I hear the buzz, feel the phone against my thigh. A text message from you.
“don’t forget the whole wheat”
It is a simple, common, and not uncalled for request. You enjoy whole wheat bread and we are out of it. A good husband would have noticed this as he rummaged through the fridge and made his list, marking down what was missing and tossing what was moving.
I noticed. Whole wheat bread is the third item on my list.
I consider not getting it, out of spite.
Also, because I hate whole wheat bread.
But mostly the spite.
I am nothing if not a weak and petty man. Your words.
Assuming I understood correctly what you were screaming about during our fight, that is. I rarely understand what you’re screaming about.
We had a fight about that too.
I grab a bag of spinach and throw it violently into the cart. I shouldn’t, spinach is a delicate green, and, anyway, it’s not the spinach’s fault. But I’m thinking of our argument again and you are not here. You are at home, grading papers and watching The Bachelor, grumbling about how I had the gall to politely ask you to close the cabinet doors. The doors I cracked my head against as I put away the dishes. The dishes I cleaned.
I turn the corner and push the shopping cart down the back row, past the fish case, the shelves of pork, beef, chicken. I check the list. Chicken. Number five. You do not eat red meat and, as a result, neither do I. I back up, grab three petite sirloins and throw them on top of the spinach.
I do it out of spite.
Also, because I really like steak.
But mostly the spite.
I push past the chicken and look at the other shoppers hustling by. Everyone some variation of angry or harried or sad.
A woman screeching into a cell phone jukes to avoid a father in a suit sprinting past her, a case of diapers under his arm. I laugh at them and nearly collide with a girl carrying a basket full of yogurt and single-serving frozen dinners. I smile politely by way of apology. She accepts by staring at me blankly and turning away. I watch the way her sweatpants cling to some parts, move over others, as she walks toward the cereal aisle.
I’d probably get yelled at if you were here.
I probably already have.
I keep moving, list in hand. Oatmeal, pretzels, coffee, ginger ale, toilet paper, sponges. I weave through the store, my head down the entire way. All that’s left is the milk.
I make a right at the batteries – narrowly avoiding a middle-aged woman, arms full of cat food – and stop. There is an older couple blocking the entire back aisle, their nearly empty cart perpendicular to the dairy case. The two of them are weighing the many options before them. Skim? Low-fat? The store brand? The other one? Do we have a coupon? What’s organic mean?
They are fat and oblivious, waddling from one refrigerated door to the other and back again. They have, presumably, been buying milk for several decades yet this all seems new to them.
The man opens a door, closes it, dodders back to the cart. The woman’s eyes lower with intent. They are serious about this. They are confused about this. And they are smiling about this. Smiling. They are the only people in the supermarket without the common decency to hate being here.
God damn it. I want that to be us.
I watch them, summoning all the contempt I can muster, and my only thought is that I want to be bloated and greying with you. I want dairy choices to be a twenty minute discussion every time. I want to be able to wear pants that don’t fit, that are older than our grandkids, with socks that are pulled up to my knees. I want to think you look beautiful in a housecoat. I want to think you look beautiful in dozens of housecoats. I want to wear slippers in public and push an entire shopping cart for nothing but eggs, milk and saltines. I want us to get in everyone’s way and I want to sincerely not give a shit when we do.
I want to look at spinach and actually see spinach.
The man puts a half gallon of 2% into their cart and smiles at his wife. She smiles back, leaning into the cart, and the two of them disappear into the frozen foods aisle.
I push my cart to the spot they’ve vacated and add a half gallon of whole and a half gallon of almond milk to my own cart.
Then I pull out my phone.
I turn around and make my way back towards the bread.
Eirik Gumeny is the editor of Jersey Devil Press, author of the novel Exponential Apocalypse, and folder of origami cranes. His work has been published online a lot, in print occasionally, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize at least once.