The Shop

I come in here every weekend. Sometimes twice. I make up an excuse to go the second time. The first time I do have to run errands  as part of my routine. The second, so I can see him. It’s so pathetic having a crush on someone. Never mind someone far younger than I. Never mind each time I am in here I’m in peak true form. Just a weekend middle age mum in sweats or leggings. Hair in some bird nest on top of my head. No makeup. Just rosacea cheeks and chapstick.

When I think about it this is the best way to observe him. As simply another shopper who just needs to pick up cheese. I can shop and watch him greet the customers who come and go. Help the elderly neighbourhood patrons find the best apples or oranges. Smile as he hands out boxes of raisins to the kids. Laughs with the checkout staff. He knows us all by name. Even me. Says hi and asks how the commute to work was during the week. Mentions he heard about the accident that slowed commuters the other morning. Wished me a happy birthday. He’s effusive. Helpful. Good at his job. We, I’m part of his job. 

But gosh if he isn’t handsome. Like a very modern, very tall and very agile Mr. Hooper type. A part of the community in a world where community is a dirty word.  He’s a fantasy for anyone who shops here. Men and women alike. Makes it easier to shop here, to be honest. I’m just one of the hundreds he sees each week. 

His apron sure fits him well. Maybe I could ask him where he gets them, and strike up a normal conversation. Ask about his tattoos. I talk myself out of this before I’ve even walked back home. It’s for the best. Blend in, that’s for me. That’s for me. Sure. It’s why I go back the second time, late on a Sunday. I forgot the ice cream to eat my feelings with. 

The market will close soon as everyone retreats to their homes and begins the wind down for another week. It’s quiet in here, boxes and baskets brought in from outside line the aisles. Just get the ice cream and go home and wash your hair, I say to myself.  I nod to the clerk and head for the French vanilla. As I round the aisle I am distracted avoiding one of the boxes and bump into one. No. I bump into someone. Mr. Grocer. 

“Oh shit, I didn’t see you there, I’m sorry.”

Is this what my voice sounds like aloud? Do I sound like this? When do I speak aloud I furiously think to myself. Wait. All the time. I have a kid. But do I really think … I must sound …

“Hi Kristina, are you hear for the French vanilla?”  Does he know why I’m here? Now I’m mortified. I sound like I sound and am wearing yesterday’s outfit and wait, what? 

“Ya, uh, yes I’m here for the ice cream.” 

“Thought so. But there’s a sale on the tub if you’d like that, it’ll last longer.”

I’m pink. My face must look like I’ve run laps.  It sure feels that way. Other parts of me remind me rather inconveniently I’m also probably pink in those places too. What am I like? Say something. 

“Well, if it’s on sale maybe I’ll look. Is, is it the same kind?” There. That sounded very bland. Transactional. I can look up from the floor now. 

Bad idea. Mr. Grocer is very tall. So by the time I gaze up into his warm face, the blush has reached my ears that are very very hot. My little ears get hot ok when I do, in non weather related ways. I need to get it together, so I lopsidedly smile. He smiles back. I die. I’m a middle aged woman smiling at this man like I’ve never seen a man before. I’m an embarrassment to womanhood. 

“Here, it’s just here in the back, it’ll go on sale tomorrow but you can have the sale now. Just for you though.” 

“Oh sure. I can make ice cream floats.” I suppose now isn’t the time to mention I’m partially lactose intolerant and my kid finishes this ice cream. No. I’ll keep that to myself. 

Mr. Grocer rests his palm underneath my elbow and nods, ‘this way,’ and leads me just across the threshold from storefront to storage. There it is. All the ice cream I could eat to put me in a coma stored in a narrow glass ice box. It’s then I catch our reflection in the glass. Me, layered for the purge and my bun askew atop my head. My woven shopping bag clenched between my hands. Glasses that have slid down my nose. Old, I think. Next to this Adonis type in a crisp apron. I’m a bit hypnotised.

