I saw her as I was waiting in line at Target. I don’t know what made me look up from my phone. Yes I was staring at my phone. I don’t do the self check out bullshit. The last time I was standing there screaming at the machine that the fucking bread was in the fucking bag. It was like the third item in a row. I would shoplift more efficiently than that. And certainly not fucking bread.
So I was in line. The only open line. As it turns out they hire less cashiers to save a buck. So I was doing my part to alleviate unemployment. And not go to prison for destroying the self check out machine of infinite sorrow. And the line was long. Not helped by the lovely lady in leggings two sizes too tight and the half shirt that was probably a full shirt but sure as hell not the right fit. And of course she price matched or couponed every god-damned item.
The cashier would scan and she would say hold on I have a coupon then rummage through her purse, it in itself the size of a duffel bag, looking for the fifty cents off carefully torn piece of paper. I wanted to scream. Instead I posted the entire ordeal in real time on Twitter. Should be good for a couple likes and maybe a retweet. Had to be good for something.
Not important. So I am in the slow check out to hell. And I glance around and see her. A Latina women of indiscriminate age. She was singing something in Spanish, I couldn’t catch the words but the melody was calming. Her long black hair hung down to her waist. She wore a sun dress of bright turquoise and splashes of red. It made her caramel skin pop. She just stood there singing and scanning items. The machine never questioned her. Every item registered on the scale.
Every item she scanned that is.
I don’t know why I found myself staring at her. The effortless grace in which she moved. The song so tantalizingly out of hearing. The gentle ring of the gold bracelets on her delicate wrists. But something about her caught my attention and I could not look away. And when she finished ringing up roughly half the items in her cart and paid without a care in the world. I smiled.
She had half a cart of now free merchandise that she carefully covered with the bags of legitimate purchases. And no one seemed to notice but me. After she loaded her items over the ill gotten gains she looked at me and smiled so big it felt like getting hit by a nuclear bomb. She was stunning. Dark brown eyes like cocoa, a dainty nose with a golden hoop through it. And thick luscious lips that made thoughts of kissing them for hours rush into my brain. She held up one finger to her perfect mouth in the universal hush symbol and left the store.
A brash cough behind me jolted me into reality and I saw it was finally my turn to check out. I looked for her again but she had already left. Disappointment washed over me at the brush with perfection and it’s sudden loss.
The cashier tried to make small talk but my mind was outside, helping her put her stolen merchandise into the trunk of her car. Dazzling her with my charms. Getting her number. Kissing those lips.
I paid and practically ran outside but alas, my moment with her was at it’s end. And I went home and played video games and promptly forgot she existed.
But we had a moment. In my mind at least.
Weeks went by and I felt myself drawn back to that Target. Subconsciously I suppose I hoped to see her again. I never thought about her but the minute I needed something from the store I found myself inexplicably driving out of my way there instead of to a closer, more convenient store. If I had thought about it, just a little even I would see the folly. It is more expensive. The selection mostly sucks. But the last three trips we’re here.
I needed to change my routine.
So instead of pulling into the parking lot I continued on to the Tom Thumb down the road. I’ll show myself. Even more expensive and further out of the way. Stupid Target has no hold on me.
All I came for was olives. I decided to experiment and make a tapenade. I was making hummus and it was delicious but there is only so many ways to add garlic or red pepper and I was getting burnt out. Since I became single rather unexpectedly I had taken to cooking as a release. Slowly working through the newly single meals of ramen and hot pockets. Broadening my horizons to meal prepping for the week.
And then I realized I enjoyed the time I was spending in the kitchen. I baked muffins and cakes. Discovered the rice cooker and steamed veggies in brown rice. I was baking chicken in herbs and making a risotto on the side. Learned to make rue and soon my gumbo and homemade soup were alive with flavor. It was an awakening that soared me from the boredom of single life and crippling anxiety.
The last had really done a number on me. Which I discovered as I threw myself back out there. The dating world had changed so much. It was selfies and apps. Swiping left and right based on a picture with no knowledge of the person in it. You had to suddenly sell yourself on a smile and generic blurb. Too short and they assumed you just wanted sex. Too long and they got bored. Small talk over messages. It was too much. I couldn’t curb my acerbic tongue and they couldn’t tell if I am stupid or overly sarcastic. Or a little column A and a little column B.
The occasional dates turned into me meeting someone as broken as I am. Or someone wanting a meal and maybe some sex. I was looking for more. So after a couple months of drowning in the depths of it all I deleted my profiles and took to cooking. They say you find love when you stop looking. So I stopped stop looking altogether. The world had passed me by and I was man enough to admit it.
Throw yourself into the arts someone said. I tried sketching but it was just terrible. Poetry was a car crash. Do you rhyme? What is an iambic pentameter? The only epic I wrote was an epic failure. Photography would require leaving the house for longer than fifteen minutes. And I always seemed to be hungry. Seemed like fate had picked my poison for me.
So that is why I went to the store. To get olives to chop and mix with capers and olive oil. I had flat bread cooling on the rack at home and needed something delicious to go with it. I was not prepared for the selection of olives. No one ever said be ready to spend thirty minutes staring at every sort of option you can imagine and then more. Indecision and confusion washed over me. I just wanted green and black. But blue cheese stuffed jalapeno wrapped looked amazing. Garlic stuffed seemed like it would add a savoriness to the dish. I was torn.
