The man holding the red basket is two numbers ahead of me. Attractive though he is, I have more pressing matters to attend to. Namely, the dinner party I’ve been putting off all week.
There was no need to share with Harry how I felt about it. You’d think not, anyway. Not after 10 years of a pretty solid marriage and three of a hot (though unbelievably distant), preceding courtship. He’s usually so in tune with my emotions. That all changed 9 months and 14 days ago. I know the hours too, on bad days. But I try not to dwell. Dr. Jody tries her damndest to steady me and for the most part, she’s pretty good. She pulls me out of my tailspins all the time, brings me back to a happy memory, reminds me I’m still alive and there’s a whole lotta years ahead of me. Yeah, that last one backfires sometimes. For sure, she should know that. But as professional and helpful as she is, she doesn’t hold a candle to the man I once knew. I almost wish the two of them could merge into one being, they’d do well to take care of me then. Of course, I couldn’t afford her hourly rate around the clock. No one could. Not to mention how weird it would be to be held by a Harry Jody.
I smile, even though the crude fantasy is terribly disturbing. And I know this is one of those fleeting moments — the ones I should pay attention to, the ones that make it all worthwhile.
Nothing is worthwhile though.
The handsome man with the half-chiseled jaw buys a pound of jarlsberg cheese and two and a half pounds of pimento loaf. Oh to be a fly on the wall at that party!
The deli lady packages his purchases and stamps them with her price stickers. Is there a name for someone who works the deli counter? Deli worker, probably. But deli lady works just as well if it’s just between me, myself, and I. I would never call her “deli lady” to her face, of course. And if I ever did let it slip, she’d probably be ok with it. It’s not a racial slur or anything. But what do I know about anything? Nothing. That’s about what. Maybe it’s as bad a faux pas as calling a flight attendant a stewardess, here in 2019. Maybe I’d get kicked right out of the Shop n Save for degrading her in such a slanderous manner. Maybe she knows I’m thinking it right now. She’s staring at me. Does she know? Do you know my horrible nature, Deli Lady?
“34? Last chance?”
I look at my number and damn me to Hell, it’s my turn. What happened to 33? Did she call it already? The handsome and strange pimento loaf man is gone now; I can’t spot him anywhere. So maybe I spaced out for 33. Oh come on, let’s be honest. There’s no maybe about it. I’m a Space Queen.
“I’m me. I mean, 34.”
“What can I get ya, sweetheart?”
Why am I here? Why is anyone? Focus. The dinner party. The nightmare event I’m being forced to throw together last minute. It’s tonight. I’ve had a week to prepare or beg out. There’s nothing last minute about anything but me.
Harry should know me. Harry should know this is the last thing in the world I need right now or ever. Harry shouldn’t want to play host either. I don’t think he does. He can’t. I think he’s just playing pretend and doing what’s expected of him. What people want to see — a strong man, continuing. So he portrays that. Does he think I should be the same?
“Lady, no offense but can you hurry it along? Some of us have places to be.”
The impatient jerk to my right raises an askance eyebrow to emphasize his annoyance.
“Sorry,” I apologize because that’s who I am and that’s what I do. I turn to the deli lady and ask for enough pepperoni to feed eight people. She shrugs. The meat math is beyond her pay grade.
“I just mean… as an appetizer. I’m serving pepperoni and cheese. Crackers too, I suppose. So yes, I’ll need lots of different cheeses, please. Just… it’s just… a lot.”
I know the words I’m speaking are wrong in all the right places. They mean other things but I can’t read between them because the lines are all mine. I’m not giving her what she needs to complete me and get me moving. Help me help you, she’s probably thinking. Her face seems sincere and worrisome. For me. For a stranger. I should just cut my losses and pick up a pre-made vegetable tray.
“You serious, lady? Why don’t you just go and get one of them pre-made assortments? You want me to pick one out for you?”
The deli lady gives the jerk a cold sneer. What did I do to earn her protection? She’s on my side. Me. I’m not even a person. Not anymore. Maybe I was once, a long time ago in an unknown reality. But here in this everyday place I’m but a big blob of loose muscles undulating back and forth in the breeze. Or maybe it’s the gentle, frigid AC. It’s nice. I like to feel it.
“I got you,” the deli lady says. And she cuts me up some good pieces of hors d’oeuvres. Will that do? First course done? Am I good enough, Harry? Will our friends be pleased?
His friends and their wives, anyway. My friends do the best that they can, hundreds of miles away, via Facebook tearful face emoticons (whatever those are called) and Likes on heart-wrenching memories.
The impatient jerk is breathing down my neck. But I won’t turn and give him the satisfaction of my broken soul. I could destroy him with a look but no one deserves the ammunition I have at the ready, just behind my eyes.
The deli lady hands me many packages and I drop them all in my cart, unaware of what they even are.
“You all right, ma’am?” she asks. And maybe she’s seen it. Maybe I’ve inadvertently unloaded my pain on her. But I haven’t looked her in the eye and I don’t intend to. I’ve got an empty house full of potential energy ready to burst, and hungry, either well-meaning Fraus or Nosy Nellies to feed. There’s such a fine line between the two types of people. That line is so thin, so fragile, it’s not even worth looking at.
“My Dad has it, too,” the jerk stops me cold by the greying tuna steaks.
“I’m sorry?” I say, for all time.
“I didn’t mean to be such a jerk. I didn’t realize. You know. I’m just having a bad day, I guess. No excuse. Please forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” I say, emphasizing a word for no known reason. “What are you talking about?”
I don’t care about him or his problems. Yet still, I linger in this highly uncomfortable conversation. Because I’m a sadist. It’s the only way I can come to terms with the fact that I still draw breath.
“He’s just been diagnosed, actually. I can’t bear to think… I don’t mean to pry lady… Miss, I mean. Or Ma’am?”
Is he going to cry? Is this jerk going to cry right here in the supermarket? Am I going to have to support him? I’ll scream. I swear I will scream down the rafters if he sheds one, lonesome, crocodile tear!
“Diagnosed with what?” I ask, though for the life of me, I don’t care.
“Parkinson’s. I mean… oh damnit I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t point it out. It wasn’t that noticeable. Not at first. You were just rocking a little. Kinda dreamy, wavy-like. Like you were dancing with a ghost or something. But then… hey, it’s ok. I’m just… It’s so raw for me right now. I don’t even know what I’m saying. I’ve upset you terribly.”
My face must be a shroud of something devastating because he’s approaching me; and I can’t move. Or no, that’s not it at all. Quite the contrary. I’m moving too much.
He holds out his hand so I can see his palm before he places it gently on my shoulder.
“Forgive my intrusion,” he says. “We’re all human is all.”
He draws me into an embrace and I allow it. There are people on the outskirts, witnesses to our holding pattern, but they don’t matter. Nothing does. Not even this hug. Because this former jerk in a man’s skin is too tall. Much too tall. My arms should fit around him entirely, so that I might lift him off the ground and hold him tight tight tighter. He should be much shorter. Much much much shorter. He should be my baby, my little man, my perfection, my sweetness, my pride and my pain. He should be here — laughing, complaining, bouncing. He should be the one. Here, with me in my arms as we sway.