you that."
"What for you want fifty shopping carts?" I said, after sputtering around for a while.
"For the police."
"Come back tomorrow and see, maybe the day after. There's gonna be a show when they come and break this thing up."
"A shopping cart theft ring?"
"Yeah, that's right. Flashing lights and sirens, I'm guessing four cars. It'll be great."
I didn't go back to the park for a while after that. My prints were all over that shopping cart, and maybe even a hair from my balding head. All it takes is one. I read the paper every week to find out if the man was busted but so far, there's been no word.
BIO: Mark DeMoss writes from the tranquility of the Dallas exurbs, and helps manage the flash challenge site ShowMeYourLits.com. His stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly and other publications.