Eight inches above the floor tiles, four-year old Amy sprawled belly down on the shelf beneath her mother’s shopping cart, arms extended, sky-diver style. Ecstasy etched about her lips, her cheeks and widened eyes. The world coursed by at amazing velocities as mother cruised the aisles, but then she stopped. We all stopped.
The thirty-month old Josh, enthroned high above in the rumble seat, reached for the sardines, “Fish mommy: shiny fish.” His mother smiled, re-shelved the can, but wouldn’t noticed Josh’s previously captured tins of octopus tentacles in olive oil until she unpacked them at check-out counter. We waited still.
A lonely, elderly woman, while pondering her shopping list pushed her cart askew, barricaded the aisle. No one spoke. We waited for her trance to pass and the flow of carts to resume. Her confusion came easily. The aisles dedicated to exotic foods, cosmopolitan produce, plantains, name blanco, jicoma, yampi, cherimoya, and yucca. Polyglot labels beckoned customers of every nation, persuasion, age, taste and financial circumstances to the urban supermarket. Diversity in costumes, language, heritage and continent of origin rivaled the United Nations, especially on the weekend when the latest discount coupons reached their activation date and new, on-sales items rotated into the range of affordability. Luxuries became necessities. Dreams of crema de malanga distracted me.
Behind me, a loudly cursing, woman, her faded black t-shirt branded with the word “Nemesis” goaded her Market-Scooter into the clog of shopping carts. I scanned the commotion. The Scooter Jockey rode herd on two companions. The older woman breathed with the assistance of an oxygen generator. The younger, I call her Luna, wiped tears from her eyes.
Luna’s face round and as white as the moon; her sunken eyes: dark craters. The edges of her mouth turned downward in despair, for she was trapped in an orbit around her Nemesis, with no hope of escape. The oxygen-indebted woman stood near Luna and their Nemesis. Her dull eyes stared without awareness. Luna led her through the aisles, occasionally bending or stretching to pick unreachable groceries from the shelves. Each unkempt member of the trio exhibited life’s scars. None smiled.
Nemesis shoved aside Luna’s cart, with no shortage of expletives, ripping her to shreds with every word. Nemesis broke through the pack of waiting shoppers, her Market-Scooter clipping carts with no word of apology. Now behind her, I noticed the back of her head, especially the baldness of her dome, circumscribed by randomly oriented hair: grey rooted inches, blackening before achieving their split ends. Luna approached from behind. I noticed and inquired, “How are you today?”
Luna paused, brightened in surprise, concealing her tears she answered cautiously, “I’m OK.”
“Looks like more snow.”
She nodded, fearing to chat. What would Nemesis say? Luna reached out with her gaze. Then her brows dropped. Her pained expression returned as she resigned herself and pushed ahead. The woman with the oxygen generator plodded behind Luna. We would meet again.
I thought as I consulted my shopping list that Luna and Company were somehow connected. Were they family members or inmates of the same facility? Was it any of my business? Are we not our sister’s keeper? What could I do anyway?
I approached the end of that aisle in time to see the scooter-powered Nemesis crash into a skid stacked with cases of canned food. A case of diced tomatoes bled out cans between the cart wheels and the shoppers’ feet, rolling in every direction. Nemesis cursed the young shelf stacker and powered her vehicle denting and scattering a half dozen doomed red containers before she turned into the pasta aisle. I skirted the skid fragments and skipped the pasta as an assistant manager approached with a bucket and broom.
As I turned into the paper products section, Nemesis swiftly exited. In her scooter’s wake Luna and I came face to face. I raised my eyebrows in greeting. For the first time I saw her smile. While it rejuvenated Luna’s eyes, cheeks and brow, it revealed the gaps in her teeth: some broken, others missing. She quickly tensed, sealed her lips, turned her face away. She moved beyond our meeting place. The woman with the oxygen generator inched along behind.
My check-out moved quickly. It had begun to snow again. As I pushed my grocery cart through the slush, the roar of a damaged muffler approached from the rear. I shifted my gaze toward the battered pick-up with its expired inspection sticker. Nemesis drove no differently than she piloted the Market-Scooter. Her attitude demanded and I gave a wide birth. She skidded behind and then beyond me. Luna held closed the passenger’s door. She had turned and looked in my direction as the truck moved beside me. She then glanced back. Her eyes pleaded for rescue. The pick-up passed. I could see the bags of groceries and their contents scattered in the truck bed, blowing in the snow laden gusts. The pick-up reached the end of the parking lot, ignored a stop sign and turned left, disappearing into oncoming traffic.
Amy now bundled against the weather held a balloon in her left hand and with her right helped her mother push the supermarket cart loaded with the snow-suited Josh and groceries. She asked, “Mommy, why does Josh get to keep a can of octopus? What do I get?”
Her mother smiled, “Didn’t you get to ride under the cart and you have a balloon?”
“But Josh rode in the seat and he has a balloon too.”
“Next time you can ride in the seat.”
“No, that’s for babies. I want to ride under the cart again.”
“Well Amy, you did get something that Josh didn’t.”
Josh, clutching his can of octopus tentacles in olive oil exclaimed, “Put oc-pus fish tank.”
Amy laughed, “Mommy really, can we let the octopus out of his can and put him in the fish tank? That will be so much fun.”
Don Mulcare (dmulcare.wordpress.com)
(© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)
alcohol ink representation (© 2013 NancyAnn Mulcare)