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I Am Grocery Shopping photo

I pass a woman who holds a red polka dot Christmas music box in her lap.

I never see her turn the key, but as I scan the aisles for my specific things—the white balsamic vinegar, the slivers of blanched almonds—I hear Jingle Bells faintly, somewhere behind me, no matter where I am.

* * *

On Valentine’s Day, the line of men starts next to the flower coolers. Some break through and beeline to the roses and daisies. Others touch the flower saleslady's sleeve. 

"Do you have any baby's breath?" They chap snow from their coats, stomp their boots. "Do you have any lilies?"

* * *

Two long men posture over a case of beer, the last precious bottles of Rolling Rock. Arms folded, wearing identical university hoodies. 

I don't wait to see what happens. I continue to another aisle, but I assume, as in nature, the larger thing will win.

* * *

An old woman lifts a laden hand-basket. I offer to help her; the basket looks like a burden.

"Can you grab an areosol can of whipped cream?" she asks me. "Can you find me a carton of rocky road?"

And I do. I place them in her basket gently and she pats my shoulder like I'm a good guy. 

* * *

I am looking for cheese. Beside the bulk flax and chickpeas, I hear a woman ask the cashier if her cat can eat a vegan diet. 

"I think so," the cashier says.

This food co-op sells white sage for smudging, and I think about how animals remind us of babies. Their heads are large, their eyes deep and soulful. Sometimes we forget that our animals are not extensions of our human selves. We forget that their claws and teeth were meant to kill.

* * *

I see a woman restocking plastic bags. She is approached by a middle-aged man. They hug, briefly. They smile.

"How are the kids?" he asks. "How are you?"

He is just on his way out. His daughter is in town.

Later, in the checkout line, I hear the woman tell her register neighbor that they dated once, years ago, until he got back together with his ex-wife.

* * *

The man in front of me unloads his cart onto the conveyor belt (four 32-can crates of Bud Light, two 6-packs of Bud Light Lime, three bottles of Heineken, a loaf of white bread, a jar of Miracle Whip). 

The song playing on the store radio station is "I Want To Be Sedated."

* * *

Two men leaned against the clean, full shelves. One man elbows Ritz crackers and the other man digs his heel into a bag of corn chips. I act like I am studying the candy. They talk about cars, and ask about each other's wives, and I wonder how it feels to be comfortable anywhere you are.

* * *

The florist hands me this rose. She said, have this. She said, it's beautiful.

* * *

A woman in her 70s rips into husks of corn. She brings one cob to her nose and smells it to judge its sweetness. Later, my cashier talks to his bagger about cooking last night's dinner--sweet corn chowder and Panko-breaded scallops--and she looks entirely disinterested, as if he tells her the same stories every day.

image: Tara Wray