“Get the regular and stuff them yourself. Make it your own.”
I didn’t turn around at the voice. Assumed they were talking to someone else but the advice was sound. Tapenade and my own stuffed olives. Yes. A worthy Sunday experiment.
“Good choice,” greeted me as I put the fancy jars in the cart and I turned to thank the mysterious helper.
It was on older lady, a smile on her face as she sat in her electric scooter.
“Thanks for the advice.”
“No problem. Whatcha making?”
“Ooooh. You and your girlfriend are going to be fancy tonight.”
I hated the look people got when they found out I was single. A mixture of pity and probing to see what was wrong with me. She looked more probing than pitious. I could appreciate that.
“My daughter needs to find herself a man like you. A man that cooks is a man that nurtures. These skinny jeans wearing losers nowadays wouldn’t know how to treat a lady. They have become the ladies.”
I laughed at this. Didn’t disagree either. “You have a lovely day. And thanks again.”
She nodded and her scooter purred down the aisle.
I roamed the store for a bit longer. A successful chat made me feel invincible. Like I accomplished something. Fools gold but nice for the moment.
The tapenade was delicious. Still haven’t stuffed the olives though. Always good to have an adventure in the back pocket for when inspiration leaves.
I was driving through the park. It was the onset of autumn and I wanted to see the leaves as they changed color. Had a dream about them the other night and decided to take a moment from my not so busy schedule. It was peaceful. I even packed a lunch and sat and ate it on a solitary table with a view of the river. Tranquility rushed through me as I sat there. This was the type of place where the real world faded and life was all that existed.
Afternoon faded away as I lay on the table and fell asleep. When I woke it was night. My phone said it was nearly six and the park closes at dusk. I panicked and got back in the car. The winding roads were a maze in the dark. I didn’t want to be locked in here all night. Work starts early in the morning and calling in locked in a park sounds like the bullshit it isn’t.
I didn’t see the deer. It came bounding across the road from the trees. By the time I saw it and hit the brakes it was on the hood and crashing through the windshield. I couldn’t see anything but flailing hooves. Couldn’t hear anything but the screams of the deer in sync with my own. And then.
The sound of metal squealing brought me back to a world of pain. Hands unbuckled the seat belt and I felt the agony triple as I was pulled out of the car. Images of the car wrapped around a tree. The deer in the glass. Vacant eyes staring at me from the hood. And then nothing again. Glorious nothing.
My eyes blinked as I tried to focus them. A metal roof, polished steel above me. A sense of movement. Wailing sirens.
“Sir, can you hear me?”
I blinked and looked towards the voice. A slight woman in a uniform stood beside me. I tried to nod but couldn’t move my head.
“You are going to be okay. We have you strapped down to make sure you don’t jostle around. Do you remember what happened?”
I blinked again. Everything hurt. “Are you an angel?” I growled.
She laughed at that and held my hand. “No honey. I am a paramedic. A park ranger found the wreck and called us out. We are headed to the hospital. You are lucky, probably in a lot of pain but nothing seems broken.”
I nodded and sank back into the black. Her smile the last thing I saw.
The paramedic, Lucinda it turned out, came to see me as I spent a couple days in the hospital. Apparently calling her an angel was a good move. Before I left she gave me her number. Which I used a week later. Figured that was a good buffer.
We’ve been together for two months now. It seems to be love. So much in fact I am standing here. In front of her mother’s house, trying to get the nerve to knock. Scared shitless. Been here for fifteen minutes staring at the door. When I finally raised my hand to knock the door flew open.
“Been watching you for a while now. Wondered if you were ever gonna knock.”
The woman at the door looked familiar. It wasn’t until she extended her hand to me and said, “I’m Connie.” The jangle of golden bracelets brought back memories of shopping.
“Nice to meet you.”
She looked at me for a second and invited me in.
Lucy came around the corner and kissed me on the cheek. “Connie has been laughing for the last fifteen minutes at you.”
“I was nervous. I think I saw your sister a couple months ago at Target.”
“Did she steal a bunch of shit?”
“How did you…”
“She said she recognized you. Said you were cute and didn’t say anything.”
“She’s right you know?”
“You being cute. Next time you need to call security on her punk ass.”
“I don’t think so. Getting my girlfriend’s sister arrested is a pretty big nope.”
Connie piped in, “I like this one. Treat him good or he might be mine.”
Lucy turned to her and looked like she was going to punch her when I heard the sound of a cane tapping down the hall. Every one stopped. I gulped, comically loud in the sudden silence.
“Tapenade?” a friendly voice called. I turned to see the woman from the store.
“Hello again? We have to stop meeting this way,” I said with all the charm I could muster.
“Lucy, this is the guy who cooks!”
All four of us looked at each other. Confusion and surprise all around.
“You know my sister and my mom? You been stalking me this whole time?”
“Yep. The hard part was convincing the deer to jump through my windshield. Only way I could think of to get your number.”
We laughed and had a wonderful dinner. The odd fingers of fate drawing our disparate threads together into a nice little bow. And I found myself surrounded by diosas. Exactly where I was supposed to be after so long not looking. Funny how it works out that way.
Or is it?