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Something Forgotten by John Timm

5:30 p.m. Dark already. And cold. Just want to get home, enjoy a glass of wine, eat something, put on my pajamas, watch TV or a movie with Jennifer, and then bedtime. But it’s my turn to buy groceries. At least the list is short.

The parking lot traffic in front of me slows. Brake lights flash. We all stop. Abruptly. A horn blasts from behind. Now there’s movement. Slow movement. Then everybody stops again. A car up ahead scurries into an empty spot like it’s the last parking space on Planet Earth—at this store and at this hour it may well be. Backup lights come on. We all wait as two vehicles trade places. Then two more . . . and another two. The car in front of me guns the motor in disgust, makes an impatient turn down the next lane to the right, and speeds off towards the street. Can’t blame them. The remaining cars in line, we creep forward. Come on, let’s get going, will ya? Ah, now I see what’s wrong. In front of the very first car there’s a figure. A man. A tall man in…in a bulky, black coat. That’s all I can make out from three cars back. He’s walking right down the middle of the lane. How careless. More like thoughtless. Probably on his damned cellphone.

Really thoughtless. The other cars find parking spaces (Yay!) and now I’m right behind the man as he proceeds slowly, ambling, still occupying the middle of the lane like he owns it. I’m about to blow the horn, but he finally steps aside as we near the store entrance. My destination for sure, his unknown. I scan quickly left and right for cross traffic. Now I can see the man’s face. Elderly. Staring ahead. Expressionless. Appears lost. Homeless? Dementia? He slips out of view. Severe windchill warning for tonight. I need to tell the store manager…or call somebody. I scour two more rows and find a place to park, finally. Before leaving the car, I consult my shopping list. Otherwise, I always forget something or other. The slush is turning back to solid ice. Need to watch my step. I enter the store.

* * *

Now, where are the carts? Over…here. One cart? Just one empty cart in the whole freakin’ store? Don’t they ever bring them in from the parking lot? And this one pulls hard to the right. Reminds me of my Volkswagen in college.

I clear the steam off my glasses and open my shopping list again to make sure I get everything. This place is so large it’s bewildering. Always has been. Jennifer knows where everything is by heart. I’ve never quite gotten the hang of it, and they’re always changing where they put the stuff. I think I’ve got it memorized and they’ve moved it somewhere else, and I have to search the signs over the ends of every aisle. SLICED BREADS, CANNED VEGETABLES, COOKIES AND CRACKERS . . .. I know I need something from the bread aisle. Yes, muffins. English muffins. I check the dates and always look behind the front rows for the freshest. The little expiration tags are color-coded. Read that somewhere recently. Need to look it up again.

Anyway, on to dairy at the very rear of the store. I could get in my daily Fitbit steps just by going back there.

The gallons of 1% expire in less than a week. Anyone ever heard of rotating the stock around here? I’ll have to settle for 2%, I guess. One quart left. Lucky me. Butter. Yes, butter…butter. Over there. Cheese on sale. Need to remember that. No time for it now. Something for dessert. Bakery. Way down at the other end. Then on to the far opposite end of the store for the bananas she needs for banana bread this weekend. I once heard they lay out these stores not for convenience but so you see—and buy—as much as possible. I can vouch for that.

* * *

The lines at the checkout are jammed. Everyone has traded their vehicles for grocery carts, bringing their lack of driving skills and civility inside, jockeying back and forth, pushing, stopping, pushing, stopping. Only four lanes open. Self-checkout is almost as bad. I try my luck there. The bananas fail to ring up properly. And a mechanical voice keeps telling me to Please place your items in the loading area. I do. I lift them up, set them down. Twice. Three times. To no avail. The voice keeps hectoring me. Someone comes over to help. Finally. One more glance at the list, just in case I’ve forgotten anything, before I head out the door.

* * *

Back in the car, my domestic ordeal over, someone else is backing out directly across the lane. I wait for them. They wait for me. A standstill. I bravely resolve to take my chances, edge out and head towards the parking lot exit unscathed. More waiting at the exit as traffic slows for the red light down at the corner, then moves on, leaving a tiny gap for me. I dash into line and join the homeward parade. It’s beginning to snow.

* * *

Six inches of new snow on the ground. Another six likely by dawn. I click off the TV and head to the bedroom. Jennifer is already asleep. I pull the quilt up over both of us. As I slip into the twilight between awake and sleeping, I have a quick flash of memory, a vision of something not on the shopping list, a vision of a tall man in a black coat, elderly, appearing disoriented, forgotten somewhere in the search for English muffins, 1% milk, the bakery department and the bananas.

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