Aisles

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jerry has no idea who he's about to run into at the grocery store.

Submitted: May 02, 2019

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Submitted: May 02, 2019

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Jerry twisted the dial on the windshield wiper control arm to “CONTINUOUS”.  The spring rain was falling harder now and the intermittent setting, even on the fastest of three speeds, was unable to keep up.  Worse still was the incessant drumming on the roof of the car which rendered the radio newsreader impossible to understand. Rather than turn the volume up, he turned the radio off.

 

“Hey, I was listening to that!” came the voice from the passenger seat.  

 

A woman’s hand darted out and turned the radio back on.

 

“Anita!” said Jerry.

 

Anita responded, “What?  I want to hear the news.”

 

A fresh wave of rain fell from the darkened sky, heavier, more violent.  Jerry had to increase the speed of the windshield wipers to maximum. Now along with the garbled voice on the radio and the hammering of the storm above his head came the robotic whirring and whining of the wiper arm motor.  The cacophony was at an apex. He turned the radio off again.

 

“Can't you live without it this one time?” Jerry asked.

 

“Want me to drive for a bit?” offered Anita.

 

“You want to drive in this mess?”

 

“This is nothing.” Anita was from the west coast.  

 

Jerry said, “We’ve been on the road for two minutes.  I think I can handle it until the store.”

 

Anita put her right hand to her chin and stared out the passenger window.  There was a sudden flash of lightning and an immediate ‘BANG’. They both jumped as if they were hiding in a dark room and the lights suddenly flicked on.  

 

“Wow!  That hit something!” Jerry exclaimed.

 

“God, this is a shit start to our trip.” Anita said but Jerry didn’t hear.  He was concentrating on the roads. All that was visible through the windshield were the liquid brake lights of the car ahead, seen as if through a soapy baking dish.  The wipers darted to and fro like spasmodic squirrels chasing each other across the windshield. The rainfall sounded on the roof as did unpopped kernels shaken around in the bottom of a paper bag.  There was a follow-up roll of thunder.

 

The rain suddenly lifted and moved on.  The clouds parted just enough to let a blanket of daylight shake itself out on the sodden land below.  Brake lights all around them blinked out and traffic started moving again. Jerry spotted something out his window.

 

“Hey, they’re closing down our old used bookstore.”

 

“I think it’s already closed.  The doors are locked all the time now.”

 

“Well, we never go there anymore.”

 

“That’s not true.”

 

“When’s the last time you went in there?”

 

“I’m still reading the books I bought last time.  I buy almost all my books there.”

 

“How many of those books do you think spent their time next to someone else's toilet?”

 

“Eeuww.  That’s a weird thought.”

 

“Yeah, but that’s what books do in our house.”  

 

“So you think there’s someone else’s poo germs on our books?”

 

“It occurred to me.”  

 

“Hmmm.”

 

Anita returned her gaze to the world outside the passenger window and wished away the hours between now and when they were settled down on the old couch in front of the fireplace.  

 

Jerry activated the blinkers and steered into the grocery store parking lot.  It was saturday and the lot was nearly full. There was a narrow row of parking near the back which most shoppers treated as a last resort.  Jerry drove there first. There were only a handful of spots available and they were squeezed into an area just beyond a loading bay in front of a fence.  Anita leaned forward.

 

“There’s one!”

 

As Jerry manoeuvred the car, a sign at the end of their space came into view.  

 

Anita said, “Yay!  ‘Angel Parking’ !”

 

“ ‘Angle Parking’ .  Are you serious?”

 

Anita turned and blew him a half-hearted raspberry.  Spittle inadvertently sprayed his glasses.

 

“My headache thanks you for that.”  

 

She removed his glasses and began wiping them clean with a paper napkin.

 

“You need to drink more water.”

 

“If we had any.”  

 

“Get some when you’re in there.”

 

“I think there’s some in the back.”

 

“Can I stay in the car while you run in?”

 

The sun was out but there was still a steady rain falling; not the kind that drenches the skin but one sticks to hats and collars.  

