“Cocoa powder, brown sugar and powdered sugar I can understand … but lentils? What the devil is a lentil? Is it them shiny little silver balls you decorate Christmas cookies with? I thought those things were called non-parallels or something like that.” Sawyer asked me in a whisper as we passed each other going up and down the aisles.
I had a really hard time not laughing. “Er … no. A lentil is a legume … kinda looks like a flat split pea. You like them.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you’ve been eating them.”
“I have?! When?”
“From the time we got married and we went to that big discount store.”
“Well if you wouldn’t eat so fast you don’t get a real good look at what is going in you might have noticed. I swear I don’t know how you even taste anything as quick as it disappears down your throat.”
“I taste things. I just didn’t realize one of the things I tasted was lentils.”
I rolled my eyes and we just kept pushing our buggies going in opposite directions. Sawyer had his part of the list and a buggy and I had the other part of our list with my own buggy. We also had invented cover stories. I was going to use Sawyer’s debit card – we’d put my name on the account earlier – and since it kinda looked like the state EBT card since it was the same color we were hoping that if I ran it myself the cashier wouldn’t take notice. Sawyer was going to use cash and if anyone said anything he was going to say that he “owed his ex and needed to pay up one way or the other or else.” We were going to meet up in the parking lot and scram as fast as we could after that and hope for the best. Maybe we were making things too cloak and dagger but the crowd felt funny and we wanted to be gone with as few nosey questions as possible.
Or maybe it was just that we were doing things so different from our personal normal. We had decided to try something different and I don’t know whether I’m sorry or not. We came to town to shop at the big super store on the night where everyone’s checks hit and the EBT cards get refilled. Our strategy was that our full carts wouldn’t look so out of place than if we did the same thing in the middle of the day.
It was the beginning of October, kinda close to the holidays, but I still hadn’t expected the parking lot to be so full. We had gotten there before midnight and tooled around up and down the aisles picking and choosing things and then closer to midnight we started putting things in the cart. At midnight the store became pure chaos as people seemed to go nuts and if possible the store got even busier.
We stayed away from the meat cases completely. It wasn’t worth getting run over. I didn’t bother with the cold cases where the milk, eggs, or juice were either. I did get several cans of NIDO dried milk and some other things like seasonings and spices that I hadn’t planned on from the ethnic food aisles but that was mostly because they were close out items. I wanted to try that ghee stuff that was already in the jar – fancy name for clarified butter that keeps just about forever – but I wasn’t paying almost $7 for a jar that is only about the same size you would get face cream in. We already get most of our dairy from Toby’s grandfather so I might try making my own. That was one thing that I had learned to make in school.
What I did get were cans of frozen fruit juice concentrate in flavors that we couldn’t grow our own. Lots of orange juice and lemonade and limeade concentrate. I picked up several big bottles of lemon juice to replace what I’d been using in canning. I wanted to get two big cans of olive oil but the price made me ill and it would have looked really strange compared to what was in other people’s buggies. Instead I got some Crisco and less expensive cooking oils. I made a note on my list to see if Burt’s restaurant supply contact could help with that. I had a coupon for a particular brand of olive oil so I at least got that. I had a lot of coupons in fact. I had been collecting them for a while. I picked up ten pounds of split peas and the same in dried garbanzo beans resulting in some strange looks but then I noticed that one of the women that had been looking at me the hardest went back and picked up several bags of dried beans as well, just of a different varieties.
I picked up several jars of marshmallow cream which looked really strange until you realized I had a coupon for each container. I almost dropped all of my coupons when someone came up behind me and said, “Newbie?”
The lady smiled and said, “Power shopper. Bargain hunter. Coupon queen. They call us lots of different names. Last week I bought over a hundred dollars of stuff but only spent a tenth of that at the register. Couponing is a blast. You’ll learn. At least you’ve got a good organizer to hold them. I was a mess when I first started. Here, I’ve reached my limit on toothpaste, take these but the rule is if you don’t use them pass them along to someone else who can. And don’t worry about the coupons looking a little different, they take them here. And for future reference they also price match so long as you have a flyer from another store with the exact same item.”
She zoomed off leaving me with some coupons that had obviously been printed off the internet but since they were for a dollar off a tube of toothpaste I decided not to waste good fortune and take advantage of them. Other things I had coupons for were Rice-a-roni, Hamburger Helper, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, mashed potato flakes in several flavors, canned tuna, Mexican dinner stuff, ramen noodles. Coffee and teas (real and herbal), vitamins, disinfectant spray, and some baby stuff for Delly like baby cereal and diapers.
On Sawyer’s list were more mundane items like bleach, mosquito repellent, bug spray, mice traps, razors and shaving cream for him. He picked up this commercial size bag of miniature chocolate bars and then hit the Halloween candy aisle and had four women tell him he was gonna be super sorry if he let his kids eat all that sugar. He grinned and said, “It was for his cousins’ kids.” One woman then proceeded to tell him, “Then you better make your will out ‘cause someone is gonna kill you.”
I put q-tips and cotton balls in my buggy then threw in a couple of large packages of feminine hygiene items. Sawyer, starting to count pennies, dug through the DVDs and CDs in the clearance bin in the electronic department. I tried to get through the Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations without looking too hard but an “Our First Christmas” ornament still wound up in the buggy even though I’m still not too sure how. I was in the produce section trying to decide whether to get more lemons for preserving or if I had enough when I was bumped rather rudely from behind.
I heard a vaguely familiar laugh and turned and shouted, “Taleetha!”
“Girllllll, I was sure you’d be preggars by now but look at you. I guess you didn’t go up on the ridge after all.”
I smiled. “I did. Got married. But it was to a guy who wasn’t ready to be a father even if he is good father material. So did you make it to Brother Johnson’s mission?”
“Yes I did and let me tell you, best place I’ve ever lived. I have to watch all these little ones but it ain’t a bad job. Sister Meredith, Brother Johnson’s wife, is a real lady and we get lessons and everything.”
I looked around but didn’t see anyone with her and asked, “Taleetha you aren’t here by yourself are you? It’s kinda late for you to be out.”
She turned around and beckoned an older woman over. “This here is Sister Darniecia. I asked her to wait until I made sure you were still you.”
“You know … you color blind. Lot’s o’ white people in town don’t like knowing black people these days.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not color blind I just think people no matter what color they are should have to prove themselves. There’s enough stinkers of every color on the planet that you can’t take anything for granted.”
Taleetha laughed real loud at that and the “Sister” told her to hush, they didn’t need to hear her over in Hightown and that they needed to go if they were going to get everything on the bus and get a seat too. I said goodbye and got the feeling that Sister Darniecia had been uncomfortable. I also got the eye from some other people, both black and white, but ignored them because I wasn’t sure if it was talking to someone out of my race or my lameness that had them staring.
That’s when I saw Sawyer was eyeing me from a register line he was in and I cut back through the produce section, grabbed a second bag of lemons and one of limes, and then got into another line.
We were both tired but wired at the same time. I told Sawyer, “I didn’t get as much as I expected to get. It makes me feel … kinda good I guess … to be able to say we have enough of something and don’t need to buy any more. That leaves more cash for you to spend on things like tractor and truck parts and things for the house.”
“Umph,” he said he answered sounding distracted.
“What about you?” I asked trying to find out what he was thinking about.
“Who was that?”
“Huh?” I said since him answering me with a question of his own hadn’t been what I expected.
“Who was that you were talking to?”
“Which time? The coupon lady or my foster sister at the last house I stayed out?”
“She wasn’t no sister of yours.”
“So you mean Taleetha? Like I said she was my foster sister. We lived together at the Brensers. She was there before I was and kinda walked me through the do’s and don’ts they had.”
Sawyer was silent so I added. “Don’t worry. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell family business. I just said that I was married and that no I wasn’t pregnant.”
“What?!” he yelped.
“You do remember what the gossip was with all of you Hartford men started hunting around for females don’t you?”
“Yep. And people still talk, just not as much because most of you that are marriageable have already done it.”
“And no, she may have been my foster sister and a fairly good one as such things go, I didn’t invite her to the house or anything like that so you can stop worrying about whatever it is that you are worrying about. Like I said, I didn’t tell family business.”
He sighed. “Kay-Lee I didn’t mean …”
“Yes you did. But I’ve known how you felt about that kind of stuff almost since the beginning when you all freaked out about going downtown.”
“Downtown, Uptown, doesn’t matter. No one has any business knowing our business.”
“Except this isn’t what that is about. At least be honest about it with me.”
“Now you are putting words in my mouth.”
“No I’m not. I’m waiting for you to use words out of your mouth.”
“Are you looking for a fight on purpose?”
“Not that I’m aware of but if you are going to treat me like a half-wit or a criminal because I said hello to someone that cared about me …”
Sawyer was quiet for a while and then said, “Kay-Lee I wasn’t treating you like that and if you think I was … well I wasn’t. I’ve got reasons to feel the way I feel, good reasons. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed … what I assumed when you were talking to … that girl.”
I sighed. “And maybe I shouldn’t get so defensive. Let’s just call it even and let it go. Please.”
We were both quiet the rest of the way home. I got out of the truck and walked around to the back and then got spooked as Sawyer came up behind me. “You got out of the truck too fast. You know I like to get your door.”
“I guess I was thinking. And the shoe you made me makes it so much easier to get in and out now … maybe I was showing off to myself to prove … I don’t know …”
“Look Kay-Lee, I’m sorry.”
“Huh? No … no that’s not … Sawyer when I said I was sorry for being defensive I meant it. I know you don’t just go off half-cocked about things and I’m also pretty sure some of why you feel the way you do is because of when you had to watch your back so much in prison.”
“Sawyer I’m not going to ask you to talk about it. If you want to you will and if you don’t I need to respect that. It’s just that … look, you were so busy staring at Taleetha and me that you must have missed that others were doing the same thing. I missed it for that matter, and Taleetha really missed it – though she has more reason than I do; Taleetha’s boundaries are almost nonexistent and she’s a lot closer to being like Linda and Tommy than she’d ever admit or even understand. Anyway, it was when that woman with her got her back on track and away that I realized we’d made a bit of a spectacle and that not everyone thought good things about it. Then when you said something … I just …” I stopped and shook my head. “Why can’t people just be measured by what they do or don’t do as individuals instead of stuff they can’t help like how they’re born or the color of their skin or if they have crappy bio families?”
“I don’t know,” Sawyer said in a voice that told me he was trying to be understanding for my sake. “But … thanks for not spreading family business. I didn’t think you would and I’m sorry if you thought I did. But thanks for … you know … being someone I can count on.”
I’m still not sure how to take how he feels but he’s right, he does have reason for feeling like he feels. I guess growing up like I have – being so different from everyone, I never had a group I got to belong to – that I see all of that us and them stuff in a different way. If I had thought about “us” only being about people that looked like me then my “us” would have been a very lonely person.