The butcher knows I will ask for ground beef wrapped in 1/3 pound packages. When I approach the meat counter with my cart he raises his brow as if to ask how many. Depending on the price of beef, I might raise two or four fingers. We don’t have to talk.
Irish oatmeal recently moved up a shelf, but otherwise I am able to move through the grocery store on auto-pilot which was nice this morning because my mind was elsewhere. (I know . . . how is this anything new, Sherry?)
Someone had sent a Harry Crews video clip my way last night, so it was on my mind instead of buying groceries. Sure, if you are from the south (which I am not) it main’t be new to you, but maybe you’ll watch the video anyway. Towards the end, we learn about a bird trap constructed from tobacco stakes. Bird seed is scattered around the base of the trap; because the trap is not flush to the ground, birds can stroll into the trap and finish the bird seed inside. But then what happens? The birds try to fly away. The trap is shaped like a pyramid and so they cannot escape that’a way.
But really, they can still get out. They aren’t officially trapped. All they have to do is remember how they got there in the first place: turn and walk out just the way they came in. But they don’t do that. The sensation of feeling trapped takes over and all they can do is act on instinct. Fly fly fly.
So I am thinking of this while deciding which carton of eggs to buy. Cage free? Right. But while I am opening the cartons and kinda mourning over the amount of cholesterol in each brown egg, a man nearby clears his throat.
“Excuse me,” he says. He’s wearing a clean but faded plaid shirt and his hands are about ten years younger than my father’s hands. I’ve never seen my father’s hands on a grocery cart, yet this man reminds me a bit of him.
He wants to know if I can help. This could be a family joke, really, because I am known to be unworthy in a kitchen, but I walk over to him all the same. I might know something that could help him and I’m hoping he is going to ask where the Irish Oatmeal is, but instead he shows me two packages of lunch meat. One says “Cooked Ham” and the other says “Smoked Ham”. Does this mean, he wonders, the smoked ham has to be cooked before he eats it? I take both packages in hand, read the labels as though I am unsure and then give them back to him, explaining that both packages can be eaten right away. His smile broadcasts his pain and he explains this is the first time he’s ever done his own shopping. The Mrs. always knew which package to buy, not him.
We aren’t in Costco where the sparrows live in the rafters and swoop down into the empty aisles to score on a stray kernel of dog food, or a crushed pretzel near the garbage cans, but still I feel the rapid wing-beat. I know what trap feels like with its dumb panic. The sensation and the fear that we might not have what it will take to get out of here, to survive.
I want to reassure this man that he will get through this, but I can’t think of what to say that wouldn’t be condescending. Anyone who has known me these past years knows I am still learning to remember how to turn and walk away.