The Story Behind the Story: Why I’ll Never Buy Another Peacock

I was buying milk. There were eighteen registers and only two were open. One was run by a human. The other was a self-checkout. The line for the self-checkout was much longer. The cashier seemed bored yet near-extinct. Behind the cashier there was a special counter called The Solution Center. The Solution Center had a long line of people and they looked more impatient than any of us buying milk or bread or tampons. The Solution Center offered Marlboros and Quick Picks–but with a name like that I felt like it should offer answers to life’s big questions. Small ones too. It seemed one could find the meaning of life or how to zest a lemon at The Solution Center. 

Then, every time I’d wait in line in a store the idea of my Solution Center, this Wal-Mart meets Google hybrid, would bubble up in my thoughts. Who would wait in line for a solution to a problem? What would they want? What would it look and sound like? How would time pass on a long line?

A year later, I was in a jacuzzi in south Florida with a 90-year-old man I did not know. He lived in the same gated community as my grandparents. This man shared his whole life story with me in great detail… How he ruptured his eardrum doing a high dive to impress a girl in Brooklyn. How he later dated said girl but wound up married to her sister. How he joined the Navy to fight in the war. He told me everything under five minutes. This was an invaluable lesson–one that I thought would help my story about the Solution Center–where I thought people might wait their whole lives waiting for one answer. The way the old man condensed his whole life down into five minutes excited and scared me–how can a whole life fit into a few minutes? I realized then that the story of a people waiting in line for what seemed like forever would feel best if condensed down into a short piece. Although there were times when these pages ballooned to twenty-something.

Spring came and I finished the first draft while sitting in the waiting room of an Intensive Care Unit. My girlfriend’s grandfather had been admitted on account of chest pains which grew into pneumonia. I spent days sitting with him. There was one day, before he passed in that hospital, when the sun finally came in through the window. “The sun is melting,” he said. It took a lot of strength for him to speak and I was unsure if that was a full thought or half a thought. The sun was melting the snow outside–but it was also spreading across his hospital bed and all the machines so strong that it felt like everything would melt–including us.

Before our last day in the ICU, I holed up in that waiting room thinking–how the hell do we get through life? I hoped I’d find an answer at the Solution Center.

 

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About Shane Cashman

Shane Cashman\'s writing has appeared in VICE, Salon, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The New York Observer, Honeysuckle Magazine, Neutrons Protons, Word Riot and elsewhere. In 2015, he was the winner of the PEN Center USA\'s 500-word short story contest. He is also a Glimmer Train short fiction finalist. Shane teaches creative writing at Manhattanville College in New York. shanecashman.com