When Stuck in a Wal-Mart in Columbia, Missouri for Two Hours

Begin in the electronics department.

Overhear an employee explain the difficult relationship she has with her daughter to a man who only asked whether the store has any copies of How to Train Your Dragon. Dodge the pleading eyes of the man, who does not know how to respond or how to leave. Think about how lonely we all are, and yet how uncomfortable we are when the evidence of this becomes so apparent.

Discover that there is a sequel to the movie Pure Country. Wish that in it, George Straight has turned to meth and is now the lead singer of a prison band that gets hired-out to weddings and corporate retreats. He has lost an eye maybe. He has definitely lost the ponytail.

Buy the Tom Hanks double feature of The Burbs and The Money Pit. Later that week, this purchase will spur a strange kick of eighties nostalgia that will lead you to watch Beverly Hills Cop, which is still pretty damn good.

Leave electronics before you spend more money you do not have. Walk past the line of front-end cashiers. Think of how you were a front-end cashier at a Wal-Mart in a town not unlike this one. Another college town, though smaller. The large blue smocks. The weekly meetings where they tried to get you to participate in company cheers. The test you had to take before you could begin work, the one that flagged you as being a “possible drug risk” and as having “union sympathies.” Wonder which one of these they considered the worse infraction.

Head to the grocery section. Purchase one red plum. Eat it in the aisle. Keep the receipt visible so no one thinks you a plum thief. Remember that the word scrump means specifically to steal apples. Wonder if a word exists for pilfering plums. Recall that your sister discovered the word scrump in Ireland, and that you both laughed and repeated the word, and tried to use it as an insult whenever possible. You’re nothing but a scrumper, that’s what you are. Think of all the trouble that time in Ireland has brought down upon your sister. But then think of your nephew, and smile.

Look for Irish-Style wholemeal flour in the baking aisle on the off-chance they have it and you can finally make a decent loaf of brown bread. Come-up empty, though not surprised. Most things ready-made and quick mix. Boxes of brownies. Jars of frosting. Ponder what “birthday cake” frosting even means, but let it go because you are being a snob and because you have noticed that all of the number ones for birthday cakes are gone, and you know this is because the numbers they form are the times when most people celebrate birthdays because after a certain number of years you stop celebrating the process of aging. You will turn thirty-three in few weeks. There are enough threes to go around.

Step into the cereal aisle. Take note that you don’t recognize the characters on children’s cereal boxes because you have no children because you have spent too many years with men who themselves were children because you yourself were also a child.

Shake this off. Smirk at all the Gluten-Free products. Think of how a few years ago everything was whole grain. And how before that it was sugar free. And how before that it was fat free. Wonder what will have taken-over a few years from now. Or if it will all cycle through again. Think of that part in For Whom the Bell Tolls where he tells the girl not to eat potatoes because she’ll get fat. Wonder how many men give a shit whether or not they eat gluten.

Mosey over to condiments. Marvel that you could, if tempted, buy an entire gallon each of the following: mayonnaise, syrup, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, Ragu tomato sauce, liquid cheese, mustard, ketchup, Country Time lemonade, baked beans, chili beans, no beans chili, country-style pepper gravy mix. You could purchase, all in single containers, three pounds of grape jelly, six pounds of peanut butter, four pounds of canned tuna, seven pounds of yellow cling peaches. Try to fathom the kind of life that requires seven pounds of yellow cling peaches, then see an older woman struggling at the other end of the aisle.

Help her snag a can of olives from a bottom shelf. See the shame mixed with fear hiding at the edges of her face as she thanks you. Know this has something to do with needing help reaching a bottom shelf, but also recognize this as the not knowing if there is enough credit left  to buy everything that is in her cart. Recognize this because you have felt it. And because, though you no longer work as a front-end cashier at a Wal-Mart in a college town, you feel it sometimes still.

Ask if you can help her with anything else. Know there is no one waiting in another aisle to do so. The stack of single-serve microwave dinners. The cans of soup. The four pack of toilet paper. The half gallon of milk. The single red plum in a white plastic sack.

Hear your name called over the loudspeaker. Smile and say that’s me.

Leave before your lonely becomes apparent.



    1. Thanks for asking, Victor.

      That part is left intentionally vague, as it isn’t my story to tell. I might well write about it years from now, if given permission, but this piece isn’t about what’s happened to her, it’s about ,me and where my mind went during this one patch of time.

      Does that make sense?

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