 

“I want to wait this out first.”  

 

The car was still running.  The rain had cooled down the interior.  Jerry turned the on the heat. A blast of hot air washed his face.  He let his head fall back on the headrest.

 

“I think I’m still hungover.”

 

“That was good party last night.  I really like your friend Sidnee. I had a nice talk with her.”

 

“Can we not talk about her?”

 

“I don’t know why you don’t like her.”

 

“It’s not that I don’t like her.  I just think she’s too full of herself.”

 

“She just got nominated for a big award.  You’d be full of yourself too.”

 

“That’s not it.  Well, in a way it is.  Why does she get all the funding?  I was the top student. I came away with all the awards and all the promises and now nothing.”

 

“Oh, Jerry…”

 

“Is it because she’s good or because she’s a woman?”

 

 

“She’s good because she has a subject that she knows a lot about.  I didn’t see any feminist agenda if that’s what you’re implying.”

 

“So I just haven’t found a good subject?  That’s all?”

 

“She made a documentary about her horses and it was really, really good.  If it wins an award, which it hasn’t yet, then good for her I say. It’s two of her biggest passions combined into one.”

 

“Then what?  One good show is not a career.”

 

“She’ll think of something I’m sure.  She knows as much as you do. You took the same classes.  It’s just that you write fiction. That’s harder to prove yourself.”

 

“Maybe I should change my name to something androgynous too.  

 

“Let’s just concentrate on getting to the cottage.”  

 

“Her real name is Denise.”

 

“Yes.  She told me.”  

 

“She used to have this long, beautiful hair.  Everyone was crazy about her. I was crazy about her.  At one point.”

 

“You DID say you didn’t want to talk about her.”

 

“You know how people say things like ‘I don’t judge, I don’t judge’?  Well, I judge. I can’t help it.”

 

“Yeah you’ve judged me a fair bit over the years.”  

 

“That’s not…”

 

“I’m messing with you.  Relax.”

 

“...and I’m an asshole too aren’t I.”

 

“No, you just talk too much.”

 

The windows were getting foggy.  Jerry paused to activated the dashboard fans.

 

He asked, “You seriously thought that said ‘Angel Parking’ ?”

 

“You know how the French reverse the last two letters of certain words like litre and fibre?  Well…”

 

“Well…?  I don’t get it.”

 

“Angle ‘L-E’ becomes angel ‘E-L’.”

 

“Oh…”

 

“For heaven’s sakes, Jerry!  I used to think ‘angle’ was ‘angel’ when I was 8 years old and my parents never corrected me because they thought it was cute.  So it stayed a family in joke all these years.”

 

“Would you ever change your name?”

 

Anita sighed.  Jerry was ready to give up on the question.  

 

Anita said, “Kimberly.  I’ve always wanted to be a Kimberly.”

 

“You mean, like...Kim?”

 

“No!  I would absolutely only answer to Kimberly.  It rings. Anita sounds, I don’t know, something like, like a sewing machine.”

 

“That’s harsh.  A-NEE-ta. A-NEE-ta.  No it doesn’t.”

 

“Say it fast.”

 

“Anita-Anita-Anita-Anita...oh, I see what you mean.  I don’t think most people would…”

 

“It stopped raining.  You going in or what?”

 

“Aren’t you coming?”

 

“You’re just getting sour cream and iced tea right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So I think I’ll stay here.  I’m cold and I want to listen to the radio.”

 

“Fine.  I’ll just be a second.”

 

As he steps one leg out onto the pavement, Anita calls after him.

 

“It’s 4:00, just so you know.”

 

“I’ll just be a second.”

 

Anita was already in the process of turning on the radio.

 

“Thanks.  Ta-ta!”

 

Jerry flipped his hood up and walked head down, avoiding the large puddles along his path.  The rain fell against him like atomized mist. It didn’t seem to come from any particular direction.  He hurried as the rain began to increase again, the sound of it rising in his ears as his downward eyes took into account the growing number of droplets.  There was a large glass awning extending out over the front doors. He paused under it to shake out his hood.

