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art by Ron Sanders

PRODUCE 1:1-10

Mur Lafferty is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of 2012. She is a podcaster and author living in Durham, NC. Her next book, Ghost Train to New Orleans, comes out from Orbit Books in March, 2014.

Last week I found the god of the supermarket, standing in the frozen food section, silently weeping.
I hadn't thought much about the new gods. I mean, they were worldwide; two had been spotted in my city alone. Gods of cats and sewers and furniture and lonely roads and traffic and board games. Many religious countries and cities were suffering great turmoil with the coming of these gods, but I was an atheist, and I hadn't seen any of the new gods in person. So my day-to-day life was largely unaffected.
My girlfriend Laura had seen one, the goddess of the rock-climbing wall, and she said it had changed her life.
"Her shoulders, Maya," she had gushed. "You had to see Her shoulders! The woman was ripped, only not in that gross bodybuilding way, in that 'I've climbed a lot of walls' way." Laura was a convert and went to church, the climbing wall at Gold's Gym, twice weekly.
I say I was an atheist, but I mean I had been one. I was unsure about the God of Abraham, or the Wiccan goddess, or Buddha, but obviously I believed in the new gods; you didn't need faith to know about them, you had Twitter and the 6 o'clock news telling you of the latest miracles, the latest god, the latest church leader who screamed themselves hoarse in denial and proclaiming that Satan was behind it all. But near as I could tell, these new gods weren't evil, just finely tuned to what they were the god of. After the initial fervor died down, I didn't think about them much until I met Jeorge, the god of the supermarket.
I had arrived as I always did, directly after work, to get dinner and a trashy magazine to read. I was looking for a frozen pizza--the lean kind, gotta get rid of middle age that was comfortably settling around my hips--when I saw Him.
A grown man was crying in the frozen food area, tears and snot wet on His face; it wasn't exactly a religious experience. I nearly walked by with an "It's none of my business" air about me. I had the usual feeling you get when you see a stranger weeping. Discomfort, wondering if they want to be alone, if you'll embarrass them by pointing out the obvious, wondering if someone else will come along and fix it, wondering if they're crazy and will lose their shit if you touch them. I'm pleased to say my compassionate side prevailed, and only when I approached Him did I realize He wore a gray robe and had a soft glow emanating from His skin.
He was Hispanic, tall and broad with a round face and long shaggy black hair. His dark eyes staring at the frozen lasagne, tears unabashedly flowing.
"Excuse me, sir, are you all right?" I asked, putting my hand gently on His shoulder. With that touch, my mind flared awake and I saw the world as I had never seen before.
I had touched a god.
"Processed. It's all fake. And people eat it up like it was ambrosia," He said, shaking His head. "They buy the food, more and more because it's cheap, and they get fat and then die of malnutrition, when no one believes they're sick because they're so fat."
I shifted so my basket was behind me and He couldn't see what was in it. "Well if the frozen food upsets you, how about we go to the produce aisle? Fresh fruit? I bet a bunch of kale would cheer you up. Come on."
He allowed me to steer Him, and as He turned left at the end of the aisle, I quickly opened the freezer and shoved my diet frozen pizza back in among the frozen tater tots.
"What's your name?" I asked as I caught up. He walked listlessly, looking neither to the left or the right.
"Jeorge," He said. "I am the god of the supermarket. As near as I can tell, I'm ninety seconds old. This Piggly Wiggly is now hallowed ground."
I winced. That was one of the problems with the new gods. Piggly Wiggly and Gold's Gym didn't have the same religious weight as Mecca and Jerusalem.
We walked to the produce section. The other patrons seemed as listless as He, and didn't notice us; me walking with a god.
I took Him to the organic area, where a bunch of kale cost $4, and proudly flourished my arms. "Healthy food, all you can consume, Lord!" I said.
The tears continued. "It's so expensive. And how do I know what 'organic' means, anyway? And the eggs," He pointed to the fridge unit at the perpendicular wall. "Vegetarian fed, free range, cageless, organic, do any of them mean anything truly kind and humane, truly good for you?"
"Um, Ethnic food? There's an aisle with Hispanic and Asian food."
"Processed again, for an American palate."
This guy was a downer.
"Wine, then," I said firmly. I walked to the summer patio set--why did a grocery store sell a $150 patio set?--and sat Him down. "Wait here."
I ran to the plastic aisle and grabbed a bag of biodegradable cups, then went to the wine aisle. I got a bottle of red, paused, and got another one for myself. I figured I'd need it.
I rejoined Him, relieved to see He was still there. I sat and put the cups and wine on the table.
"Shit," I said. "No corkscrew."
Jeorge waved His hand and lo, the cork flew out, hitting the back of a thin man's head--an unbeliever. The unbeliever frowned at us, but did not come to chastise the Lord, but walked away, muttering darkly.
"So you're the god of all this, but you hate it?" I asked.
He downed his wine in one gulp and shoved His cup--His Grail--at me. I refilled it. "It needs work. It's why I am here. I need priests, followers, a bible. It's a wretched place."
I thought of Jesus and the money changers, and wondered if Jeorge would go all medieval on a samples table at the market. I was about to tell Him that it wasn't all that bad, but I glanced at my own basket, discarded on the floor. In it were a Cosmo, a bag of generic brand potato chips, a box of frozen food, and my bottle of wine. I looked at the door. An obese white woman with a crying baby came in and bypassed the overpriced fresh produce to get to the cheaper processed food. She frowned at a book of food stamps.
At the customer service counter, a bored-looking manager, without apology or irritation, gave a shouting man a refund for his broken eggs.
The god took my hand and looked into my eyes. "Maya," He said. Had I told Him my name? "You must be My priestess. Will you take on this solemn role? Will you write My holy book? Will you spread My word?"
"I'm just a copywriter," I protested. "I'm not a woman of the cloth."
"You are all I have. You are the only one who noticed me, who took note of my pain. You're chosen of god."
I'd probably have to learn to cook now. I sighed. "I don't really have anything else going for me. Why not?" I looked at Him sharply. "I don't have to be celibate, do I? And women aren't going to be below men in this religion?"
Jeorge shook His head. "The shopper is the highest in the household, and the cook is above all but the shopper. Gender and sex matter not."
"All right, then. We have a deal." I shook His hand, the contact with His skin making my head swim. He smiled at me, and I relaxed in His divinity.
A manager came over to tell us we couldn't drink in the store, this time looking less bored and more outraged. Jeorge looked at him, dark eyes flashing, and the man fell to his knees. He babbled, confessing the sin of pushing expired meat onto customers. I left him to learn the Ways of Jeorge and headed to the express lane.
I know the impulse buy endcaps of Piggly Wiggly better than anyone, and I'm sure that yesterday there hadn't been a bin of multi-colored robes by the express lane. Above it, a sign said, "BUY TOO PRIESTESS ROBES, GET THE THIRD FREE! INSULATED POCKETS KEEP HOT FOODS HOT AND COLD FOODS COLD!" I frowned and took a Sharpie out of my purse. I changed the TOO to a TWO and smiled. I was already doing my job of getting the proper holy message across. I grabbed three robes and got in line. It moved faster than usual. I chose to thank Jeorge for that.
Only when I got outside did I realize I still didn't have anything to eat for dinner. Too emotionally drained for more grocery drama, I dropped by Taco Bell on the way home.
I saw the god of restaurants through the window, shouting and waving His arms at the patrons, throwing hot sauce packets at them.
I decided to take the drive-thru.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Author Comments

I have always been attracted to the idea of gods of smaller things in life, and wondered what the god of grocery stores would think of the place down the street from me. Probably not a lot.

- Mur Lafferty
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