I bought a grapefruit today. After a four-month hiatus from the supermarket. Time created a yearning for errands I once dreaded. These past few months, I’ve watched mundanity morph into pleasure because there is a to and a from. To the supermarket. From home. To home. From the supermarket. I’ve forgotten grammar and conjugations, what is the past tense of to go.
I went to the supermarket to buy a grapefruit yesterday.
I needed a new fruit to massacre until its flesh melted into batter, for my weekly muffins. Most of the time, I baked them as a private ritual. To involve my hands in something other than thinking and picking. The flour felt coarse on my palms and the aroma of brown sugar lingered in my fingernail crevices after showering.
Last week, when I made muffins with farmers market figs, the seeds stung my cuticles. As I sucked the fig juice from my fingers, I was suddenly in third grade, hoarding fig newtons down my uniform to take them home. When apple juice cartons were rationed and the boys got them first because they ran faster than me. When Mama shook our backyard tree to harvest the ripest figs, and afterward we rolled around on the grass searching for unsquashed gems. She called it our Saturday scavenger hunt, and by Sunday all of the figs were devoured.
Grapefruit muffins may seem strange, but you must understand. The supermarket was a foreign language I couldn’t decipher. All I saw were colors. This must be how little children felt separated from their mothers, a baby calf displaced in the dairy aisle. I found the grapefruit section, camouflaged with oranges and lemons. I chose two of the plumpest ones, squeezing their outsides gently. Here was my ounce of daily discomfort. Touch the grapefruit and resist the urge to immediately sanitize. I was assimilating, that’s what my therapist told me. But there is no manual on how to assimilate after four months in lockdown.
We were all in lockdown, but I was a sinner for savoring it. Catastrophic thinking suddenly disappeared. Place and time disappeared, and we were all living under one linear continuum. I successfully ignored the global catastrophe, until I stepped into the supermarket. I began sweating and my mouth felt juiceless, a hollow grapefruit expression no one could see.
No one asked how you were anymore when searching for the marinara sauce. We all assumed we were the same, cooking meals and chopping onions to provide an artificial justification for our tears. How are you making dinner when your neighbor is dying in the nearby hospital, or have you not found out yet. Do you eat because you are hungry or because there is nothing better to do and your belly is tender from boredom.
It should be illegal to place two institutions of necessity next to one another. I could smell bodies and catheters in the meat section, but I was entranced. The butcher wore a hospital-grade apron and gloves, slicing an unidentifiable fillet for someone’s dinner. Across the street, the surgeon just lost a life in the
operating room. Sliced open. In that moment, I vowed to never eat red meat again. Resist the urge to immediately sanitize.
Self-checkout still existed, so not everything had changed. I preferred that option, promoting individuality and self-sufficiency. But remember, you must not suffocate. Breathing in your own pity and loneliness. The total was 4.99, did you want to donate to COVID relief? I couldn’t face the tiny screen, so I left the receipt hanging in the mouth of the machine. You can’t return murdered grapefruits and no one would want my muffins, anyway.
My parents are concerned. I bake too much and eat too little. But I don’t waste: 2 muffins for Papa, 1 muffin for me, 6 for you, 3 for your mother. Mama does not like muffins.
I bake and leave you little gifts, smothering our love with unsalted butter and egg yolk glaze. Together, we try the muffins. Assimilation cascades through my mouth, onto my tongue. I am in pain, eating what I swore to never become. A self-proclaimed baker who doesn’t even like to bake.
I am a grapefruit in hiding and my skin is bright and smooth. But peel off a layer, I am burnt and rotten. Maybe that is why my muffins didn’t turn out, even though you ate them. I went home afterward, with an empty container of muffin crumbs and guilt.
The next morning, I decided to go to the supermarket to prepare next week’s muffins.
Valerie Braylovskiy PO '25 is from San Francisco, CA. She has been published in places like The Helix Magazine and Allegheny Review. She loves trying new coffee shops and going to the beach.