The thought of dragging herself and her baby to the store rubbed against her nerves all morning. But the leaking faucet in the kitchen sink made the trip to the giant box a necessity today. And the longer she put it off, the worse it would be.
The sun embraced them as they stepped into the warm summer air and she felt almost hopeful when they arrived.
“Good morning,” she said with a smile to the first person she saw.
She certainly had been guilty of not even trying to smile too often to remember.
She kept smiling. At store clerks, shoppers, frustrated children looking dazed under fluorescent lights amidst a dizzying array of endless objects.
“Mm,” she heard in return. Or nothing. Or a brief glance.
Sometimes a woman smiled back. All the shoppers seemed to be women. It felt like a throwback to the fifties. Where did they all come from? Where did she come from?
She was trying to keep smiling, feeling hope slipping away with every step.
She walked up and down the aisles. Past perfume, car mats, bicycles, lighting supplies, fish bowls, cameras, and DVD’s to rent or buy. She felt relief at the absence of plastic parts when she passed the produce section.
She followed the shiny chrome metal of faucets to the smaller, invisible, inside parts of kitchen sinks. She found the washers and made it to the row of checkout lines.
In front of her, a woman wheeled a shopping cart. A little boy, about a year old, was sitting in the cart; two toddlers, a girl and a boy, maybe two and three years old, were walking next to the cart.
We should all be pushing children in swings, she mused casually. She was past trying to smile. She only wanted to leave the store.
They all moved closer to the cashier. Almost there, she thought.
She watched the next few seconds almost in slow motion: the box of cereal placed on the counter, the child in the cart fussing loudly, a child who was standing reaching for some shiny object beside the checkout counter, the smack, the soft whimpering.
She felt her mute efforts to reach out, to say something. To offer a soothing balm for mothers, a soothing balm for children.
She had seen the mother and her children at the park. But like all the other mothers so far that she recognized by sight, she was sure she didn’t even know her name.
The checkout line moved along. She moved along. Nothing happened to mark that anything had happened. Just the disquieting ordinariness of it all.
By the time she walked through the door to the outside, she was drained. The drip in the sink would have to wait for another day.
Heading home, she fixated on the vow she had made. Not for her or her child spitting hot anger, evaporated empty air, an inescapable solitary responsibility for life.
She promised herself she would try to make friends, even as she knew it had been a long time since she had made real friends, friends who told each other the truth.
Storm clouds came suddenly that summer. Thunder roared, lighting flashed. The sky lit up beyond control. The orchestra’s second movement to the baby’s cries.
Days rolled into days. She seemed like two people.
She was never sure which felt more real – intermittent blinding yellow sunlight in a canvas of torrential rains and forbidding skies, or intermittent storms in a haze of sunny days.
Today the clouds cleared as if they had never been there. The park filled with mothers and children.
The grass and leaves glistened green in the bright sunlight. The shade cast by the trees made lovely shadows. She marveled at her child’s fingers and toes, melodic sounds, angelic features.
Stroking the velvet soft blanket where they sat, cradled by the warm air, she pondered the demons that trespassed carelessly through unsuspecting nurseries. Overwhelming love crashed into explosive frustration blind with fury and anger. At what?
Emily R. Blumenfeld’s writing and work center in themes of voice and witnessing, with particular attention to social justice, women’s lives, and mothering. Her most recent writing – “Poetry of witness, survivor silence, and the healing use of the poetic” – appears in the Journal of Poetry Therapy.