Winner 2019 Percy Janes First Novel Award
What People Are Saying
"It was just a run-of-the-mill, garden-variety trip to the supermarket. But everything changes when middle-aged, luck-starved Henry Puddester finds a baby in his shopping cart. Naturally, he panics and bolts, preferring the fire to the frying pan and an odyssey strewn with wild scenes and wacky characters. Award-winning writer and masterful storyteller, Susan Flanagan, has penned a memorable tale filled with humour and heart, and... Henry." Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
"Anyone can accidentally end up stealing a baby at the supermarket. In fact, one day it may happen to you. That's why you’ll find this novel either terrifying or hilarious!” Andy Jones, Canadian comedian, actor, writer, and winner 2013 Winterset Award
Supermarket Baby has “excellent comic timing. I wonder if the author has worked in sketch comedy. Excellent grasp of narrative structure and how to keep a story moving along…I often hooted with laughter…” Adjudication notes for the 2019 Percy Janes award.
“Susan’s writing has always impressed me with its energy and humour, as well as its intense and intricate plotting… (Supermarket Baby) is full of original characters and situations, and ingenious interweaving plot lines. Supermarket Baby has the potential... to make a significant impact on the literary scene both regionally and beyond.” Paul Butler, author The Widow's Fire
Henry Puddester turned heads. Had been doing so since the moment he slid out of his mother’s womb. All present in the case room were goggle-eyed.
“Have you ever seen such a perfect baby?” they asked one another.
They all agreed they hadn’t and warned the Puddesters that their son would grow up to be a “real looker.”
By the time Henry began studying business marketing at Memorial University, students and profs alike could be seen appraising his looks. His perfect features, perfectly arrayed across his perfectly shaped face, sat on a
well-seeded head atop a lean torso, forever trim. Women coveted his thick dark lashes and olive skin, and men felt inferior in his presence. Henry himself, however, was oblivious to the power of his looks. He failed to notice the steady stream of girls who, between classes, slowed to a canter in the crushing throngs that scuttled their way through the tunnel system below the university buildings. It was in this underground maze
that relationships were cemented, notes slipped into air vents, kisses stolen by locker doors, dates made in the ten minutes of freedom between classes.
“Isn’t he to die for?” one girl asked.
“Yes, but I heard he’s taken.”
“Who’s the lucky girl?”
The lucky girl, it turned out, was Millicent Pearlstein, a dark-haired firecracker of a woman who took one look into Henry’s ocean eyes after he mistakenly trod on her foot outside the remains of the burning Thomson
Student Centre and fell under their spell. It was a crisp day in late September 1979. Maple leaves, not yet transformed into the gold and red hues of autumn, danced in the light breeze. Henry Puddester had been on campus for three weeks and was chuffed that he had successfully managed to find his way from class to his locker and then the Thomson Student Centre, where he located the microwave and placed his burrito on the thick glass plate, shut the door, and watched for a second as the flour tortilla rotated inside. Spying a piano, Henry left the burrito for a moment and sat on a dented stool to pluck out Billy Joel’s Piano Man. Just as he finished the last chords, water began spraying down on his head, as well as the heads of hundreds of his fellow students, who were now stampeding toward the exit. Henry paused to find the source of the acrid smoke that had begun stinging his eyes and noticed flames leaping out of the microwave and onto
countertops and floors.
Henry joined the throng of students pushing through the doors into the quadrangle just as the first fire trucks arrived, and men in bunker gear ran into the burning building.
Outside, Henry stood transfixed with the crowd as the flames spread throughout the entire structure, licking the siding and nearby bushes. A fireman urged them back, roping off the perimeter as firefighters smashed
windows and uncoiled thick grey hoses from the backs of trucks. A team mounted a ladder with an axe to cut a hole in the roof.
It was when a huge man in a hazmat suit pushed by Henry that he took a step back, crushing the dainty feet of a female student standing directly behind him.
“Sorry, so sorry.” Henry’s heart raced like it did every time he came in contact with an attractive girl.
“It’s okay,” she answered. “I can always walk on my hands.” Her eyes twinkled, and Henry saw that she was sexy in black tights and a short skirt, a cotton T-shirt with David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane face stretched across her chest.
“What was that guy holding in his hand?” she asked.
“Geiger counter,” said Henry, swallowing. “For measuring radiation.”
“Radiation? You mean from the microwave?”
“I guess.” Henry felt his stomach knot. How did she know about the microwave?
“Should we be moving farther away?” She blinked up at him, her dark
hair falling over one eye.
“No, there’s not enough radiation to harm us out here.”
“Are you sure?”
