Linda picked up a container of organic mixed greens and placed them next the half-gallon of low fat milk and the packages of ground turkey. She pulled a neatly folded list from the pocket of her purse that was riding in the child seat. She unfolded it and checked it again. It was a shorter list, only about ten items. She scanned it again trying to remember anything she had forgotten to write down. Her neat cursive list interrupted her husband's imperative large scrawl:
pick up my Rx
She sighed and checked her wallet for her prescription card and pointed her car towards the pharmacy. As she passed the isle of elder care products, the canes, the diabetes testing supplies and bed pads, she spied the line of customers waiting already. She felt grateful for a moment to think, she was in no hurry. She could literally wait all day because she had nothing going on except this shopping errand.
This meant her husband Dan wouldn’t be home until about 4 pm. He and his best friend Zeke were spending a Tuesday in the most stereotypical, white upper-middle class, retiree way — at the golf course. Suddenly Linda realized that she should probably hurry up and get home. A day home alone was always a gift. She could sit in the chair by the window, with a cup of tea and enjoy the silence for hours. She pushed her cart a bit closer to the person in front of her in anticipation of getting back home.
The last five years, since Dan’s retirement, had been less enjoyable than she had anticipated. At first, they had taken a few big vacations, but now, Dan was home almost every day- all day. It felt like a never ending weekend. Linda was always relieved when Dan had plans.
The young woman in line before her was next. She was a very large girl with tattoos on the back of her calves and streaked purple hair. She reeked of cigarette smoke. Young people, she tisked in her head, they don’t have a clue.
Dan had been overweight for most of their marriage though Linda had managed to stay slim. She had her mother’s genetics and wore the same size dress she had worn at 24. Dan, on the other hand had struggled with his weight since his mid-forties. He would lose it and it would come back, always requiring at least three sizes of pants in his closet year round. He would lose a few and puff right back up like an inflatable pool toy.
The year Dan retired, he had a heart attack. He had to have bypass surgery and recovered slowly. His near death experience completely and literally changed her husband overnight.
He came home fully committed the doctor’s orders and then he took it farther. He started jogging twice a day and joined a gym. He started eating salads and cutting out fried foods, sweets, junk food and alcohol. He monitored his lipids and blood pressure and blood sugar religiously now. He also had a full stock of every health supplement he could find. He was in the best shape of his life. He had more energy and confidence than ever before.
And this was a problem.
Dan, formerly a somewhat obese man, had slimmed down miraculously. His ego, energy and desire to talk constantly increased in exact proportion to the pounds that melted away. Now, he fancied himself to be the older distinguished “stud” he had always aspired to be. He was definitely the most handsome man in their church over fifty now. The rest of the men with their stocky bodies and bald heads reminded her of boiled potatoes.
The tattooed woman in front of her was arguing something about payment and digging through her bag feverishly for what Linda could only guess was a medicaid card.
Linda shifted her weight impatiently. The pharmacy tech motioned for another person in a lab coat to speak with the bulldozer woman. An angry bulldozer, Linda thought to herself.
The four and a half years since Dan’s heart-attack had changed Linda. Her dark side had been revealed… or rather her good attitude had been eroded away. It was hard to hide her weariness and frustration.
He talked about himself a lot, not just to Linda but any poor soul who would listen. When the UPS man brought a package to the door last week, she could tell that he that was visibly relieved to see her face rather than Dan’s.
The mailman, their pastor, the neighbors, her family, the teller at the bank — all seemed to wince when they saw Linda and Dan approaching.
He had a lot of gall and felt no shame in striking up a loud, political conversation with a total strangers in the waiting rooms. He was an “expert” and would talk and rant and ramble to anyone who was forced to listen. Sure, he was friendly alright, but also seriously blinded by his own hubris. He had a desperate need to be admired. He was especially adept at fishing for compliments or praise for his “wisdom” or good looks.
Truthfully, he had always been this way. As a younger man, he was a bit of a blow hard as well but nothing like the soul sucking braggadocios monster he had become. Before his weight and shame that comes from needing to shop at the big and tall store dampened his conversational exuberance to some extent. For years, Linda could shield herself with the natural flow of suburban family life. She could retreat to the kitchen, volunteer at school fundraisers, or join a women’s Bible study. She could always find something to do or somewhere to be.
His career, her career, having children, the soccer practices, the constant demands of parenting and community — these things cushioned her and offered reprieve.
Nowadays, with nowhere to hide, everyday all day, Linda dealt with the profusions of Dan. Though Dan didn’t drink anymore, Linda kept a bottle of vodka stashed in an empty Massingill box in the bathroom cabinet. This was her secret and her sanity. She sometimes thought about getting a part-time job.
Now, three people in lab coats were staring at the woman who was stomping and banging her hand on the counter. “Dear God…”, Linda sighed rolling her eyes.
Her mind went to her friend, Brenda, who had suddenly lost her husband a year ago in a freak accident. He had been up on the roof, hanging Christmas lights and fell dead. They thought he had died in the fall but evidently, the heart attack happened while he was still on the roof. He had been mumbling and cursing his wife who sat below trying to untangle strands of lights as fast as she could.
Brenda had always lived frugally under the miserly watch of her husband. Yet, she discovered a nice stash of savings that her husband had been hoarding for decades. Better still, the life insurance policy that she demanded he buy, came in handy. She received a huge check delivered by hand from her agent.
Linda wistfully chuckled.
Brenda had played the grieving widow well. Sure, she probably missed her husband of 40 years, the way that someone might miss a giant ass tumor after surgery. Sure it would be sore for a bit, but it would be so nice.
Only 3 months after his death, Brenda dyed her hair red, bought a sports car and moved somewhere pretty with mountains and beaches. Karma had worked and Brenda had won.
The pharmacist waved Linda forward. She said a quick hello and asked for the prescription. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a white bag that had been stapled shut. He scanned it and turned to the he cash register. Linda already had her card and her debit card ready and didn’t even listen for the total… She quickly used the stylus to sign on the small black screen mounted on the counter.
She mindless finished the transaction while her mind snagged on something.
She stared at the counter waiting for the for the man to hand her the bag.
The night before, she had rummaging through their home office for a book of stamps. Strangely, she remembered both of their life insurance policies out on the desk. Why were they not in the file box? Dan had been reading them.
“Thank You.” said Linda as she took the prescription and returned to her parked cart. Lost in deep consideration, she began her way to the check-out counter.
As she walked, it clicked together in her head.
The exercise, the healthy eating, and the obsession Dan had for supplements suddenly ALL made sense.
He wasn’t trying to live forever… just trying to live longer than her.
She recalled him recently asking her if she’d like to go on a cruise only one hour after both of them had watched the news together. There had been another case of a missing person on a cruise ship. Why hadn’t she linked the two?
Then there was the time he left the broom lying on the stairs…
… and the day the brakes went out on her brand new car. Luckily, she had discovered it in the driveway. Dan handled the repairs. Had the line been cut?
Flooded with possible revelation, Linda searched the list again, multivitamins, in his stupid Neanderthal handwriting.
She would have to go back to the pharmacy area. She started to turn around but then … decided against it. She would do not give him the advantage.
She stopped her basket at the checkout counter. She could hardly focus on unloading her cart on to the conveyor belt. She had a new a glint of determination in her eye.
She would “accidentally forget” the vitamins.
Who knows what she would “forget” next?
She would go home to a quiet house, do a little yoga and check her blood pressure.
As the young man rang up her groceries, she stared out the glass doors.
A chilling yet peaceful smile spread across her face. She would not go down so easily. Challenge accepted. Game on, dickhead.