I push my cart in slow, measured steps, planning my route carefully to avoid the other shoppers. The usual seasonal displays are up, towers of brown and confectioner's sugars stand next to cases of evaporated milk and cinnamon.
I have a long list, which makes me feel panicky. This store was remodeled a year ago, and because of the pandemic I've never learned where to find things in the new layout. All of my shopping trips are carefully planned. My lists is crafted with care. I try to get in and quickly out, like a sloppily dressed shopping ninja.
I inhale slowly, and exhale gently into my mask. I've learned to set my glasses atop the mask to prevent them from steaming up, which I think is a win.
I collect whole milk and 2%, plus two containers of whipping cream. Past the dairy department is the meat. I see turkeys, and all of them are much too large for our family of four. I select the most frozen one I can find, because I'm here early. I am not ashamed to confess- I was concerned they might run out.
I avoid the toilet paper aisle- I saw already that it is almost empty.
I encounter Susan near the cheese counter and greet her with surprise. She greets me back, but I'm pretty sure she has no idea who I am. I must be hard to recognize with my orange knit cap, my purple mask, and my wild-eyed no makeup stare.
I could strike up a conversation, but that seems counter productive. I've already been in here much longer than I had intended. Also, the thought of making small talk inside the store makes my chest feel tight. And anyway, what does anyone have to talk about these days? We are, all of us, on hold indefinitely.
On my list are Pie Beads and a new baking dish, but those are downstairs. I wheel my cart behind the elevator to avoid the people standing in the checkout line, only to find that the down escalator, along with the escalator for shopping carts, is closed. Back at the elevator, I see that it is out of service also. I park my cart near the pyramid of canned pumpkin. I could leave it here, just for a few minutes. I could walk down the stairs. My heart beats faster at the thought. Imagine if some earnest employee, assuming my cart was abandoned, decided to restock all of my hard won items?
It's not worth it, I decide. I can go downstairs another day. I wheel my cart to the pharmacy. I have to pass by the shampoo aisle, walk down the makeup aisle, and come through hair care from the other end, because a woman was there, looking at mousse. I stand far back from her and read labels from afar, but the conditioner I'm looking for isn't in stock.
I have checked off most of the items on my list, so I head for the checkout lines. I move slowly, carefully. The anxiety plays tricks with gravity- or maybe it's the mask that makes me feel like I'm walking on the moon.
When I arrive home, I sit in the car in the lit garage for a moment. At last I pop the trunk and climb out of the car. I open the door into the kitchen and announce in a chipper voice, "Sorry, kiddo, no pie beads today!" as I make my way to the sink to wash my hands.
"I'll check again next time I'm at the store."
Then I head back to the garage to begin carrying in the groceries.
Home is brightly lit and warm. My family is safe inside. I am grateful.