I told Bill that I forgot to buy chicken, but I didn’t. It’s in the back fridge, cleaned, and ready for the grill. But when the dogs woke me up at five-thirty, it was already hot. We don’t have air conditioning at the farm, but there’s plenty to spare at the store. So I took the truck into town while Bill was still asleep.
Morgan’s is always busier in the summer, what with the lake people. The parking lot is full, and I have to find a spot up on Elm Street and hoof it over. I walk the railroad tracks. The air’s all shimmery from the heat and makes me feel lightheaded. Bill and I used to walk the tracks to the trestle when we were in school, me walking the rail with a hand on his shoulder for balance.
Yesterday morning, I decided all of a sudden that every curtain in the house needed to be taken down, washed, ironed, and hung back up before company came over. Bill said, “You’re not in your right mind anymore, Robin Mae,” and I just said “mm hmm” and kept on ironing. It’s hard for men to understand what goes on in the minds of women, and vice versa. For instance, I have never in my life understood why someone needs to watch a baseball game on the television. When Bill Junior was in school, he played third base for the JV team, and I did love sitting in the bleachers and cheering for him. But on the television? No sir.
After the curtains were done, I boiled and peeled the eggs for the macaroni salad (it only took me twenty-some years to get Mrs. Butters’ recipe right, according to Bill), and then I hulled the berries for the shortcake. How I miss Marnie’s help in times like these. Used to be, we’d sit with our heads together at the table, gossiping about the neighbors and licking sticky strawberry juice from our fingers. Hard to believe she’s been gone a whole year.
I love air conditioning. The best vent at Morgan’s is in the middle aisle, about halfway back. I stand under there for a good ten minutes, just letting it blow so cold on the back of my neck. Everyone’s in a rush, worried they won’t get their sweet corn and salt potatoes, jostling each other and harassing those poor Millard girls who work the registers. I just watch it all, nestled up next to the Honey Nut Cheerios and Shredded Wheat, my whole body shivering from the cold.
As much as I don’t want to leave, I do need to get back to start the bacon for the baked beans. Sue and Ed will be early—they always are. So I step on up to the meat counter and get in line behind lake people with sunburned shoulders and fancy jewelry.
Marnie and Bill Junior used to love coming with me to Morgan’s. They’d smush their little noses right up against the glass of the display case and goggle at the ribeyes and the ropes of Italian sausage. One time, Marnie begged me so hard for pimento loaf. Even though I knew she’d spit it out, I bought her some. No one ever could say no to that girl.
Anyway, I’m listening to the lake people talk about their boat and wishing I was still standing under that sweet, cold vent when there’s a crash, and a can of cream of celery soup rolls to a stop right between my sandals.
“Leave me alone!”
More cans of soup—mushroom, vegetarian vegetable, beef barley—come tumbling down the aisle. The lake people press themselves against the display case. The boy behind the counter, Jim Morgan’s son, is frozen, a stick of salami in his hand.
Two girls I know from church burst into view. The older one—Penny? Patty?—has the smaller one, a scrawny thing with a terrible nose, by the hair. The little one screams, “I didn’t do it!”
Patty or Penny says, “Liar!” and yanks out a hank of the other girl’s hair. The lake lady gasps, very dramatic, and I give her the hairy eyeball.
“What’re you looking at?” Penny or Patty says, her lip curled up in a snarl. I went to school with her mother, Gail Weaver. Gail punched me in the face once, for daring to talk to Bill. That was back when they were going steady. Her girl has bruises like fingerprints on the back of her arm. I wonder if Gail put them there or if somebody else did.
“Enough.” It’s Mr. Morgan, a red apron tied around his belly. He grabs Penny or Patty by the arm, his fingers going right to the bruises. The girl tries to hide the wince, but I see it. Mr. Morgan scoops up the other girl, and then the whole lot of them move back down the aisle to the front of the store.
“Well,” says the man from the lake, fussing with his fancy gold watch.
“Local color,” his lady says, and when they laugh, they show their teeth.
Lake people are a different breed. They can’t imagine a girl whose mother smacks her around when she gets smart, or a house without air conditioning, or how when you lose someone it’s like waking up every morning with a broken bone you were sure healed up the night before. I’ve never been on a yacht or worn a gold wristwatch or had teeth the color of new snow. We don’t say anything to each other, because what would we say?
I buy some celery and a can of those little sausages Bill likes. It’s hot as an oven outside, and I’m sweating by the time I get back to the truck. I turn the air on full blast and point all the vents right at my face. When I’m done crying, I roll the windows down and drive home.
Bethany Snyder is a voiceover artist, a photographer, a half-marathon walker and coach, a Maine enthusiast, and a serious pop-culture junkie. But above all, she is a writer. One day, she’ll write novels from her oceanside home in York Beach, but for now you can find her writing fiction in Western New York. Visit her online at bethanysnyder.com.