Sunday, January 25, 2009


Going to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon is not efficient. The store is full of the indecisive, the poor planners, the amateur shoppers. They run aground with their shopping carts, mouths agape, in the middle of the aisles, flummoxed by the choice between thin spaghetti and vermicelli. They back slowly away from shelves, murmuring to themselves, unaware that they're backing into you, and then even when they become aware, reacting groggily, their reflexes dimmed. It's clearly, for many people, a stressful and difficult thing. Most people have their shoulders hunched and their heads down.

I love grocery shopping. All of it. I love the food, the prodigality of an American supermarket, all that produce and meat, all the color and the bright lights and the cleanliness. I love the soaring ceilings. I love being able to look at people, all the people jumbled together. There are always at least a few people of surreal, intense beauty. And a few people who are looking about them, joyfully alive.

Food is miraculous to me these days. I'm cooking more than I ever have, and discovering a delight that many people learn young, but which I missed: that I can make all those things that I usually buy ready-made -- make them cheaper, and better, than restaurants and packaged food. The fact that I can make something as simple as chicken soup fills me with wonder. And the whole store is full of secret ingredients for such things.

The checker is a stout, goggle-eyed woman with faded blond hair, an eastern European, stolid and inexpressive. She dutifully asks me if I found everything I was looking for.

"I did," I say happily. She looks up at me, curious. And a light seems to blossom there. She's not smiling, exactly, but we've become aware of each other. In some other lifetime we knew each other. We were children together, once, and balanced on the railing over a brook, dropping leaves into the water. Even farther back, lives before, we were lovers. One of us buried the other, but it's so long ago we no longer remember which was which.

She hands me my receipt. I thank her. I want to take her hand and say, "I remember, too!" Except of course I don't, I don't really remember. I'm just making it up.

Still. Outside the store the sky goes up and up. The early winter twilight. Pale blue, and dark trees. All the light is being gathered into the air.

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