BETWEEN THE AISLES
by Jessamyn Violet
Fixation: An obsessive preoccupation.Sometimes, the only thing I can do to keep my mind off of him is to go shopping—mainly for cheap, useless items that make me more aware of the months passing. Holiday tablecloths; candles in glass jars that smell like pine trees and roses; soap dispensers with plastic ducks trapped inside. These are all mind-filling for a few precious moments. Then, reality seeps in.
These are all just useless trinkets to fill an empty house.
I’m going to spend the rest of my life alone.
There are several shopping complexes in the area. I’m fond of the one that the two of us went to together the least. Sure, it’s a longer drive from the house, but well-worth the unfamiliar territory. At Parker’s Plaza, I don’t see the shadows of us strolling the aisles of the hobby store, checking out the latest baseball cards to add to his collection. There isn’t a silhouette of the two of us eating at Harper’s—me with my chicken sub, and him with his huge, greasy stack of pizza slices. I always had to pick the strands of mozzarella out of his beard.
I didn’t mind a bit.
My car is parked and I’m already walking into the B-U-Y Store. Ever since he moved out, life is a thick cloud I am left blindly feeling my way through. His absence—a cold, moist film, clinging to me everywhere I go. I barely notice where I am or what I’m doing most of the time. Everything’s in the process of shutting down.
A woman rolling a cart past me almost plows into my side.
“Watch out!” she says, glaring. I shrug.
Then, my eyes narrow with recognition. My body slowly numbs.
She walks ahead of me now, shoulders moving up and down under a long corduroy jacket. Her blonde hair is done up in a bun, and her tight jeans display her slender hips and legs. Immediately, I look down at my own faded fleece stretched over my chest and torso, the size 16 khakis cutting into my waist. I press a hand to my frizzy ponytail and feel shame.
Then, the fury comes.
It creeps in slowly, like that feeling of adrenaline when you first begin to think that someone’s following you. Then, as soon as it hits my heart, I feel it, and it’s the first thing I’ve felt in so long that I stop walking and close my eyes.
I want to hurt her.
The thought comes into my head, but it flees quickly, leaving a residue of discontent, and a drunken feeling of boldness. Why is she here? She took him from me. Does she have to take my new safe haven as well?
I hardly realize I’m following her. Luckily, she doesn’t notice it either. She turns down the “kitchenware” aisle. I eye the knives, briefly indulging a fantasy of bringing her to her knees, her begging for me not to cut her perfect blonde bun off of her head. That would give me some ill satisfaction, however little it could actually change things.
She’s looking at the blenders. Touching the boxes, but not picking them up, as if she is telepathically reading whether or not they’ll make the perfect frozen margarita. Which is what I assume she’s buying one for—Keith loves his frozen margaritas. Now that they’re living together, she’ll find out that he’s very particular about how much salt goes on the rim, and how if you use anything other than Cezar’s Molten Margarita Mix, he won’t get past the first sip.
She selects a smaller-sized blender—not top-of-the-line, but I suspect that she has better things to offer him than a perfect margarita. She pauses at the end of the aisle by the cutting boards. Her hands again reach out to feel for a flawless block of wood.
I’m plunged into the memories of times we cooked together. Our favorite meal to make was pasta with meatballs. When we would form the meatballs, he would always shape his twice the size of mine. He wouldn’t let me break them up, either, as soon as he set them down on the cutting board. We’d usually end up having a meatball fight, the greasy raw beef squishing through our fingers as we tackled each other. By the time they were cooked, they looked more like misshapen- meat nuggets.
I try not to acknowledge the tears rolling down my face as I watch her move on to the next aisle, and wait a minute to follow. I hear a cell phone ring, and her voice carries clearly over the soft easy-listening music playing in the store.
Yeah, just picking up a few things… Now I can see her as I turn down the “bath accessories” aisle. She’s stopped in the middle of the walkway, hand pressed against her forehead. Oh! Didn’t you say that you had to work late? I was going to order in, but… She pauses and turns her head. I hide myself behind the rack of shower curtains. No, don’t be silly, I’m glad you’ll be home. We can make ka-bobs or something for the grill. I’ll pick up some skewers while I’m here. Ok? Her foot taps nervously. I can’t wait to see you either. She giggles. I’ll see what I can do. I’ll surprise you.
I stifle a sob. My vision is blurred and I feel like an absolute loser, here, hiding behind the shower curtains with a pine-cone wreath in my hands. Who knows when I picked it up? I clutch it desperately. The ridges are digging painfully into my hands, but I hardly feel it. What have I become? I scream inside. How did I lose everything so quickly, so permanently?
I wish I hadn’t followed him that night. I wish I had no idea who this woman is.
I’d foolishly hoped he’d have second thoughts about this previously-unidentified mistress during his parent’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. At the dinner party, over cake, I caught his eyes and tried to show him how grateful a wife I was with a long, lingering look. He’s still so handsome to me, with his hazel eyes, strong brow, and salt-and-pepper short hair.
