It’s that time again. You know what I’m talking about. The streets smell of chestnuts, pine needles and a clammy anxiety. You find yourself barking like a dog. At whomever. Because whomever took the last parking spot at the grocery store and you need to pick something up after Someone At Home called in a panic.
There you were, minding your own business at the editorial desk at Fabulous Foods magazine, writing a tedious piece about pork rilletes . Then your phone jingle jangled, jingle jangle jangle, and out of this noise emerged the words “meyer lemon!”. Now you’re in the produce aisle, trying to understand a labeling system invented by someone with liberal guilt and a high fever.
Disoriented by the flood of definitions, you stumble around the supermarket, almost tripping over the pile of yule logs. You ponder the word “yule;” you roll it around on your tongue. Yoooool. You know it’s from Old Norse because you took that linguistics class — you English major, you! — and through the fog of memory this goat appears. Those crazy Scandinavians, you think. Those mad, wonderful bastards, what with their smoked fish and their Skål-ing and their Christmas goats and their careening about on the ice on wooden skates.
Wait, you’re mixing all that up with your master’s thesis about ice skating and fairy tales and discourse strategies. Grad school sucked, it did. You really dodged a bullet getting out of academia. You release a hearty chuckle of relief and arrive back in the present to realize that you’ve laughed very loudly. Very, very loudly. People are staring. That little girl in a stroller next to the pudding is staring at you. Hi, little girl. You try a tentative wave. Oh, look, now she’s crying. Great. You’ve made a little girl cry. At Christmas. The mother is furious and speculates aloud, in a high pitched nasal voice, that you hate children. In the distance, people are pushing and shoving over by the sweet potatoes, their shopping carts clanging as they try to get closer in.
You instinctively make a run for the frozen foods aisle, taking refuge near the fish sticks. Things slow down in the cold, you remember; molecules move further apart and collide less often. This should give you room to breathe.
What is that sound? Ave, ave Dominus Dominus tecum. Schubert’s “Ave Maria” is playing over the loudspeaker system. You feel the space behind your forehead relax. Et benedictus. Bathed in the soothing tenor tones, the linoleum floor tiles appear to vibrate, just slightly. The tiles are calling to you. “Lie down here, with us. It’s lovely, so lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely down here.”
The floor is surprisingly warm for the freezer aisle, you notice dreamily. Heat rises, so it should be colder down here; you start to try to figure this out but laziness overtakes your mind. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
You stretch an arm out on either side. Your body bisects the long aisle, you can almost reach the bits of lint under the display case with your fingertips. You are Jesus, perhaps, minus the stigmata and the cross, laid down gently in the middle of a grocery store. Perhaps people will pay to come and see you. Like the Virgin Mary on a garage door or a tortilla or a tree trunk. You feel important; you will stay here until word has spread. You sink more deeply into the floor, awaiting the wonderment and the gratitude.
Jingle jangle jangle! Silence. Jingle jangle jangle! Insistent, annoying. You open your eyes to see a man over you. He is dressed in a green polyester apron, his youngish features pulled into an expression that combines boredom and anger. There is a stain on his apron in the shape of the very bottom of Italy. A worn down heel, plus the instep and the toe of the boot.
You want to ask him about meyer lemons. This has just popped into your head. You have remembered about the lemons. You try to ask this aloud but you are oddly parched and can’t get the sound out. He extends a muscular arm and you hoist yourself up to standing. “Freaking Christmas,” he hisses, turning on his heel and walking away, his black shoes squeaking.
Leaning weakly against the freezer door, you try to summon energy for the holiday freneticism, the temper tantrums, that heightened etiquette. All that measuring of your worth. Are you a good enough parent? Are you a good enough child? Will the cold calculus of gift exchange out you as cheap? The fish on the fish sticks box stare back at you wordlessly, their cod mouths agape in silent judgment.
“I’m a good person,” you want to say to them. “I really am.”
You are, aren’t you? Of good cheer? No less than anyone else. You’re just trying to get by in life, doing your best to eke out a little pleasure and keep everyone around you happy. Then The Season starts to loom in its ominous way, stirring up questions and self-doubt.
Your pocket is vibrating madly, as if a wild rodent is trapped in there, pawing for escape. Jingle jangle jangle! The rodent is making that ringing noise. You reach into your pocket and pull out your phone.
“Never mind,” chirps Someone At Home, their voice bouncing tinnily off a satellite somewhere high, high above you. “We’re covered.”
As you make for the exit, the strains of Schubert’s opening harp return, in your head. You mark the slow 4/4 tempo with your footsteps and reach the door just as Andrea Bocelli’s soaring voice enters. You fumble for your keys, try to remember whether you parked at the end of the row or took a spot in the middle. The stars seem particularly bright and you pause, for just a moment, to remember that you, too, belong in this beautiful, flawed world.