The Other Side of The Milk Fridge

I'd always been told grocers stock the freshest milk at the back of the refrigerator.

Without a second thought, I will lean low, reach far, and extend my arm deep into the back of the fridge and take hold of whatever container of milk rests on that back row. Comparing the date with those in the front, I've never been disappointed. This truth is eternal.

On occasion, as I reach deep into the seemingly endless void, my eyes will blur and strain to focus on the darkened shadows of the refrigerated stock room. Mysterious figures move with quiet determination.

And on the rarest of these occasions, when my hand feels the vast nothingness that comes with having extended my reach beyond that last row, a shadow will near. A gloved hand will meet my splayed fingers with the handle of a jug of milk colder than the air in which it is surrounded. Pulling it back, I see an expiration date stretching beyond comprehension of what is commonly thought to be an acceptable expiration for milk. My thanks are acknowledged by a muffled grunt barely audible over the low humming of the fridge motors.

The experience is jarring. It is seeing behind the Wizard's curtain. It is peering inside Schrodinger's box. It is the allegory of Plato's cave - and I am the shackled prisoner now set free.

This gloved hand has caught me in the midst of subverting a system I do not understand. Instead of reprimand this hand has decidedly subverted the system with me.

There is understanding. We don't know each other, yet we have a shared loyalty.

Me, a warm faceless customer silhouetted by the brightly lit grocery store lights. Me, who doesn't mind looking foolish to my fellow grocers by reaching so far into the fridge when convenience is right there before me. And this cold gloved hand, belonging to a shadow in a darkened room. This shadow, uninhibited by the risk of repercussion.

We have given one another the opportunity to be ourselves.

And as I walk away, milk in hand, I imagine the day the shadowy figure from beyond will meet my hand - not with a jug of milk, but with an ungloved hand. Instead of passing me a container of milk, I will be pulled inwards, through the wall of fridges to the shadowy side. I'll find myself in the dark stockroom where a truth is finally revealed: Empty containers strewn about the floor, stamped with various dates.

A single large vat of milk in the center.

And from the darkness, a whisper: "It's all the same."

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