You say you need to find an ointment that your father asked for, so we’re in the pharmacy department: shelves full of pain relief, allergy relief, gas relief, dietary supplements. Last year I heard that big brand companies pay more for eye-level shelf space; someone had studied how we shop, and then schemed and plotted for that cough syrup and nose spray’s spot. You’re searching the shelves closest to the floor, and I keep getting in the way. The aisles are crowded with carts and gray-haired ladies—excuse me—so I wander to the end-cap filled with bandages and Neosporin. I select the pink and white polka dot no-name band-aid box and return to your side to put it in the cart. You raise an eyebrow. For my daughter, I answer, and throw in kid sunscreen—not the expensive kind with the baby’s diaper falling off—lotion that’s thick and blinding white and probably expires before the end of summer. After finding what your father needs, we stroll to the groceries. Again, you’re looking for a sale—cans of chili and soup—and I’m eyeing the refried beans with the green label “Vegetarian.” In the next aisle, I drop a plastic sleeve of gum and a box of gumdrops next to the sunscreen. My items take up most of the cart, for you have placed yours next to the handlebar where a baby would sit, where my purse would normally rest. We go down every aisle with you pushing those squeaky wheels, and after an hour, we head to the registers. We both dislike self-checkout so we wait. At the conveyor belt, you place everything together—unsorted—and insist on paying for my items along with yours. I’ve learned not to argue when a man says he’s paying, but I say thank you five times, and outside I watch as you put the cart back in the corral, rebag, and make sure your items are in their own sack. You carry everything, including my 24-case of Diet Pepsi. We load up my trunk and then yours. You ask if I want to grab a bite to eat, and I say, let me pay. Now we’re in a Dairy Queen booth. You slurp a milkshake, using the straw as a spoon, and I munch on hot French fries and chicken strips. As we shopped, we discussed your father’s health condition, my discipline challenges with the kids, and American consumerism, but now I ask about the past. Why did you respond to that desperate email a dozen years ago when you were six hours away by car and un-tethered to Omaha? Back then, we hadn’t spoken in six months when I sent you that note: I was getting a divorce, my husband arrested, my skin bruised. I expect you to say that you had loved me all along, a city bench at that Dodge Street bus stop that sits undeterred through snow, ice, and wind, waiting for the thaw and all those commuters to return in the spring. You say, pity. You say, friend. I wonder if everything has been done out of pity for I am a pitiful creature who has spent years wandering grocery stores and malls hunting for the best deal, only to fall victim to my flat feet. I want to ask what kind of pity makes a man put his hands down a woman’s pants, finger her till she comes, over and over. But I don’t. Perhaps it’s pride that lifts my head, puts a smile on my face while I nod as if I have known all along that you, with that straw hanging out of your mouth, never intended to take me home. I’ve been left alone to spoil.
Cat Dixon is the author of Eva and Too Heavy to Carry (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2016, 2014) and The Book of Levinson and Our End Has Brought the Spring (FLP, 2017, 2015), and the chapbook, Table for Two (Poet's Haven, 2019).
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower