“Excuse me,” a woman said from behind Michiko.
“I’m sorry!” Michiko saw that she was blocking the aisle, and pushed her cart to the side.
“What are you going to do with that pineapple?” the woman asked as she pushed her own cart by.
“Cook it with ham,” Michiko’s father replied.
The woman waited for Michiko to answer. She didn’t seem to see Michiko’s father in the cart.
“Where are you from?” the woman asked.
“This is a nice juicy ripe fruit,” Michiko’s father said. He gave the pineapple a squeeze. “You don’t see many of these in Japan.” He patted the stiff leaves atop its head, as he had rarely patted Poppy, who, he claimed despite evidence to the contrary, was a flea-ridden dog. Poppy had started barking after Michiko found her father outside the bath and didn’t stop until a veterinarian in Kichijoji plunged a tranquilizer into her rump, knocking her out for 24 hours. She woke up a different dog.
“I’ve never bought a fresh pineapple before,” the woman said. “Are they hard to peel?”
Michiko didn’t know what “hard to peel” meant. “Yes,” she said.
Her father had always told her that she had a good ear for English, but that she didn’t understand the meaning of half of what she heard. “You don’t study hard enough,” her father used to say, but now he didn’t say anything at all. He had a blissful look on his face, as if lying on his futon instead of in a grocery cart. He looked as if he lay in carts, holding pineapples, all the time.
“I suppose I should be more adventurous in my diet,” the woman said. She turned and grabbed a package of meat from her cart, the same package, Michiko realized, and the same large woman who had earlier poked it. “Tonight I’m going to cook sloppy joes. My mother loves them. She’s 90 years old but she’s reverting to her childhood. She gums her food, but she can still chow down a sloppy joe. It just takes her a while.”
“I had my teeth right until the end,” Michiko’s father said. “I died with all my teeth in my mouth. The last meal I had was buckwheat noodles but it could have been something harder to chew and I would have been all right. I could probably bite through this pineapple. Especially,” he sniffed its round bottom, “because it’s ripe.”
“My mother lives in the past,” the woman said. “She thinks my father is still alive. You know, if that pineapple were smaller it would look a lot like a grenade, but then if I were smaller I’d look like Raquel Welch.”
“Do you ladies need help?” a store clerk suddenly asked. “Are you finding everything?”
“She might need help finding something to eat with that pineapple,” the woman said, nodding at Michiko.
“Margaret cooked pineapples with ham,” Michiko’s father said.
“Holler if you need help,” the clerk said. “Have a nice day!” He straightened some things on a shelf, then strode off.
“Who’s Margaret?” Michiko asked her father, but he didn’t reply. A month before he’d died she’d overheard him talking, and at first she’d thought he was talking to himself.
“Margaret,” he said, “why did you die before I saw you one last time?”
Michiko had peeked through a gap in the sliding door at her father, squatting in front of Poppy, who was looking at him with her ears pitched forwards, her eyes intent on something he held in his hand. A piece of pork. A piece of Chinese-style pork, simmered for four hours in a broth flavored with ginger root and green onions and then sliced thin and served with hot mustard sauce. Michiko knew this because she’d made the pork herself. Her father loved her Chinese pork. But he was feeding it to the dog, who, the vet said, needed to be walked more and put on a diet. “See this?” the vet had said, squeezing Poppy’s freckled, paunchy belly. “That’s fat.” Michiko waited for Poppy to bite the vet. She had wanted to bite him herself.
“Father!” she almost cried out, but her father looked so happy squatting there, as he had sometimes done with Michiko as a child when they were waiting for the bus to take them to Mother, squatting comfortably and holding out the succulent pork to Poppy, who wolfed it down with grunts of pleasure.
“You’ve been holding that jar of peanut butter a long time,” the woman said. “May I?” Michiko handed her the jar.
“Chunky salted. My father ate it with strawberry jam.” The woman put the jar in her own cart. Michiko didn’t ask for it back. Perhaps the woman’s father was lying there, holding the jar of peanut butter. Perhaps everyone in the store was wheeling around someone dead in their carts. She was sorry she had fled the sight of her father’s calligraphy brushes, lined up on a table in his empty bedroom next to the little black ink pot from which the ink was fast evaporating. She wanted to return to their house in Japan.