Part 6: You Can’t Eat A Book
Most of the Wal-Mart’s I had been in were uniformly designed. If you had been in one, you’d been in them all. But not this one. I was completely lost and couldn’t find a thing. We had both started out with separate buggies and she had headed off towards health and beauty. “Girl stuff time,” she explained, leaving me with my buggy to head wherever. I tried to determine which direction the groceries were in, but instead I found myself passing by the book department, which was an instant hook for a fish like me. I stopped and browsed the paperbacks, wondering if one day I could ever write anything worthy to be on these shelves. The closest I had come was to see one copy of my first book in a Barnes & Noble. Of course, I bought it myself and never saw it in another store. “You can’t eat a book,” Summer said from beside me. She had bath stuff and feminine products in her cart. “Well, I guess you could, but it won’t taste as good as fish sticks or a self-rising pizza. Okay, it might taste better than fish sticks.”
I laughed. “Sorry, I kind of got lost. Couldn’t find the grocery department.”
“Lost? Heck, just follow the good looking guys. Every gal knows the hottest place to meet guys is in groceries.” Before I could inform her I wasn’t ‘every gal’, she went spinning off down the aisle towards where hot guys dwelled. Once I caught up with her in fresh fruit, she was in full shopping mode. She would pick something up, put it in her buggy, and then two minutes later, take it out and put it back. “We can get this at the fruit stand,” she reasoned out loud. Finally, she settled on one fruit we couldn’t get from the Orchard House store: bananas.
Two guys walked by and flashed her their college boy smiles. Problem was they both were overweight and looked so sweaty I thought there must be football tryouts the next aisle over. “See, hot guys,” she whispered in my ear.
With a giggle she was off again, heading around the corner and into the frozen food section. I had the feeling I was going to need roller skates before too long. Again, she was a whirling dervish; popping stuff into her buggy like the store was going out of business. Me, I ended up having like five things to her fifty. We went through the whole grocery section like this, her charging down each aisle, dodging other shoppers with her cart, with me trying to follow behind saying “excuse me” to everyone she almost plowed down. By the time we had navigated each aisle, her cart looked as if she was preparing for three weeks instead of three days. When I told her this however, her mood shifted. The exuberant little girl going crazy down every aisle vanished and was replaced by a hurt woman who was just trying to enjoy life.
“Well, you don’t have to tread on my flag,” she said. “Come on, I want to go.” She pushed her buggy up the main aisle towards the checkout and never said another word until we were back at the house and unloading groceries.
At the house, after we had gotten everything in and was putting our bounty in the refrigerator, she broke the silence. “Look, I just wanted to make sure we had enough food. I haven’t had such a fun time shopping in ages and you… well, you ruined it.”
I sat down at the kitchen island that separated it from the dining room. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I was just making a silly observation on all the things you were buying.”
She turned from the task of putting the eggs and milk up and faced me. “Maybe I’m wanting to stock things up so I’ll have it for the next place I go stay. I can leave in the morning, if you like.”
“No, no, Summer. Wait. I truly didn’t mean to insult or offend you.”
“Well, you did,” she answered in a low, hurt voice. She returned to stocking the refrigerator.
I got up and walked over to her. I touched her on her shoulder and when she turned to me, I jerked my hand away, feeling I had done the wrong thing again.
“Look, I know this isn’t an excuse, but I haven’t been around girls much in recent years. Not to the point of actually interacting. I was around two other women in the last twenty years, my mother and Ashley. Other than that, I barely said two words to another female except ‘thank you’ to a waitress or ‘excuse me’ when trying to walk around someone. I don’t know how to say the right things. Probably why I tried to be a writer, so I could learn the correct way to talk to someone. I didn’t mean to hurt you Summer; I just don’t know what to say to you.”
She sighed. “Just say you had fun today.”
I smiled. “I had more fun today than I have had in ages.”
“I don’t want you to leave tomorrow.”
She nodded and tried to hide a smile. “Thank you. I will be heading out early to do a few things, though. I’ll try not to wake you.”
“Are we good, then?”
“Peachy as an orchard,” she replied. “Now, what are you going to fix us for dinner?”
“Sounds great. ”
“I hear it’s more appetizing than books.”
She smiled and sat down at the kitchen island while the ten minute chef put the pizza in the oven. When I turned around, she was still looking at me. It made me a little nervous.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh my, now that’s a long story.”
“I have three days.”
I turned back to the oven, wishing all of a sudden to crawl inside it. “Let’s talk about her another day,” I suggested.
“Sounds good,” she replied. After that, the pizza cooked in silence, and once again things were awkward. It’s strange how one sentence, one question, can make a person shut down. We ate our pizza sitting across from one another. She downed hers with tea, mine with soda. After three pieces she said, “Okay I’m done. You can have the rest.“ She got up and walked to the window, looking out on the orchard. “I think I’ll take a walk.”
She didn’t ask me if I wanted to go with her this time. She just went out the door. Maybe she realized that we both needed time alone, or perhaps she wanted me to take the initiative and follow her. Either way, I just sat there staring down at the pizza, berating myself for being so pigheaded about Ashley. Once again, that woman had spoiled a nice thing.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.