“Would you like the deal, Kristina,” I hear whispered in my ear. Very softly against one of my burning lobes. I shiver and turn to the location of the voice. Mr. Grocer is very close to me now and I must be dreaming because he almost looks bashful. His features are soft, his beard so very close. If I’m dreaming this is a really good one. 

“I don’t know. I don’t think the deal is for me,” I mumble. 

Mr. Grocer. Sam. His name is Sam. I see it all the time pinned to his apron.  Sam, the lovely grocer with perfect teeth and who now I know smells like fresh air is bent over, no almost curled over me, asking me about some kind of deal. 

“You can have the savings if that’s what you want. But maybe you’d like to keep coming in here each Sunday for ice cream I’m not even sure you like. Your choice.” Wafts. All those words waft across my face and I have lost sense of what is happening. 

“I, I like the ice cream.” I don’t even know why I feel like having to justify my very obvious shopping to see my crush purchase. Now I feel irritated. 

Sam, the fantasy greengrocer for anyone with eyeballs and not on heart medication smiles and reaches over me to the freezer, opens it and grabs the icy treat. Mutely I open my shopping bag to receive the precious cargo. The only thought in my head is, I wonder if I brushed my teeth today. 

Standing in the back of this store I’ve decided I never want to leave it feels like now or never. This is my dream, right? Give voice to the things never said. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Play the odds and all that. Be bold and …

“What? What did you say?” 

“I said, ‘Kristina would you like to have ice cream with me sometime?’” 

Some other woman, cooler and less dorky might be able to measure herself in this scenario. Might be able to have something coy to say. Wink and speak in a breathy tone, and say yes. That other woman is not here in her local shop with the 40-year-old hot Mr. Grocer Sam. No, it’s me, so what stumbles out is, “yes, yes of course. But if you’re looking for a home-cooked meal beforehand you might want to go to your mother’s.” 

Laugh. A hearty and teasing laugh escapes this man and I can’t help but giggle along. I’m relaxed. Feel I can look him in the eye properly and not worry I look a fright. So I do. And beam.

“Let’s get your ice cream home now, how about that?” Sam says. 

“Ok,” I agree. 

Stepping back into the store frontage I see everything else is locked up now. The last clerk closed up and dimmed the lights. 

I wonder how long we were in that storeroom trance? 

Sam looks around too and wordlessly pulls a marker out of his apron. “I’m going to write my number on the ice cream carton. Once I do, I’m going to send you on your way.”

“Oh, ok.” I’m sure I sound like I’m getting a brush off. But before my mind wanders too far Sam squeezes my hand, returns my bag to me and cheekily states without any hesitation, in that clear professional voice I look forward to hearing every weekend, “you’re going to take your ice cream and skip on home while I close up here. You’re going to text me when you get in and with your consent, I’d like to come over for that ice cream when I’m done.”

“Yes, yes, of course. That would be lovely.” I will for sure brush my teeth when I get in. 

“Now go on you before it’s too dark.”

Sam walks me to the door and as I’m about to turn the nob, one more rustle next to me. 

“I’m just coming in for a cone, which I’ve fantasized about doing for months now. I’m not asking for anything else.” A deep breathe, “and I especially don’t need mothering, Kristina. But you’re in luck because if you let me, in time, I will be your daddy.”

There go my ears, up in flames. 

A pat on the bum and I’m off. I sprint all the way home. I put the ice cream away. I text this upstanding community businessman and do brush my teeth. I wait for the knock at the door and blush one more time for good measure as I answer. 

We never did have any ice cream. 

But I have my own apron now. 

One thought on “The Shop

  1. My first time having sex was with a slightly older women who picked me up at the 7-11 where I worked. This lovely little tale reminded me of that.

    Also, vanilla is an unjustly vilified flavor. It’s anything but boring. Thank you for the lovely story.

    Liked by 1 person

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