Originally appeared as the Flash Nonfiction Feature in Under the Gum Tree, 2013.
“Where are the Fuji apples?” I’m a little too frantic.
“It’s okay, Mama, I like the ones from the co-op better anyway. I’ll run up there this afternoon,” she says.
“I’m sorry.” Swallowing hard, deliberately.
“It’s okay. Do you want me to get other stuff on the list?” She waits. “Do you just wanna go home instead?”
“Okay, I’ll get cat food, paper towels, and peanut butter and jelly.” Off she goes, my daughter in her role as supporting actress to my leading, and failing, maternal over compensation.
“Fine,” I say, but she is gone. I am left facing the Romaine lettuce, wrestling with a bag, my face betraying me with tears. These plastic produce bags never open.
“Where are the goddamn yams? These aren’t yams! What are these ugly things anyway?” This woman easily 82 years in the making screeches at young Randy, the only employee in the produce section. As plain as the acne on his chin and the blue in his ever helpful eyes, it’s clear that Randy wants to be the star-employee-of-the-week, his goal to affix the blue star to the corner of his nametag. “Well? Where are they?”
Where indeed? If we only knew where Randy is keeping the goddamn yams, she and I, we could go about our day, less screeching and less crying. I don’t know why, but I look his way as well. I join her in the expectation of a satisfactory answer and pronto. I need a remedy to this uncertainty so clearly of Randy’s making.
“They’re right here, ma’am,” Randy stretches across the hot house tomatoes and lifts a specimen from the yam bin.
“Those aren’t yams.” She adjusts her jaw. “Are those yams? They don’t like any yams I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes ma’am, these are yams. We have organic yams on the other table if you prefer them.” He rounds the corner, reaching for a second offering in earnest, although possibly calculated, hope of finding her demanded answer.
“Hmm. Well I see now. Thank you.” Says my tart friend, letting go of her finely pitched tone in favor of a conciliatory smile. Damn. I liked our righteous demand for yams. Goddamn yams. I knot the baggie holding the yellow pepper for tonight’s salad ($1.99 a piece) and see my daughter’s victorious grin marching upon me.
“Okay, the cat food is 10 for $7, so I got 10. I brought paper towels, and they have snowmen on them! I was going to get honey for dad, but they don’t have the right kind. This is the peanut butter you like, right? Oh, and blackberry jam, please, for me?” Her favorite.
“Sure, sweetie,” I croak and flip a tear off my cheek. My demanding friend in her black wool hat and Sunday-best nylons making their get away beneath her wool skirt, also black, says excuse me and passes on my right. I bet her name is Trudie. She looks like a Trudie.
“What’s next?” My daughter prods, “did you find the apples?” What’s that saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away? As if that were all it took to keep doctors and sickness and pain away. My son likes apples. Where are the apples? I scan the department for Randy but having completed his good deed he’s disappeared, probably out back sneaking a cigarette, which would be frowned upon if he were star-employee-of-the-week. Trudie is moving toward the bacon and lunchmeat.
“Wrong peanut butter. Chunky, not creamy.” I hand the jar back to my teenage daughter on the near eve of her 16th birthday, so eager to ease this moment for me, another in a string of bad months. I crane to see if Trudie picked up any yams after all, but she’s turning the corner, and my eyes can no longer reach her.
I adjust my purse strap and push the cart forward. My son, Blackberry Jam’s little brother, just has to turn the corner next week. Next week will be better — less pain, less waiting, less worry that he will never have the opportunity to be star-employee-of-the-week. Trudie would like my boy even though he hates yams. Goddamn yams. I make a mental note to stop at the co- op for apples on our way home.