I forgot how to enjoy something as simple as buying groceries, but with her hand clutching mine, it seems real again—an event, rather than a task, something we could laugh about. (But I haven’t laughed for twenty-three days, 5 hours, and some-odd-number of minutes; the time isn’t important.) Only it’s not her—the her that I miss. It’s only her—a friend named Angelie. Yet she’s more than just a mere friend: she’s a comrade in heartache. (She hasn’t laughed “in a while,” she says.) We both lost our first loves to one another’s loves. In short, we were—I can’t even think the word, but that’s not important anymore. (Cheated—arms wrapped around one another, publicly, as if she never believed she’d be caught; a smile so gentle that I—I don’t care anymore.) What matters is that we’re here, picking out a head of cabbage, grabbing a box of peaches, deciding between various colors of bell peppers—even though we both don’t like the taste of bell peppers. This is fun, or it should be.
Why is she holding my hand, tugging my arm, calling out, “Melvin, look at this!” or “Come here, Melvin!”? Why am I granting her smiles, squeezing her arm, equally responding, “Okay…why, that’s brilliant, Angelie!”? (Maybe it is because we cannot forget so soon that we pretend.) I can’t seem to focus, everything is a blur, but all the same I nod and smile, and I notice that the same grin is mirrored on Angelie’s face. It’s almost comical. (Are we lying or moving on?) Thoughts of her always linger, threatening to invade my privacy, so I push her away, choosing instead to finally focus on the delectable cuts of fish in front of me. Dead and cold. (My heart froze when I saw her across the street, and I had to blink several times to be sure…) I back away from the section of frozen carcasses, dragging Angelie with me. Her face looks pained too.
Maybe fruits are safer. I turn to the pomegranates, eyeing them to see which might contain the juiciest seeds, bleeding red—(It felt like a stab, and then my heart sank, or shriveled from blood-loss. And anger bubbled up, and I started seeing red…Maybe that’s where the blood went.)
No, I shake my head, trying to find produce that wouldn’t induce thoughts of—(Don’t think it.) Luckily, Angelie is tugging my arm again, indicating her desire to buy snacks. I gladly oblige, and remember why it is we came here together. Angelie called me two weeks ago to apologize for breaking my box of tissues. (We’ve worked in the same office for a while, and were friends since college. I offered her a box of tissues, because I noticed she was sniffling one afternoon; I just didn’t expect her to furiously shred the cardboard box to pieces—at least she was left with a pile of tissues sitting perfectly on her desk.) We chatted the night away, cursing our misfortune; it was the first time either of us ever spoke of the incident, even though we both found out around the same time. It was relieving, but it wasn’t enough to lift the loneliness that lingered around us like a heavy overcoat. (Even worse, it was summertime.)
Finally, we agreed to just meet up for a day to do something easy, a mundane task. Angelie suggested grocery shopping, and I obliged. (I remembered I needed some milk, tomatoes, and many other things I couldn’t recall, but I would get to those later.) For now, I look down the row of snacks, both dry and frozen. I smile a real smile, and embrace the possibilities of indulging in vanilla ice cream covered in potato chips.