It was one of those days when I forgot everything and had to leave the store because I forgot a mask. So there I was, sitting in my car, rain pelting my windshield as I poked holes in a bandanna with a pen cap to thread bakery string through them to make a half ass mask.
I was only going to be in there for a few minutes.
The mother’s day card section looked like it was driven over with a bulldozer, with only a few pathetic sons and daughters picking through the crash site for passable cards.
I didn’t even think about grabbing toilet paper. A place like this, you’d be lucky to find a dented can of SpaghettiOs or a bag of hot dog buns that looked like they were used for a stress ball.
I was in a bad mood, but so was everyone else. I could tell by all of the sagging masks below people’s noses and everyone rushing around, because they just wanted to get the hell out of there. Everyone it seemed, except the born again deli lady with her crisply tight Steelers mask and matching gloves. Every time I saw her, she was always skipping along humming and wishing everyone a blessed day along with their half pound of pastrami and freshly sliced cheddar.
I never come here without headphones and music loud enough to forget myself, so I was a little surprised I heard the meat section guy yell at me for not going the right way down the one way aisle, or when the cashier told me to “stand here,” because I was less than 6 feet from the card swipe station and the guy in front of me in line forgot he wanted cash back along with his ripple chips and eight packs of cigarettes.
I could still hear the cashier, distance shaming me as I left the store, over packed bags digging into my hands as I staggered out, mask riding down my face. The rain had stopped at this point, so I slowed my pace as I neared where my car was parked next to a minivan that 4 people without masks were crowding around as he sold flat screens and Blue Rays from his backseat.
“50 bucks a piece dude,” one guy said to another.
“Like quick, though. Last thing I need is cops up my ass.”
“Awe dude ain’t no cops around this shitty ass town. Haven’t seen any blues round here in a while, ever since they cut staff 6 months ago.”
“Besides, those three jar heads they got left just park their cop cars and bull shits to each other in that abandoned lot across from all that public housing.”
The friend nodded as he carefully lifted one of the flat screens into a customer’s trunk.
I finished packing groceries and got in my car, sitting there for a second and eavesdropping on the rest of their conversation.
“So what’re you gonna do after this Corona thing blows over?”
“First thing is I’m getting me one of those 24 oz. New York strips at Longhorn.
Then I think a rubdown somewhere. I miss those.”
“What about you Len?”
“I dunno man. Think I’m gonna ask that Tracy out from work. I think she’s sweet on me but this Coronavirus is freaking her out.”
I slowly eased out into traffic, waiting to merge, I decided to take the long cut around the store back by Pine Creek, where I saw a fisherman lowering himself down the shale chipped embankment. He already had some trout in his bucket, so I didn’t have the heart to tell him I chased a bunch of kids away last week who I caught pissing right at the exact hole he was fishing. Still, it was peaceful here, which seemed kind of odd that such an idyllic place could exist between a garbage filled lot and the back end of a grocery store where they kept the dumpsters. I closed my eyes and pictured myself down at the bank, where I’d just thrown a line out against the slow glistening tide, the current, pulling me downstream a bit, near a pool of ripples.
Nothing hitting, just the deafening rush of all that silence, a light through a clearing of green and my line unspooling. I’d explore further where the creek winds between the glass plant and a ductwork fabrication shop. If I kept going, I’d end up under the highway past China Jade restaurant and the comic book store, Half Price books and the closed down art gallery.
If you hadn’t been there before, you’d never know where the buildings disappear into rows of pines and uncut grass, the road sounds, drowning into the flushing brook.
I could die like that, the HVAC tech said today, as he flipped through photos on his phone of his camp. That morning, I watched him suit up outside the Covid 19 ward and told him we should all go out there sometime, wet a line. He nodded through his mask and stood at the mouth of the two automatic doors that slid open, the rush of air inside from the quadrant of ventilators, sounding like a coming tide.