 

A large white sheepdog sat patiently and impassively off to the side of the front doors.  Next to it was a purple mountain bike with faded fake flowers attached to the handlebar basket.  Neither one appeared to be secured to anything. The dog was as big as a bear. No, not quite a bear.  Jerry had seen his share of bears up north. He had also seen his share of city dogs and none had ever seemed this big.  He guessed that the dog and the bike shared the same owner. If the dog was obedient enough to sit for as long as it took its owner to shop then it was probably up to the task of fending off a bike thief although the weather was as much if not more a deterrent.

 

The sour cream and the iced tea were kept in the far corner.  Jerry would have to traverse the length of the store diagonally which was the furthest distance from the front doors.  Getting there meant taking some form of zig-zig down whatever aisle offered the least obstructions. With Anita waiting in the running car and the drive to the cottage still another 3 hours from now, he wanted this errand over and done as quick as possible. Because it was a Saturday, the store was crammed with shoppers and no one was in as much a hurry to be somewhere as he was. The lineups at the checkouts were growing longer. Thankfully, he had only two items to buy, items that were easily scanned at the self-checkout counter.  

 

Normally, he would take the cereal aisle as a route to the back but on this day it was jammed with bodies.  Bodies with wet coats and overpacked buggies and accompanying children. The next aisle was soup. No good. The next was pasta. Hopeless. Four asiles later he was still fighting his way past queues of shopping carts. When he came out the other side, he found himself in the pharmacy corner.  Rarely was he over there unless directed by one of Anita’s lists but it would have to do as there were no further aisles available to him. Happily, this last row was unpopulated save for one lonely soul who was crouched down investigating the packages on the bottom shelf.  

 

It wasn’t until he was a third of the way down the aisle when he realized, with amusement, that he was in the feminine hygiene section.  The other shopper whom he shared the space with was a young woman in a dark jacket who was turning over a box of pads in order to read the text down the side.  Jerry felt as if he had entered the women's change room by mistake and attempted to hurry along without causing any disruption. His shoes were clattering on the tile floor and the suddenly alerted women stood up quickly, as if she had been caught somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be, like the men’s change room.  When she turned to face him, Jerry stopped. It was Sidnee.

 

“Jerry Woodshaw.” she said quickly.  It was her custom to use full names when addressing people.  She was like that all through university and it charmed him that she still hadn't changed.  

Her cheeks, unmasked by make-up, reddened as if she had just performed 25 jumping jacks.  

 

“Denise!” he said out of surprise.  “I mean Sidnee. Sorry, I…”

 

“I go by either.” she said.  Sidnee had a low, held-back timbre of a voice.  You had to lean in and listen carefully if you wanted to hear what she had to say.  “Don’t worry.” she went on, the twitch of a smile emerging, “I’m not going to report you.”

 

Her wide, wet eyes met with his on an even level.  They were identical heights. A prolonged silence ensued.

 

“Well,” Jerry began, hoping that something decent would come out of his mouth, “Uh, congratulations on your nomination.  I think I might have said that last night already.”

 

“You know what they say.  It’s nice just to be nominated.” was her reply.  The way this tired old phrase rolled off her tongue sounded to Jerry like she had freely adopted it to counter the embarrassing well-wishes that came with landing so suddenly in the spotlight.  He couldn’t help noticing that she was still holding on to the box of feminine product, holding it like it was the prize she was in competition for. Sidnee couldn’t help notice him noticing.

 

Wanting anything but to put her on the spot he mumbled out “At least you’ve got a real show to your credit now.”

 

She put the box of pads back on the shelf then turned to face him, the blush gone from her cheeks.  

 

“Well, I’m all done here.  My dog is waiting for me.”

 

For Sidnee, this was a lot of personal information.  Encouraged, Jerry heard himself blurt out “Oh, is that your dog out front?  And your bike?”

 

“Yes.  The Banff.”  Sidnee said proudly.

