poured out before bed
The day is delicious beyond words – a soft breeze whirls playfully about serious sunbeams, buffeting about the whitest of fluffy clouds. Even better, the scene I witness is one of mid-afternoon, a nearly perfect freedom stretching before me. Of course there are things I must read and prepare for the morning, but I have many more hours in which to do them than normal, meaning – dare I say it?! – the possibility of free time.
Immediately my mind sets to motion plans for a tasty dinner and I drive, windows down, the radio humming, toward the grocery. It is ridiculous the joy I take in lingering in the store aisles, browsing, basking in the glow of supermarket chic. I practically purr at the produce, brushing fondly the fresh bread, cheering the local cheeses, and when I get to the floral department – oh the floral department! The water bins are fully stocked with brightly colored daisies and poms, roses and babies breath, sunflowers and irises, gladiolas and ferns. AND they are all on special.
Really? Does it get much better?!
I select some lovely cream poms and soft, peach daisies, pulling gingerly on their petals, squeezing the tips of their stems to assure myself of their freshness, and place them gently in a water sleeve.
As I stand in line at the only open register, I smile at the contents of my cart – everything I needed, and everything on sale, and the lion’s share of the afternoon for preparation. Fifteen minutes later, my smile flags slightly.
The woman two carts ahead of me is engaged in a heated argument concerning some recently expired coupons. Her face is red, sweat rolling down her long thin neck as she crabs her disgust. She finally (literally) throws the contested items at the polite cashier and storms from the store. A pair of employees descends upon the counter to remove her things from the belt. From behind me a jolly appearing gentleman shows just how deceiving looks can be when he grabs a stocker’s arm and demands to know why more registers aren’t open. I anxiously inspect my flowers as the next customers begin unloading their purchases.
They have a cart full of individually packaged frozen fish and shrimp. They. Load. Each. Package. Separately. The woman in front of me, just after the fishermen, swears under her breath. Moments later she swings her cart about, crashing into mine without apology and fires off toward the customer service desk.
My flowers fall to the floor.
Two peach petals are left on the linoleum as I retrieve the leafy bundle. I realize the water sleeve has broken. I size up at the fisher’s cart – still half full – and dash toward floral to nab a new one. It takes me less than thirty seconds.
When I return, the fishy cart is still 1/4 full. But just after them stands the jolly Bad Santa from behind. He has rolled my cart aside and stands where it once stood, gripping the handle of his cart.
“No leaving the line. And no cutting,” he hisses, pursing his pink lips.
I have no words.
I look at the heavyset woman behind him. She stares grimly ahead. I shake my head and roll in behind her.
Too many minutes later, I check out my handful of items. My pretty peach flowers have lost a velvety halo of petals by the time they traverse the belt to purchased. The cashier rings up my fresh herbs incorrectly, overcharging me and becoming frustrated when I try to point out the true identity of the fragrant green stems. She’s had a hard day, I see. I let it go.
As I walk out to the lot, trying to slowly, steadily breathe in the breeze, I witness Mr. Santa, parked next to me in a rusted out caravan, push his empty cart aside – smashing it nonchalantly into my car.
I position my cart before my trunk and push his abandoned cart across the aisle to the cart corral. Then I load my bags, stow my own cart, and carry the flowers – dropping petals every few steps – to the front seat.
I drive home in silence, holding back a few stubborn tears.
Of course there are no courtesy carts at my complex. And the elevator is out. I trudge up 4 flights of stairs with all my trappings, my fingers pink, then purply, then blue from the pressure of the bag handles, gripping my flowers and averting my gaze when petals float down from their drooping heads. A bag breaks and a beefsteak tomato bursts on the stair, red potatoes rolling down to the floor below. Biting my lip, I place all my bags along the top step, and go about picking up my shattered produce, redistributing to intact sacks, folding the ripped paper bag into a tiny brown square.
Finally, I reach my floor, my entry. I struggle to unlock the door and trundle inside. And I lose it. The plight of my ill patients, the hardships of medical school, the stress of performing and studying and wrenching about career choices in the midst of the pain and fright and anxiety and anger of so many others, and – yes – the disappointment of my sad beautiful flowers and bruised produce on this long dreamed of open afternoon – hits me. Hard. I sit in the entryway and sob for a good long while.
Then I stand up.
I put away my things. I make a truly lovely stuffed baked chicken, a light dollop of dilled potatoes, a crisp, sassy tabouli, and a double layer Mississippi mud cake with the flow of my favorite music. I have a wonderful meal with the love of my life. I take in a long after-dinner walk and a cup of cool limeade on the porch. And I prepare for a new day in the quiet dusk – next to a colorful bundle of reviving flowers.