“Look”, Charlene said, “there’s a grocery.”
“Let’s stop in. We can’t show up empty-handed.”
I knew better than to argue, pulled into the lot. “What should we get?”
“Just get a bottle or some chips or something – good ones.”
“Aren’t you coming?”
“I’ll just wait here.”
I grabbed a canvas bag from the trunk and walked across the lot, thinking of those needless establishing and panning shots in the movies and TV. Why don’t they just get to the point?
Inside the store was well-lit, outside dark clouds hung in the dusk. It was the Saturday hour when people did their weekly shopping or like me stopped in to pick up some last-minute things. We were going to – but why indulge in the verbal equivalent of needless shots?
I’d never been in this store, part of a chain where I sometimes shopped. I wandered the aisles, found a section containing wines and craft beers. That’s where I lost time: I could have been on the road already. Instead I perused the displays trying to decide between a red and a rosé: I ended up with a white, not chilled, a surprise for Charlene waiting placid in the car.
A few aisles away I found the snacks section. I threw some bags of high end chips – crinkle cut, ridge cut, plain, I didn’t even bother to read the labels – into my bag and hurried down the aisle. As I turned the corner, I banged my elbow against the rim of a metal shopping cart. I would have cursed at the couple if I hadn’t seen their daughter, a seven or eight year old, pushing the cart. “Exciting night planned?” the father said smirking. I ignored him, headed to the checkout line, time was a-wasting, I had to beat the traffic.
That’s how I got here. There’d be no background, nothing to recount, if the woman in front of me would move, this is supposed to be the express line. It’d be a different story if I had something to peruse: “It’ll just be a minute,” Charlene said. There were the supermarket tabloids of course. I looked around. This place must have sold out. We’re going to be late I thought, stuck on the freeway, at least in the car I’ll have music and Charlene. Here they’re piping in music, doo wop and soft rock tunes I never liked interspersed with announcements on specials and calls to the deli counter.
There’s some kind of a problem at the register. The supervisor is bent over it. The old woman stands erect, then hunched, then erect again. I inhale her old lady odor, nonenal they call it, I learned that from one of those free magazines at the health food store, they don’t have those here. Nonenal, non-renal, non-anal, nothing to be ashamed of, it can be reversed, it’s a character flaw, I need to stop interpreting, focus on the now, I can only do it in thirty second snatches, Charlene’s better at it, she may change her name soon, an eastern one, we’re in the east, a different one. She must be wondering where I am, she knows where I am, she
The family whose cart snagged my elbow is in the adjoining line, functioning like a well-oiled, no, there are mishaps, the damage is controlled, they’re a mostly organic whole, an almost harmonious sum of their parts. The woman places the items on the conveyor, checks the prices the cashier rings up, the man arranges the canvas bags turned inside out to discourage my snooping, fills them, the cashier weighs the produce, scans the barcodes, the girl skips about handling items, stops, she’s holding, no brandishing, a lollipop, she purses her lips, bats her eyelashes, waves to me. I’m not sure how to react, I don’t want to be sullen, can’t be kindly, children know, no they don’t, if I wave back, the parents may
“Next,” my cashier snaps.
The old lady is carrying her eggs, cheese, bread outside.
I take my things out of my basket. The cashier puts them in plastic, I hand her my canvas bag, she re-bags wine and chips, throws the plastic out, I fumble for my card. “Proof of age?” the cashier says.
I extract my wallet again, flip through till I find my license, the man behind me mumbles curses, I start to say
I’m here, this is my spot now, I’ve amassed tokens for good friends, for Charlene, soon we’ll be together, this is a rough patch, there’ve been worse, the store is well-lit, warm, dry, the man behind me will execute his purchase, the employees will complete their shifts, the traffic will be bearable.
I gather my things, stop in a vacant area to ensure I still have my wallet, cards. My successor in the line passes me on his way out. We don’t exchange eye contact or words. Finally I step into the parking lot. A sleek vehicle almost hits me, I look up, see the shopping cart girl in the back seat. She laughs, waves, sticks a purple tongue out at me.