Walmart Holiday Shopping

[creative nonfiction]

List in hand: canned kitty food, hair color stuff, ribbon, Blue Plate’s Greek Lite Mayonnaise with Yogurt. Two names in the corner: Shaun / Elijah.

The two names off to the right are the two you buy presents for each year. Only these two. It’s hot. Grab a cart.

Pause to type a poetic thought to Notes on iPhone: “If I may retrace your voice to the root, arrest the fine salt of your skin for a magic ring, I’ll bring you back, resurface you from the deep black of the long-watery hour.”

In public places, I’m often brought close to tears by an old woman lingering. Today one is in the soap aisle. White hair page-boy cut, like my mother’s. Mine wore faded stretchy headbands. Her shoes were always scuffed. There’s something about the way this one leans in to read the price. She could be leaning over my crib, or my anxiety-sick face when I was eight. Last time I saw Mom was in the garage of the house I grew up in. I didn’t want anything from her then. As I drove away, I should have noticed how small she really was, next to the garage that used to seem big.

Shaun will get fleece pajamas, a book (The Untethered Soul), and a Yankee Candle. He no longer calls ten times nightly when he knows I’m sleeping. He calls me “Mom” again. Thirty-four and unmarried, sometimes he texts things like: “I feel ashamed for existing,” and I remember saying that to myself at twelve in that not-so-big-anymore garage.

Winter is a strange thing. “Up north” it’s frigid. Swept-white snow across fields and all glass looks dangerous. In Orlando, near me, it’s warm, “temperate,” and dangerous to dance in nightclubs. I grew up North but have been South for decades. All carbon-creatures must die and I don’t want to see bare trees.

I have a cart with one crazy wheel but navigate the aisles despite this adversity.

Elijah is my Cousin Jerry’s daughter’s son. He’s in first grade and I struggle. What do I get the son of my goddaughter who hung herself in a bedroom closet at her parents’ house six years ago? Jerry, fresh with grief, spoke of putting Elijah up for adoption. I said nononononono, don’t do that. You’ll regret it the rest of your life.

I pick a game called “There’s a Yeti in My Spaghetti” and a box of “wizard’s tricks.” I’ve never met Elijah, who lives in Wisconsin, and haven’t seen Shaun in sixteen years. They mail me a photo every year.

I’m tiring of the grocery-getting. It seems there’s so much else to do, but here I am in the pain-reliever aisle. Here I am trying to find a packet of firm toothbrushes. Here is the egg aisle. Lift the lid. So many are cracked. Guilt floods for closing the lid on the imperfect ones. In the soap aisle here is the old woman I will become. Blue-black maps under her skin; my road.

I take for granted I’ll make it safely to my car, arrive home and cook dinner. My spouse will be home at five. This won’t go on forever.

Small-talk with Janie, the best cashier, and I’m done for this week. In the breezeway, a carpeted liminal space, between “Exit” and “Entrance,” an elderly woman ahead walks like a tall white heron. White hair, white skin, white handbag. She’s rigid like white bark. A white-birch limb moving. She’s with a liver-spotted man on a motorized cart. He’s beige: Beige jacket, loose beige slacks, a beige hat tilted against the sun.

“Where are we?” the white woman asks. They’ve paused before the last set of doors. The beige-man peers across the parking lot like uncharted savannah.

“I don’t know. Out there somewhere.”

Isn’t this where I’ll be?

I imagine Shaun burning the candle. Reading the book. Wearing the fleece on cold dark-early nights. A Stanford line recalled: “I’ll just bleed so the stars can have something dark to shine in.” God bless Frank Stanford.

I hear Shaun’s voice asking me not to leave him alone with his father, see the salt-sweat stains of his baseball uniforms. At night I drift the northern field across from where he lives, in my dead-mother’s house. He takes my frightened hand. We float above overgrown prairie grass until the golden moment rises like thick cream, and the flick of the ear from hard winter’s wheat is all the sorrow there is.


Judith Roney has won a Prism Review and Pioneer Prize for poetry, a Pushcart nomination for a memoir piece, “My Nickname was Frankenstein,” and Waiting for Rain is a finalist for the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.