The letter inevitably came. More bad news, not that we were surprised. No more income. We hugged in an almost obligatory way, only because our minds were elsewhere. Food. Did we get enough? Cash? Definitely not enough. Wine? One bottle. One bottle. Suddenly $10 for a bottle of wine was a luxury. I guess it was always a luxury, I just took it for granted.
Reassurances. We’ll be fine. We’ll figure it out. Healthcare? It’s ok. We’re not alone. It’s happening to everyone.
She overheard us talking, calming one another. A surreal version of calm. Neither one of us wanted to react. When we emerged, she asked. She could feel the fake optimism. I saw it in her eyes. Neither of us acknowledged it. She was willing to go along with it.
Water. I immediately fixated on water. Come on. We’re going to the store. There’s that machine outside we can refill our bottles. Somehow full water bottles would make it better. She asked if we could get lint rollers. Lint rollers. Her concern was dog fur on her black pants. Yes. Let’s get lint rollers. We can drop off that overdue library book on the way back. They have a return slot outside, right? Maybe. Maybe the store has toilet paper. We have 12 rolls left. That should be enough, right? I didn’t care about toilet paper before this moment. Was the public hysteria actually that they would run out of toilet paper, or that they would run out of money? Like we just did.
The shelves were empty. Almost all of them. No canned goods. No rice. No pasta. No bread. No dairy products. No dog food. No cleaning supplies. No laundry detergent. No eggs. No frozen foods. No paper products, just paper signs fresh off the back office printer in black letters, “Limit 2 per person.” People had carts. What were they putting in them? I didn’t look. What are we here for? Lint rollers. Found them. Fully stocked. What else are we here for? I couldn’t think. The anxiety to formulate a mental list in that environment, in that moment overtook any willingness to try. Let’s go. Wait. Maybe a bottle of wine. Lettuce, too. Avocados. It’d be weird to be out of avocados. Bananas for dad, she reminded. Yes. Bananas. I approached the wine aisle with doubt. So much doubt. I shouldn’t get wine. Not now. Not until this is all over. Conserve.
Long lines. The older woman in front of us looks about 70. Is she ok? She shouldn’t be here right now. She seems ok. Ava, keep your hands in your pockets. Don’t touch anything. I watched as the cashier handled the woman’s big personal grocery bag. She touched every item. She touched her register keys. No gloves. No masks. Maybe not yet. The woman used her fingertips to punch in her pin, to push all the buttons, to handle her bulging wallet. Almost purposely abandoning all caution. She looked at me, smiling, about to say something, then turned away.
The cashier looked at me. I hadn’t put my bananas, lettuce, two avocados and lint rollers on the conveyer. I couldn’t tell if she approved or disapproved. I handed her one item at a time. She scanned it, handed it back. No conversation. We accidentally touched the sides of fingers twice. Maybe I should have just used the conveyer belt. $16.59, I’ll use the credit card. Conserve. My anxiety.
Quickly. Fresh air. We need to get out of here. Wait. Weren’t we going to fill the water bottles, she asks. Crap. I forgot them at home. I forgot the book, too. Can’t focus. Let’s go for a run.
We got home. Lettuce, bananas, two avocados and lint rollers left on the counter. Wash your hands. 20-seconds. Sing. Happy birthday to you… her birthday is in two weeks. 12-years-old. What will we do?
Now. Before it starts raining again. Run.
Three miles. Uphill. Downhill. Over and over back and forth on our dead-end street, the sun peeking through patchy rain clouds. What would the neighbors think? Will they be angry that we’re outdoors, too close to their houses? I had so much energy to run. Unexpected.
On the last lap, we were running in the rain. Laughing. She’s faster than me. The rain quickened her pace. I ran, momentarily alone, the windblown rain pelting my face, soaking my clothes, squinting my eyes, until they closed. Running blind. I didn’t want to open them. I wanted to keep running, looking up, blind, rain weighting my hair down, dripping off my nose and chin. Nature. Is. Bigger. Than. Us.
This is not an injustice. It is a surrender.
She waited for me at our driveway. David was there. Pants rolled up and barefoot in the rain. She was cheering me on, running towards me. We stretched our arms to our sides, looking up, shouting, absorbing the cleansing joy.
Breathing quick, then slower. Happy.
Look! A rainbow. In the rain. A temporary gift. This is life.