Sunday, October 19, 2008

Health Food and Lipstick

She walks down the hallway, ill at ease, hands trembling. The bag on her shoulder is heavy. Does she regret what she said? Will she rue this day at some lonely time in the future? It was easy. It was so easy to be honest---cruelly honest. But was it cruel? Wasn’t it just reality? Wasn’t she just being authentic?

Leaving the building, she hurries down the sunny street, her shadow passing along the sidewalk, mingling with the shadows of the trees planted intermittently to provide some semblance of shade on hot summer days. The sound of a passing car radio playing an old Simon and Garfunkel tune transports her momentarily to her childhood in the 1970s: that old album cover, Art Garfunkel’s frizzy 70s afro, and Paul Simon’s silly flat hat and moustache. And when they sang of Mrs. Robinson, her child mind always thought it was about Mrs. Robinson on Lost in Space. Wasn’t that June Lockhart?

She passes by the healthfood store as the door opens, and that familiar and comforting smell of medicinal tea, baking bread and citrus lures her in. There are samples of organic cheddar cheese and crackers on a plate near the front door, and she helps herself. She makes a mental note that, of course they put out toothpicks for people to use to take a cheese sample, but if someone with very dirty or soiled hands fumbles for a toothpick in that little bottle, isn’t he or she going to contaminate the all of the toothpicks? Talk about fecal-oral cross-contamination! She shudders a little, grabs a toothpick, and makes sure to spear not one, but three small pieces of cheese, ignoring the sign that says “only one sample per customer, please”. Fuck that, she thinks. I spend at least $3000 a year in this place, so I can have more than one piece of cheese.
In the produce section, she spears a piece of melon from a plate with another of those ubiquitous toothpicks and moves on to the next section. Do I really need anything?, she thinks. Why I am even here?

Stopping in the cosmetic section, she checks out the display of natural lipsticks and dabs a few colors on her lips with the cotton swabs provided for just that purpose. Looking in the mirror, she notices a new wrinkle next to her left eye, and another one by her mouth. She frowns and the wrinkle by her mouth deepens. She smiles and it disappears somewhat. She frowns again. Smiles. Frowns. No lipstick today.

Turning into the aisle with the oils and spices and five million brands of soy sauce, she almost runs headlong into an acquaintance who regales her with a story of his recent adventures in Santa Fe with a Quebecquios shaman. She extricates herself as soon as possible, hoping not see anyone else. Sometimes, coming here is like Old Home Week and she hobnobs and chats with everyone and their mother, friends old and new, former colleagues, former lovers, future lovers. At other times (like today, for instance) it’s torture, and she turns each corner into a new aisle cringing, wondering how many more people she’ll have to elude before making it to the checkout counter.

Oh no! The checkout counter! One of the worst things is getting in line at the checkout, and then someone she only knows remotely gets behind her in line. They engage her in conversation, distract her from the task at hand, and complete the bloodletting, the draining of her vital energy that can happen when this place grabs her by the throat and reminds her of how long she has lived in this town, and just how desperate she is to leave.

Only now does she realize that she has thrown several random things in her cart that she doesn’t even remember choosing from the carefully stocked shelves. Did I grab someone else’s cart by mistake? And then she remembers: while Mr. Shaman-in-Sante-Fe talked, she pretended to listen as she selected a few things from the nearby shelves, just to have an excuse not to look at his pock-marked face and unsightly nostril hair. (Why doesn’t he trim that, anyway?)

Lost in a reverie in front of the overwhelming tea selection, she sees a tea called “Calm” and this brings her back to the exchange that happened not thirty minutes ago. She has bruised someone’s ego badly, let them down hard, and as much as she values her own sense of integrity and no-bullshit authenticity, a tinge of regret splashes across her mental screen. Did I really have to say all of that? Couldn’t I have edited myself just a little? Should I regret what I said? What I did? Is there no turning back?

Seized with guilt and a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach, she abandons her cart in the tea aisle and hurries towards the door. Mr. Santa Fe tries to wave her down as he lifts his bags to his chest, but she pretends not to see him and emerges back onto the street, disoriented and feeling slightly feverish.

She walks ten, fifteen feet, looks back, walks a few more feet, and then freezes. She looks back towards the healthfood store entrance. Mr. Santa Fe exits, turns in the opposite direction, and disappears around the corner. Relieved, she heads back in the direction she had come in the first place, determined to take back at least some of the things she had said. I may still rue this day, she thinks.

(c) 2008 NurseKeith