Suicidal Christmas Sweaters: A Short Story

"We need a clean up of a man's soul on aisle 6, please." 
Mark stood now, in the middle of the canned fruit aisle, attempting to find something he had never searched for before.  Thankfully, the stocker girl who pointed him to this aisle was younger; there was a time when this store was filled with his own classmates.

That was a decade ago, in a time and place he would rather not remember. This was only his second time back in his "hometown," and the first time he had made a public appearance. Why he had volunteered to get the cranberry sauce for his mother for the upcoming Christmas dinner, he wasn't quite sure. Perhaps he was testing fate. Maybe he wanted to see if his wounds had healed.

He had to leave the town. 20,000 people is too small to not run into old acquaintances, old memories, old nightmares.  He rubbed the raised ripple on his forearm.

"Mark?  Mark...F-in...Black? It is you. How the hell are you dude?"

Does anyone actually want this
during the holidays?  
"I'm...I'm good. I'm just picking up some Cranberry Sauce..." Mark slowly replied as if caught doing something illegal.

"It's Jake; Jake..."

"Jake Callow, I remember.  You look exactly the same except your beard is respectable now." Mark replied, hoping a joke would counter his anxiety.

"Ha ha...yeah. I did the No-Shave-November and my wife liked it, so I haven't done much other than trimming it up..."  "What the hell, dude. It's been so long. You're like a unicorn in these parts. There's legends of every kind about your disappearance. I haven't seen you since the acc..."

"Yeah, I'm sure. Maybe we can catch up sometime and I'll fill you in. Not really a supermarket conversation, if you know what I mean."  Mark said quietly, trying to bring Jake's boisterous volume down.

"Oh, sure. You know, man, I'm sorry. I mean sorry about everything," Jake said a little quieter (perhaps only audible to the people on the cereal aisle next over). "I meant to call or visit or write or something, it was just June, and we were graduating, and it was crazy, and I..."

"Don't worry about it. It was a decade ago. Nobody, especially teenagers, know what to do when a friend tries to commit suicide." Mark couldn't believe he just used those words out loud, now not caring if the cereal aisle heard or not. "Besides we weren't really that close, and it had nothing to do with you," Mark said as he pulled his sweatshirt sleeves even further down his arm.  He saw that his phone was glowing, and ignored the text from his mother.

Jake saw the nonverbal cue to shut up and nervously blurted, "God...I'm sorry for bringing it it's been a decade and I'm opening up a can of worms...look, forget I said anything. It's just cool to see you, and I didn't mean anythi.."

Stock photos are so much happier than real life.  
"We're good Jake. But look, I gotta get this cranberry sauce home. My mother wants us to go pick out the tree tonight."

"On the 23rd? Wow. We've had our tree up for almost a month. Of course my wife is kinda crazy about the Holidays."

"Yeah, it used to be a tradition on the first night of Winter. I guess they got a late jump this year with me taking the trip out here."

"Hey speaking of traditions...we throw a fugly Christmas sweater party every year on Christmas Eve.  I'd love it if you came over tomorrow. Everyone would love it. You know I married Amber, right?  Well, there'll be some people there you wouldn't know, but Matt, Brandon, Kyle, Ashley, Melissa and a few others..."

Mark's head jerked up when he heard Melissa's name.

"I mean, Melissa Miller...uh, she was Melissa Braxton in high school...not the Melissa..."

"It's cool dude, I wouldn't care either way," Mark lied, obviously. He hadn't heard anything about Melissa, his Melissa, or his old Melissa, and preferred not to...or thought he didn't want to...or wasn't quite sure what he wanted.

"She's back in town now. She had to get out for awhile."

"Who?" Mark knowingly asked.

"Melissa Martinez...she might've gotten the worse end of the deal...I mean, she lost it."

Don't work on your nonverbal skills Clint,
you just keep on with your ripe self.  
Mark cringed. THE WORSE END!  I TRIED TO KILL MYSELF BECAUSE OF HER, YOU DAFT IDIOT! Jake noticed Mark's agitation.  Note to self: work on nonverbal skills.  

"You know, actually I don't really know much about anything. You guys were both my friends. I know she pulled some idiotic stuff that pushed you over the edge. But when you wouldn't her see you, uh, afterwards, she she just kinda went AWOL. She was drunk all the time, and sleeping with was terrible. I pulled her aside once and told her she was too good to be..."

"Look, Jake, thanks for the walk down memory lane. It really puts me in the mood for some eggnog..." and with that, Mark stormed past him, and through an abandoned register lane, and exited the market out through the in door.  The unprepared automatic sliding door barely avoided a collision.

Mark started the car and slammed it into drive before it had even breathed one drop of fuel.  He sped out of the driveway and onto the main street, slamming his fists on the steering wheel.


"I HATE THIS TOWN! WHY DID I COME BACK!"  He looked down at the passenger seat and realized he had stolen the can of cranberry sauce.

"Look what you made me do, Jake! Now I'm a suicidal thief!" He said, and then laughed. This whole thing was a farce or a dark comedy, and he just wanted it to end.  He wanted to leave again.

"What do you think, Cranberry Sauce?"
Do you know how hard it is to find an image of a guy driving his car and
talking to a can of cranberry sauce? I mean, it's fairly common, right?

"I think you need to man up and live a little.  Jake was trying to be friendly. He was once your friend. And he was just telling you rumors he thought you wanted to know," the cranberry sauce said (but didn't say).

"Well...aren't you an introspective can of jelly." Mark was able to replicate the tone of his many therapists and well-wishers onto inanimate objects.

"Introspective, motivational, and full of antioxidants. I'm good for the kidneys too. If you ate me more often, you wouldn't be such a narrow urethra."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you're backed up. Only 50% is getting through. It doesn't matter what I say, or what Jake says, or what your mother're only going to hear or do what you want."

"In fairness, you are a can of Christmas sauce."


"Besides, I think it's more like 80%. I'm working on it. I've been working on it. I know I'm stubborn.  Anyway, we're home now, so I think you better shut up."

"Enjoy me. Food tastes so much better when you're willing to steal for it."

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