Death Works at Trader Joe's

A triptych of poetry and prose

Death Works at Trader Joe's
Photo by Mathieu Stern / Unsplash

by Janice Leadingham

Death Works at Trader Joe’s Tuesdays/Thursdays

Death scans your Two-Buck Chuck.
Their nose runs a constant
drip, each sniffle a portent
overstuffing your ribcage.
ID please.

The Hawaiian shirt hangs blousy on their bones,
and when the doors slide open, the parking lot wind whips
the fabric behind them,
a billowing cape.

Fun plans tonight? Death asks. Sniffles.
Nah, you say teeth-first. Not really.
Sure you do, you just don’t know it yet. Everything is—

You offer.

Their laughter is a haunted house.
Behind you, the captain tolls the bell.

Death is Everyone’s Favorite at Trader Joe’s

After closing, Death will hold your hands if you ask kindly. In the breakroom, beside the overflow boxes and laminated OSHA pamphlets, they’ll cradle you palm to palm. Death’s hands are wide and cold as a winter field, and still damp from the faucet—they dried them on their jeans.

You close your eyes—that’s the rule.
What happens next comes from their mouth. This is where we all will go.

First the sound of waves, the tide rolling in, echoing off cave walls—your heart is a warship on these waters. This is true for everyone. Then, it’s up to you.

Sometimes it’s your Meemaw saying good morning baby-girl.
The dog ran-over while you were at college, barking, so happy to see you home for Christmas.
Your high school boyfriend who didn’t see the stop sign and the perfect, dumbass way he pronounced mural (Muriel).
Today it’s the bird, carried off by a hawk, you used to share your fries with in the parking lot on break.

You asked once if it works with old movie stars and Death rolled their eyes.
When the tide goes back out, you’re safe again—your heart is a shipwreck on this shore.
You hand Death a Kleenex for their runny nose.

Death Asks off at Trader Joe’s for Halloween

But Joanne and Blake called in, so Death came through, even though they’ve had a cold for weeks. You wouldn’t know they’re disappointed—only their voice is Manic Panic Rockabilly Blue.

I love zucchini but I need more recipes—what’re your plans? They ask an alien from Mars Attacks.

When they get home, their paper bones aching, they slice the zucchini thin and salt it to pull the moisture. After, they fry it in oil and garlic while the bucatini boils on the back eye. They remember to save a ¼ cup of the pasta water.

It’s too late for trick or treaters, but Death flicks the switch on the 12-foot skeleton they fought for at Home Depot anyway. They slurp noodles and watch Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. They eat all of the Sour Patch Kids from the plastic cauldron for dessert.

Death yawns and the sound of faraway seabirds and water licking rock echo from their gullet. They take two Excedrin PM and flop on their bed, bones rattling.

Go ahead, you’ve earned it. There’s always next year, bud.

Janice Leadingham is a Portland, OR based writer and tarot-reader originally from somewhere-near-Dollywood, Tennessee. You can find her work in HAD, The Bureau Dispatch, The Northwest Review, Bullshit Lit, Diet Milk Magazine, and Janus Literary, among others. She is @TheHagSoup on Twitter and Instagram, and