Coffee and Brussels Sprout

It was only 8 in the morning but outside, garbage trucks were making a tremendous commotion. On top of that, Gary was snoring next to her, almost as loudly, a half grizzly growl/half wheezing sigh. Sleep wasn’t an option despite how tired and fatigued Annabel was. She felt achy but got out of bed anyway and glided like a ghost into the jagged morning.

‘Better make the most of it now, I guess,’ she told herself.

She went to the kitchen, planning on brewing a pot of coffee, but they were all out. Annabel looked through her cabinets for a possible spare bag of coffee that she knew wasn’t going to appear, and after a minute gave up, slumping into a chair. Her grey hair fell in front of her eyes and she left it there, blinding her. It had been a few months since she last went to the beauty shop.

After a minute of quiet despair, she looked up at the calendar with tomorrow’s date circled and decided not to spend today sitting around the kitchen, watching the clock spin around in circles.  She got up and left a note for Gary that she was going out, even though she doubted he would be awake by the time she was back.

It had been a few months since she opened the garage. When she did, something scurried into the pitch black corner, causing her to almost drop the door on her foot. “Goddamn,” she cursed. “Gary, come out here!” Annabel waited for a minute, debating whether to go and get him or let him sleep, then felt foolish for being afraid of a mouse right now and a stern courage overtook her.

‘Screw it,’ she said aloud and plowed in. There were some boxes blocking her way. When she moved them and squeezed over to her bike, Annabel discovered both tires were low on air. Just another disappointment in a string of them… ‘Screw it,’ she said, acknowledging this was quickly becoming her mantra, and emboldened by this newly found motivation to carry on in spite of it all, she grabbed the handlebars and dragged the bike into the street.

It was difficult pedaling, but she kept on riding on those two flat tires, doggedly; because if you don’t stay on top of it, a bike is just another useless thing you have to push — like a husband without a job.

We either age gracefully or we rage against every grey hair and discolored pore in a desperate attempt for love, relevancy, and covetous currency. Annabel saw nothing wrong with that. She had used an arsenal of creams and dyed her hair when she could to keep up a more youthful appearance. When she was younger, she was a beach beauty back and aspiring actress when L.A. still had orange groves.  ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ is not a comforting axiom for Annabel. It’s also the last day you’ll ever be that young again — that’s how she looks at that.

It took five times as long to get there, but Annabel finally pulled her useless bike up to Trader Joe’s and locked it to a phone booth — another useless thing in this useless world today, she glumly noted  — and took her basket off the handlebars and entered. The store was busy and brightly illuminated. She winced under the harsh, unflattering light and sighed loudly enough for people nearby to turn their heads.

If only Gary didn’t love the bottle more than her, more than paying the car bill and mortgage. If only she didn’t settle for him when she turned 30 and thought it was now or never. Oh well. She tried to change her thoughts. The past is just a book we’ve already read, no use flipping through its dog-eared pages over and over, she told herself.

She steeled herself, repeated again, ‘screw it,’ and plunged into her shopping. First she grabbed a bottle of Charles Shaw wine, a perfectly suitable wine, especially given its price, she’d argue, if anybody was around to argue about it, but then, realizing that today was different, put it back in exchange for something ten times its price; then she made a beeline for the frozen food aisle and found her favorite meal, the Trader Joe’s frozen Cioppino soup, delicious and so simple to heat up. Eggs, coffee and milk were next. When she reached the coffee, she put two bags into her basket guaranteeing she’d not run out for some time.

With her shopping basket filling up, she, too, felt filled up. Her body hadn’t felt this strong in months, reinvigorated and excited. In fact, she had forgotten all about the flat tires and her doctor’s appointment tomorrow and Gary’s recent violent turns.

Doing this, Annabel felt… alive… what a concept! What irony!

All the other swirling dust molecules in her shuttered brain were settling into a fine layer of sand that she now made footprints through. This must be what it feels like when you hit rock bottom, but come out the other side on top of a mountain top… seeing everything so clearly you feel like a fool for ever wasting your time in the valleys. Up is down. Down is up. Death is life. A dishonest dollar is still worth one hundred cents.

There were samples of smoked salmon and crackers at the display in the back — not an item Annabel would normally enjoy, but these days why turn down something for free? She stopped for a taste and even had a pleasant chat with the young girl with a lip ring behind the sneeze-proof glass.

Annabel was feeling a sudden desire to not go through with it tomorrow. Maybe just let things take their course?

The only thing left on her list were brussels sprout. She went to the fresh vegetable section where they normally were, but instead of finding them, there was an empty hole on the shelf. Annabel scoured the section but there was no sign of any brussels sprout. She stood there for a full minute, convincing herself of bruising righteousness.

Annabel marched up to the manager stand where a friendly Hispanic man with a dark goatee and thin glasses greeted her. He asked her what he could help her with today, bored yet focused.

Annabel reached inside her and found the dark inspiration for this mid-afternoon theater. “First, you could operate a store fully stocked with common household staples!” She lectured in a rising, admonishing tone.

The manager was taken aback, quickly responded, “I’m sorry, ma’am. We don’t carry staples or stationary, or anything like that. There is an Office Depot down the block on Wilshire. They’ll have staples.”

At this she made her blood not only boil, but turn to lava. Her motivation was anger and she dove down deep for it, pulling every slight and failure out of her, unfurling them like a long rope to lay on his desk. “Not staples like that! Not…” She made a violent, stapling motion with her hand. “Staples means essentials like vegetables and meat and bread and you very well should know this as manager of a grocery store! Is there nothing you can count on anymore?!”

The manager looked around nervously. The other customers were all distracted by the racket Annabel was making. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, ma’am,” he told her. “What is it that we are out of you were looking for? You know we carry only the freshest and most affordable products so from time to time…”

“Oh, I know all that malarkey,” she interrupted. “But Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on in the world when you don’t have any brussels sprout?”

“Oh, so that’s it? That’s what you’re looking for?”

“Yes. That’s what I’m looking for. It should be there on that shelf over there,” She pointed. “Next to the asparagus and zucchini.”

“My apologies. I assure you if you come back in the morning our trucks will have come in and we’ll have plenty of Brussel sprouts for you.”

Annabel’s jaw dropped in shock. She was now reaching the crescendo of her performance and was feeling electrified. “Brussel Sprouts? Brussel SPROUTS?!” She screamed so that even the nice girl with the lip piercing in the back stopped plying crackers with smoked salmon and listened. “It’s brussels sprout. Brussels!” She hollered. “Sprout. Brussels. Sprout.”

The assistant manager’s face reddened. From the corner of his eyes he spotted his manager approaching. “I’m sorry. I was not aware…”

“Of course, you weren’t! Nobody is! Why should you?! Nobody cares about anything anymore! Just because I’m an old lady doesn’t mean I should be treated like this!”

Just then the head manager reached them and asked how he could help.

Annabel pivoted on her heels and screamed in his face, “Fuck off as well,” she told him.

She then snatched her basket and stormed out of the Trader Joe’s without stopping at the checkout to pay while dozens of people stood speechlessly and watched. She was a wild storm nobody wanted to confront. The managers just let her leave.

Nobody could have guess that this was a woman whose t-cells were in rapid decline.

She attached her basket of groceries to her bike and pedaled quickly through the parking lot, through the swarm of cars circling for a spot. Once she was safely down the block she laughed and released an ear-to-ear, face-splitting smile, enjoying the thrill of what she just pulled off.

Their social security checks will come in next week and maybe she’ll go back to pay, but for now, if Annabel was going to endure Chemo, she damn well wasn’t going to do it without a decent cup of coffee.

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