No longer than an hour after we’d arrived back home, I heard the creak of the chair in the study, and the phone being carefully hung up. His eyes were glazed and wouldn’t hold mine as he told me he was going out for a drink with his friends.
Usually, I’d protest for a few minutes, trying to get him to admit that he was lying to me, without actually coming out and saying that I felt like there was someone else. That night, though, I just advised him to drive safely. Then, as he was pulling out of our driveway, I was pulling on my shoes and grabbing my keys.
The streets in our suburban town are straight and well-lit, so I kept track of him easily. When he turned into the apartment complex, I was shocked by how familiar he was with the security guards at the gate. They waved to each other, and the gate was lifted without him so much as saying a word. I parked down the street, and slipped in the side entrance. He turned the car off and got out whistling. Whistling. That really threw me into the ice-cold water of reality. He became someone else, that moment. A man I had never seen before, never known; a man with no true face.
This woman in front of me now; this tall, blonde, thirty-something-year-old, was the woman waiting for my husband outside of the apartment building that night, smiling like a little tramp. And right now, every piece of me wishes not to know her face; wishes I’d remained ignorant to his double-life; wishes that I hadn’t told him I was on to him and cut the cords myself.
No longer am I glad that I played detective. Give me back the security of denial, over this sick, heart-killing freedom of truth.
After she tosses a few skewers into her cart, she proceeds to the check-out. I suddenly want nothing but to escape from this nightmare shopping trip. I head for the door, fast.
As I’m walking through the first exit, an alarm sounds. I look around to see who’s triggered it. All I see is a ticked-off younger man in a blue uniform charging towards me. I begin to redden, as I realize that all the clerks and customers are staring at me. Fixed in-between the double doors, I try to pull open the second door to leave, but somehow it’s been locked automatically.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to step back into the store here,” the man says like he’s all business. His nametag says “Frank” and he has a handlebar moustache.
My cheeks are flaming hot. “But I didn’t take anything—or even buy anything,” I say. My voice is high and thin. Am I whining?
“Really?” Now he’s looking less pissed, and more concerned. “Miss, that’s a wreath from our store in your hand, there, isn’t it?”
I lower my eyes to find my left hand still wrapped around the pine-cone wreath. I look up again, blinking back tears of shame.
“I didn’t want to buy this,” I say.
“Clearly,” he says, and the right side of his moustache twitches. His eyes hold mine for a second. Then, as he realizes that I’m uncomfortable enough not to understand my own words or the joke, he shifts his feet, clears his throat, and holds out his hand. “Well, then, why don’t you step into line if you changed your mind. I won’t be too hard on you.”
I hold it out but my fingers won’t release their grip. It’s like suddenly I’m not in control of my hand. The wreath has become a part of me, an extension of my arm. Struggling to buy some time, I say, “No. I mean, I meant to put it back.”
He stares at me now with concern. I don’t dare look at the other witnesses to this new low point of my life. Age forty-six, trying to steal pine-cone wreaths from the discount store. I’m positively wishing that a car would drive by and randomly shoot at me, putting me instantly out of my misery. I envision myself falling to the floor in a pool of blood; Frank shouting for an ambulance; grasping my wrists; telling me to “hold on.” I realize my subconscious has never been as violent as it has on this shopping trip. I wonder where my imagination will go from here.
My hand and the wreath are shaking over his extended fingers. I finally, after who knows how many seconds of brutal silence, realize that I have another hand, which, in fact, happens to be working. With that hand, I start to pry my fingers off, one by one. Frank pulls the wreath slowly away as my last finger lifts.
“Why don’t you go home and get some rest, now,” he says. In the background, in the corner of my eye, I see her staring at me in abhorrence, like she’s never done anything unethical in her whole home-wrecking life.
I cannot form the words to thank Frank. Instead, I turn and walk out of the store, nodding like a robot.
My hands are empty. My mind is full. If I were thirty years younger, I might try to score some drugs and/or sleep around. Being older limits the amount of expendable energy you have to try and numb your own pain. I decide to go home and eat.
Once home, I pull a chicken breast out of the refrigerator. The cutting board is on the counter and I slap the meat down, making a splattering sound. Without hesitation, I grab my biggest, sharpest kitchen knife off the rack, and begin slicing the flesh into strips, and then cubes. My fingertips are dangerously close to the blade, and I’m sadistically hoping that I’ll slip and cut a few tips off.
This is not my life, I keep thinking, over and over.
This is your life, reflects the chicken meat, staring back up at me in cold truth.
About the Author:
Jessamyn Violet is a writer and musician living in Venice Beach. Originally from the Massachusetts, she attended Emerson College and then moved out west to earn her MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts. She’s the author of Junkfood Sexlife, a genre-bending fiction novel, as well as a collection of poetry entitled Organ Thieves published by Gauss PDF. For more info on the author visit www.jessamynviolet.com