Henry smiled. “I’m sure. You’d have to be mighty close to a microwave for it to cause damage.”
The girl smiled and put a hand on Henry’s arm, sending short electrical shocks to his heart and causing the hair to stand up, not only on his arm but all over his body.
“Can you believe some idiot put his burrito in for twenty minutes?” She removed her hand.
Henry shook his head, the electrical currents dimming and the hair flattening just as the last timbers collapsed and the building fell in on itself. A collective gasp rose from the crowd, and police began ushering the students away from the quadrangle.
“Come on, I’ll walk you to your locker,” she said, taking his hand and pulling him toward the tunnels...
Thursday: Two Weeks Later
Henry Puddester blinked at the baby carrier in the grocery cart and wondered how it got there.
He couldn’t piece it together. Why would someone put an infant carrier in his shopping cart?
It was his cart. The lemon yogourt was there.
Henry’s guts churned audibly. He liked children, but babies and baby-related things always gave Henry a sense of unease. He hadn’t even trusted himself to pick up Dash until he was more than a year old.
Henry had felt woozy all morning, but not to the point of hallucinating a floral-patterned infant car seat. He gave the cloth a poke. It was real. But maybe it was empty. Maybe Sundries now sold baby carriers.
He studied his cart to see if anything else had changed.
What was this?
Instead of his hand-chosen pears, there was now a case of puréed baby food. Henry bent down to bring his bread up from the shelf underneath. “What the hey?” His Paradise Bakery loaves were MIA. Instead, there was
a case of baby wipes and diapers. This was not good.
Henry came up quickly, and dizziness enveloped him. Good thing Millie said she’d get Dash off to school this morning. He held onto the handle of the shopping cart and took three deep breaths. In and out. In and
out. In and out. He wanted to bolt. But at that moment, the carrier emitted a gurgle. He was afraid to look inside.
What on earth was going on?
Could a sleep-deprived mother have mistaken his cart for hers? Or maybe someone had dumped the baby in his cart. Millie had been talking about an amber alert yesterday. What had she said? Henry wished
he could remember. She was always telling him his mind was like a sieve, but this morning it had reached new proportions. Think, Henry, think. Something about an estranged father taking an infant while the mother
slept. Police had advised the public to be on the lookout but not to approach the man. He was considered dangerous.
Henry gulped. In front of him, in line, an oversized man in a fedora loaded cases of soft drinks onto the conveyor.
Could it be him? He did not look menacing enough to have stolen an infant. Plus, if he were the one, what would he be doing looking casual at the checkout? Unless he was the type who liked to linger at crime scenes to see how things played out. Henry had seen a movie about that once.
Henry scanned his environs. A lean man with a flat cap, like the ones British cabbies wore, crouched in front of the magazines. Near him was a short, stout man who could lose a hundred pounds. A posse of come-from-aways was moving up front. But still no one who fit the bill of space cadet mother or dangerous offender.
Henry moved his tongue over his top teeth. It felt like sandpaper. Why was he so thirsty all of a sudden? He licked his lips and rewound his mind, back through the aisles of the supermarket. For some reason, it was
like his brain synapses were not firing. Fleeting images flashed across his prefrontal cortex, like a commercial, the pictures too quick to properly focus on any one thing. A teenager with pink hair talking into her phone
when he was in the back of the store searching for the eggs, but she, too, did not fit the picture of a human who had misplaced another human. Akela, the scout leader, in a long red coat with a logo on the chest, a coat
that cost more than a month’s worth of groceries. Frank’s daughter had one like that.
Maybe this was an unsolvable mystery. He would just take his groceries and then ditch the cart and carrier at the door. But he couldn’t do that. What about the baby? He had to save it in case the dangerous estranged father changed his mind and came back. Henry knew what to do. He would bring the baby to Millie. She was good with babies. She would make sure it was safe until it was reunited with its mother.
Henry bent again so he could peep under the cloth. An oval flap was Velcroed to the canopy, preventing a view of the contents. The flap was made of the same sunflower-patterned material as the rest of the tented
area. He was familiar with this configuration from when Dash was born.
Henry gently pulled back the Velcro to allow a sightline into the carrier. A whiff of baby powder escaped the cloth walls. The infant inside—a girl, judging from the pink hat and blanket that enveloped it—opened its
oversized eyes and started to quiver. Next thing it was whimpering. Henry could tell from past experience that this was the buildup to a full-fledged cry. He had to act fast, survey the scene. Rubber pacifier was attached to
the baby blanket by a tether. Henry grabbed hand sanitizer from his pocket, doused both hands, and quickly plugged the dummy into the baby’s mouth. The baby looked worried but did what babies are programmed to
do—it started sucking...