 

“Ah, Banff because he’s large and white.”

 

“Banff is my bike.  Cody is my dog.”

 

“Cody.  Oh. Good name for a dog.  He’s a good dog too from what I saw.”

 

“He’s a great dog.”  

 

More silence.  Sidnee never did do small talk.  You had to be sharp with her or she’d tune you out and move on.

 

“You...busy this weekend?” he said.

 

“Um, yes. You?”

 

“Going to the cottage.  With Anita who you met last night.”

 

“I see.”

 

“I was going to do some writing.”

 

“Good for you.”  Jerry could tell she either didn’t believe him or didn’t care and he wasn’t sure which version insulted him more.  

 

“Beats hanging around here.” he said, contempt slopping over the edge in his voice.

 

Sidnee waited for him to add something better to the conversation but he had already fallen out of step with her.  She made a move to pass by him. “I have to go now. I’ve got guests coming over.”

 

“Sure. Well, fingers crossed then.”

 

“Thanks.  You too.”

 

She slipped away empty-handed.  He turned and watched her leave.  Then he wondered to himself, “Why am I watching her leave?”

 

Jerry stood under the awning outside the front doors, a bottle of water in one hand, a plastic bag of groceries in the other.  The white dog and the purple bike were gone. He regarded the empty space. It felt like he wanted to say one last thing to Sidnee but he wasn’t sure what it would have been.  The rain had stopped. There was the sound of water rushing through a pipe. A speeding truck sent up a wide fan of water that slapped the sidewalk when it landed.

 

Jerry walked quickly back to the car.  The sky was dark again. The rain threatened a return at any moment.  He could hear music as he approached the car. Anita had rolled down the driver and passenger windows a few inches.  He knelt on the seat and stuffed the bag of groceries into the backseat which was jammed with their belongings. A rocket of thunder boomed overhead.  Jerry spun around quickly and closed the driver’s door.

 

“You’ll never guess who I just ran into.”

 

Anita turned off the music.

 

“No, you can leave it on.”  Jerry was excited.

 

“Who?”

 

“Sidnee.”  

 

“Really?”

 

Jerry expected, even wanted, Anita to acknowledge his acceptance of Denise’s self-rechristenment.

 

“What did you say to her?”  

 

“I was nice.”

 

“Did you know that Sidnee is just an anagram of Denise?  It’s true. Clever, huh?”

 

Jerry was silent.

 

“She told me last night.”

 

He took a big drink from his water bottle.

 

“You okay?”

 

“You were right about the water.  That’s all.”

 

Jerry started backing the car up.  He had to turn on the headlights as they left the parking lot.  The dark clouds were moving quickly across the sky. Paper plates blew across the windshield.

 

As they drove along the road that led out of the neighbourhood, they saw a cyclist up ahead on a purple bike with a large white dog trotting beside.  Anita was transfixed.

 

“Wow, look at the size of the doggie!”

 

Jerry opened his mouth to point out Sidnee but stopped.  They would be alongside her soon. The light up ahead had turned yellow.  The car ahead was slowing down.

 

“Hey, it’s Sidnee!.  Look!” Anita said. She started to roll down her window.  Jerry changed lanes, passed the car ahead and sped through the intersection as the light was changing to red.  Anita was thrown back against her seat.

 

“Woah!  Steady on, rocket boy.”  She rolled her window back up.

 

“I just want to get to the cottage.”

 

“But shouldn’t we stop and give her a lift?  It’s going to rain again”

 

“She’s got her bike and her dog.  How would that work?”

 

“Oh, right.  Well, next time then.  I’m sure we’ll see her around the neighbourhood.  I didn’t know she lived around here.”

 

“I never knew either.”

 

“We could have her over.  She’s got a way with animals, eh?”  

 

Jerry passed another car then changed lanes and passed another car.

 

“Why are we going so fast?”

 

“Just making up for lost time.”  Jerry said, checking his rearview mirror.  Sidnee, her bike, her dog Cody were no longer visible.  “Just making up for lost time.”


 


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