Saturday, September 29, 2018


I’ve told this story often. This morning I woke up thinking about it. 

About twenty-five years ago, I was at Cub Foods doing some grocery shopping. It was early morning—there were only a few other shoppers.

I started in the produce section, as I always do, and noticed a woman sniffing the cantaloupes. She was under five feet tall, and probably about sixty years old. A huge mop of grey-streaked black hair corkscrewed out from her head. She was wearing colorful full-length skirt and an equally colorful blouse, with a sort of cape across her rounded shoulders, and at least two long scarves. Her large eyes were rimmed with heavy black mascara, and surmounted by equally black eyebrows. A slash of red lipstick defined her wide mouth.

She looked at me. Her eyes were like black holes. She stared at me fixedly for what might have been two seconds but felt like much longer.

I looked away. There is something wrong about this woman, I thought. I wanted nothing to do with her. I made a U-turn and headed for the dairy aisle.

A few minutes later I saw her again, As I pushed my cart into the cereal aisle, she was at the far end, coming in my direction. She was looking right at me. I turned my cart around, as if I had suddenly remembered an item I had forgotten, and fled. Something about the woman alarmed me deeply.

I killed some time back in produce, picking out the perfect apple, the freshest head of lettuce, the most noble baking potato. When I thought it was safe, I returned to the cereal aisle to get a canister of oatmeal. I turned into the aisle and found myself face to face with the scary woman. The fronts of our carts were almost touching. Close up, she was even scarier than I’d thought. Her lipstick covered not only her lips, but a quarter inch beyond them. Her eyes were mesmeric. I froze. Her black eyebrows came together, her lips parted and I was in that moment certain she was about to deliver a curse, or a dire omen, or that she would reveal a snake in place of her tongue.

She said, in a raspy voice, “You should smile more.”

And without another word, she guided her cart around mine and headed for the checkout lanes.

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