Monday, February 24, 2020

Lothing and Hoes at the 48th Street Winn-Dixie

Lothing and Hoes at the 48th Street Winn-Dixie

The sky is broken into red and blue over the 48th Street Winn-Dixie;
divided by a black column of cloud, Jacksonville hosts
one of those after-the-storm sunsets no one would buy in a Dali.
We’re leaving for Polk County and the past tomorrow                      
and I gotta grab a few things before the trip: fruit, diapers,
half and half, steaks. The parking lot steams in the twilight;
even though it’s nearly nine o’clock, the humidity won’t let go.
I grab the driest cart from the lot and try to ignore its bum wheel.
When I walk in, I wave at the same security guard and cashiers
who’ve been here since we moved up to North Shore.
The store’s changed hands three times since then but it hasn’t changed.
I want to pretend that we know each other but I’ve never introduced myself.
I catch myself singing “hello!” with Pearl Jam playing on the Muzak.
I go to the small natural food section first. Julio the manager told me
the only customers who shop that section are us and a two tattooed kids.
Most of it gets near date and they trash it or sell it to Solomon’s.
I wish they’d give it away, enough folks around here need it.
I’ve seen those tattooed kids before; roommates, siblings, or maybe a couple,
locking eyes as we reached for the last pack of grass-fed beef
or scoured the clearance shelves for organic non-perishables at blow-out prices;
there’s not a lot of demand for gluten-free cookies in our neighborhood.
Usually they’re headed in different directions. He does a Sherlock on prices
while she cradles fresh fruit like Saturn. They never look at each other
until today; when I see them near the galas. Everything is different with them.
He’s searching her for clues but she is a Zeus to his Hera.
They’re setting a scene. I try not to stare but it’s the only thing happening.
Apart from “pardon me” or “do you think this is a good deal on kale?”
I’ve never heard her talk, but it’s impossible not to hear her today.
“Every time we went to a restaurant the server brought us separate checks.
What does that mean? What does that tell you?”
“We’re egalitarian and it shows?”
She rolls her eyes. I see her face above the tattoo of an octopus on his left bicep.
I really should be looking for starfruit and kiwis right now but I’m not.                                        
Instead, I’m staring at what’s either the Washington Monument or Excalibur
on arms she’s thrown into the air. He shrugs and grabs a nectarine.
“Do these smell right to you?” Her eyes narrow.
“We need to talk about this.
I didn’t agree to meet you here so we could talk about nectarines.”
“I don’t want to talk. I just want to come home.”
“Well you can’t.”
“Can’t what?”
“Can’t ‘just come home.’ It’s not your home any more.”
And then she’s gone. He looks at me and says “what?” I fumble
with my phone and check out the price of pickling cucumbers at Earth Fare
as if I’d drive across town to save five cents a pound. I don’t believe myself.
I walk away to check the terrible deli selection on the off chance
there’s real food in the hot case. Nothing, not even decent wings like Publix.
I’ll have to go to Hip Hop Chicken on the way home for an impulse buy.
I find myself following them into the meat section looking for a good deal
on steaks that expire tomorrow. They’re in poultry but you can hear them in seafood.
“What do you mean you ‘rearranged the kitchen’? I was only gone for two days.”
“I can reach everything I need now. I always had to ask you for help before.”
“I liked that you needed me. Now you don’t need me.”
“No. I don’t.”
She’s turned away from him. He’s staring through her, trying to find the words
that will turn them around. I can’t give him the words. I can only think,
like him, I have seen them so often but didn’t know what they were.
Pearl Jam ends and a blues song from Nirvana’s Unplugged takes its place.
I turn down the soda aisle. He murmurs something that becomes a shout.
“Why don’t you tell me what you really think of me? Of us?”
“I don’t think of us.
We are unhappening. We are something that never was.
I don’t need you to make rent. I don’t want you to reach the top shelf.
I. Don’t. Want. You. I. Don’t. Want. Us.” She walks away. He holds the air.
“This is just a rough patch, you’ll see. We can get through this.”
“This is not a rough patch. Our marriage was a rough patch.”
She closes her eyes. She’s done now. She moves toward the exit sign.
Agape, akimbo, he looks up at the ceiling, looking for all the world
like he’s doing calculus in his head, or praying. “Did you fuck him?”
She stops. “Is that what you’re waiting for? Yes! I did. Happy?
Yes I did. After you left. What does it matter? We were through.”
He poisons his sorrow with fury. “Do I need to get tested?”
“No. I just said it was after you left. You never hear me.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better? That you waited until I left?
We were—we are still married.”
“I doesn’t matter how it makes you feel. It is.
I don’t love you. I don’t remember loving you. You don’t make me cry.
You don’t make me laugh. You never have. I used to crawl
inside myself and sink when I thought of us, ashamed of my choice in you.
I don’t feel that any more because we aren’t.” He walks to her.
He’s a head taller than she is. He looks down. She doesn’t look at him.
“I’m doing the best I can not to spit on you.” She exhales and closes her eyes.
“I know. This shouldn’t be news to you but it is and I’m sorry you’re angry and hurt.

I wish you could move on, too. I know you’re hoping I have some doubts.
Our marriage was the ghost of my own doubt.
I’m not doubtful. I’m through.” She turns again to leave but he stops her
as he spits one word: “Whore.”
I’ve dropped all pretense that I’m not watching.
Everyone in the 48th Street Winn-Dixie is watching. Everyone is going to go home
and tell this story. She faces him. He’s shaking. “That ring on your finger.
It’s my grandfather’s. Give it back to me. Give me back my grandfather’s ring.
You’re not my wife. You’re a whore. Give me that ring, whore.”
“Would your grandfather be proud of you? Of your words? Of this?”
“Don’t talk about him. He’d want his ring back. Give me the ring, whore.” 
She pulls off the ring and drops it. Bouncing, it sounds like the highest handbell,
the only living sound in the silent store. One song ends, another begins.

Tears mark the floor. “I’ve never been more grateful we had no children.
When we chose not to have them, I didn’t know you’d always be one.”
She heads for the door. He follows. I follow them both, shameless.
They get in separate cars. His needs a belt. And tires. And bondo.
Hers is covered in bumper stickers. They drive away in different directions.
I want to call after them, “say instead your kisses are like wine!
Tell him his arms are towers! Tell her her breasts are the twin fawns of the gazelle!”
But what do I know of them, save we buy the same things?
What kin do we have beyond consumption? What ken can I bear here?
“Hey come back, I remember when this happened twenty years ago?”
Maybe amputation is the surgery that will save them from each other.
Maybe I see in them something I fear. Maybe those words are what I need to say.
I look down at my cart with the broken wheel. It’s empty.
Behind me they’re locking the doors of the 48th Street Winn-Dixie.
I go home empty handed to a house full of heartbeats and love.
I could say I forgot my wallet but why should one always lie about such matters?
I tell Heather there was a scene and I got distracted. It’s what I do.
Since we’re leaving tomorrow, we can grab what we need in the morning.
She laughs and pulls me close and tells me the kids are in bed.
I laugh and tell her her breasts are like the twin fawns of a gazelle.
She laughs again because she knows the Bible, if not the context,
and we stretch out on the our old couch together and drink a nap
and watch M*A*S*H and happily stay up too late, like we do.

When we go back to the 48th Street Winn-Dixie, the sky is crayon blue.
We pass a car, covered in bumper stickers, parked near the street,
and a girl I’ve only seen in stores sorting freshly pressed dress shirts
into a defaced green and white charity bin labeled  lothing and  hoes.

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