Milk Carton Universe (Chapter One)

MAX JOHNSON met his grandmother Neta at the community center for bingo as he did every Thursday. They always arrived early to talk while they waited for the volunteers to finish setting up and other players to arrive.  

This week, Neta shared a harrowing story about an elderly neighbor who had discovered a spoiled half pint of whipping cream in her refrigerator. The cream had long passed the expiration date and was on the verge of achieving some other date that Neta recited with such gravity that Max, who was ignorant of the meaning behind this second date, didn’t interrupt for clarification. 

Needless to say, the discovery sent the elderly neighbor into a panic that nearly resulted in a heart attack. 

Old people are funny about food, thought Max with wonder. Or maybe it doesn’t mean the same thing to me because I don’t like milk. I think soy milk tastes better although… I don’t remember the last time I bought any. 

The instant he had the thought, he mentally recanted. 

Yes, I have. I opened a new carton of soy milk to use in cereal. But that was months ago, wasn’t it? 

Months ago?

Max covered his mouth, thinking hard. 

Did I drink the rest of it? 

He didn’t think so. 

When did I discard it? 

He couldn’t recall doing that either. 

To the best of his knowledge, the carton hadn’t seen the light of day since that distant meal of cold cereal which implied it could only be in one place. 

“Oh wow,” Max murmured. “I guess it’s still in the fridge.” 

Unfortunately he had said most of these ruminations aloud and Neta’s eyes bulged with horror. 

“Ohh, Max,” she cried. 

“It’s okay, I’ll toss it later–” 

“No!” She gripped his hands so suddenly that he jumped. “Forget the game. Go home, now! Go save your cats and let the police handle the carton! Before it’s too late!”  



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