That night, rafter-bound owls must’ve been singing
in my barn-dark mind while Mom talked up
the checkout lady: their interrogatory hoots
and the perforated tap of register keys inscrutable
as Morse code to five-year-old ears. Only the coo
of candy reached me, gleaming rows stacked
twice as high as my head, the mottled plastic
and shiny foil not quite dulled by my mother
and the fluorescent world circling over it all.
I could’ve asked, could’ve whined pleases,
tantrumed ultimatums, clutched at her pant
leg with my greasy little claw. But something
dark gained purchase that night, perched
on my shoulder, each sweet talon digging in
as I grabbed and filched, snatched and pinched,
blindly pocketed the small package
of chewing gum I’d be slapped for later
in the car. The checkout lady smiled down on me,
while my heart, that wet black rat, hunted for cover
in the tile clearing before the door. A false light
glimmered in the windows. And my twin
was there, transparent as always, looking bored.
But then my mother took my hand, the automated eye
winked, and the night opened up with an enigmatic whirr.