Was It Something I Said?

 2006 Kathryn McCallum

Trying to separate jammed-together shopping carts was bad enough, but an aggressive shopper running a cart into the back of Noah Clark's ankles after he'd slowed to let an older woman exit automatic doors made him turn around and almost swear. Now he stood in front of the produce section trying to decide what to get, pulled down five plastic bags from the roll and sighed heavily. Salad. He picked out a head of red-leaf lettuce, the kind his mom always used for salads, then a bunch of celery, organic carrots, Someone said they’re best, he thought, and a large bright red pepper. Noah liked their taste better than green ones. What else? He still had one empty plastic bag.
An exhausted mother with three crying kids elbowed him away from the produce, stuffed two handfuls pf green beans in a bag and moved on, screaming kids hanging onto her dress.
"Stop crying or I'll take all of you out to the car!" she snapped, remark delivered at a bin of green and yellow squash she was examining like she was about to make a major investment.
Noah pulled his cart away from the crush of produce shoppers and parked it closer to oranges and grapefruit. Oranges look pretty good. He put five in the last plastic bag. Vitamin C, he thought, putting three limes in with the oranges, then moving again to make room for a woman obviously in a hurry. He stood for a minute trying to decide what section to check out next. He saw the potatoes. Right…easy to nuke. He left the cart and grabbed three large spuds after the old man who'd been talking to himself and checking them out, finally abandoned the bin and moved on to interrogate onions.
Noah didn't like grocery shopping, but not wanting to eat-out every meal, he’d decided to learn more about cooking. Mother seemed to enjoy it, he thought, and picked out two onions. She fed a family of four at least two meals a day for years.
He’d begun cooking the kind of things his mother cooked. First he'd made a list of things he liked to eat, things he wouldn't go out to order at some fast-food place. He'd purchased a set of pans, a four place setting of stainless steel, and a set of six large water glasses. Drinking lots of water every day is good for you. His mother was in his head.
Noah stocked his apartment kitchen with peanut butter, mayonnaise, cooking oil, paper towels, salt and pepper. He had sour cream, butter and eggs in the fridge and a set of cooking tools next to the stove he'd found at one of those kitchen gadget stores. He'd bought them for himself although he'd been shopping for a Mother's Day present. He bought a pretty scarf for his mother at her favorite department store.
Noah though of himself as an organized guy, thanks to his mom's resolve to raise children right, kept his apartment fairly neat, made his bed every day and kept the kitchen and bathroom clean. He did his laundry Saturday mornings, then kicked back and enjoyed the rest of the weekend playing soccer, volley ball or swimming at the beach if the waves were good. Noah had a couple of good buddies. They did their guy-things at least once a week; shooting hoops, and afterward grabbing a beer.
His job in the firm seemed secure even though he'd only been there a year. He felt good about his vision for the future. He'd thought about going back for his master's, but gave that up after carefully weighing the cost of higher education…and bought a car instead.
Bachelorhood is great but it has its drawbacks, he thought, and spent a great deal of time thinking about the other sex, as well as sex itself. Dating was worse. Noah longed for a good relationship, one like his folks, but dating California girls was as freaky as swimming with blood-frenzied sharks.
He checked out the bacon, bought a half-pound of thick-sliced hickory smoked, and tossed it on top of the veggies in his cart. He bought a large pack of toilet paper, a box of tissues for the bathroom, two large bars of antibacterial bath soap and stuff to keep tile clean around tubs.
He stopped and tried to envision the things under his bathroom sink, wondering if he needed a couple of new sponges or some toilet cleaner. Unable to remember, he tossed a sponge in the cart and continued down the aisle.
Popcorn’s a must, and a can of dry-roasted cashews. Yeah. He turned around and went back to the freezer section and picked out five different frozen meals, three turkey and three chicken pies and a pint of Paul Newman's caramel almond crunch ice cream. Then to the beer section where he decided on Pacifico so he had something to go with the limes. That's when he saw her.
She was leaning over the pastry display at the end of the aisle, shapely tanned legs topped by a short pleated skirt. He must have stood there some time before he realized he hadn't been breathing. The lightheaded feeling lingered as he stared at that stunning figure. A gray-haired lady, passing in the other direction, turned to see what he was staring at…then gave him a scolding look. Noah looked away hoping the woman hadn't read his mind. He looked back as soon as she passed. The girl was still bending over. He felt his face flush as the hem of her skirt reached the lower curve of her… . God, please…just bend over a little further… .
Unable to wait to see her face, he pushed his cart in her direction, a shopper with more than shopping on mind. Next to her, he opened one of the bagel-bins and picked out two jalapeno bagels, took a plastic bag and dropped them in while looking in her direction. One bagel didn't make it into the bag. It rolled directly between the girl's feet. His eyes followed the bagel's journey and, as he moved to retrieve the wandering bun, two heads collided so hard both he and the girl fell to the floor, short skirt up around her waist.
He would have said later that he tried not to look but knew that wouldn't be telling the truth. Oh my God…this is way better than if she just bent over… .
"I'm sorry… ." he began, still looking, trying to stand, hand out to help the girl up off the floor, "I dropped it an'…well, I'm real sorry I knocked you down… ." He picked up her small purse and held it out, too.
"Like, it was just an' accident," the girl said, apologetically, accepting his hand and purse as she stood, blushing madly when he reached around behind her and brushed her short skirt down in back.
She talked to me! Adrenaline racing, mind directed fantasies that made him blush.
"I've heard of people running into one another, but I don't think this is what they had in mind," he offered, feeling foolish for trying to say something clever, instantly noting she wasn't wearing a wedding band. "Are you all right? I hope I didn't hurt you or anything…talk about being clumsy. I should have been more careful."
"Don't worry," she said, prettier than he could have hoped for, a figure that made him struggle not to drool.
"Well…the least I could do is to make up for it. I mean, well, look…would you like to maybe have a coffee or something? On me? I'm real sorry for being so clumsy."
He was jelly when he looked into those wide-set innocent blue eyes, at that heart-shaped face, at lips so full they made his cheeks burn, desperately hoping she'd say "Yes."
She looked down after looking into his eyes. He was convinced she must have read what was going through his mind. It’s probably written in flashing neon across my forehead. When she looked up again, it was from under long thick dark lashes and the look nearly turned him to stone. At least part of him.
"Gee, like, I'm sure you didn't like, do that on purpose or anything, an' I wasn't like, you know, paying attention or anything either so you shouldn't feel bad or anything 'cause accidents happen to everyone, don't they? I mean, anyone could have done that, like, know what I mean? Anyway, like, I'm totally okay an' everything so like, don't worry, okay? What's your name?"
His mind had just done a somersault. "Ah…I'm sorry…Noah Clark."
"That's a nice name. I'm Linda Lindsay, but everyone calls me Lin. Like, that's okay with me even though I like Linda better but you know how girls are, right? Like, they like to call each other special names an' everything, like you're special or something if you go by another name? Like they're real good friends an' everything so I don't say anything because names don't make any difference, do they? I mean, like, even Shakespeare said that, right? He was like, so right on an' everything. Everyone should read him."
Noah swallowed and nodded, shutting his mouth when he realized he'd been standing with it open.
"So, like, are you shopping an' everything? I came in just to get some stuff for breakfast tomorrow? Like, I totally love Bear-claws an' cinnamon rolls. They're like my favorite in all the world, an' I'd like totally kill for one when I want one. Oh, my Gawd! I just LOVE Bear-claws. I think it's all the frosting stuff an' the gooey nuts an' everything all together that makes me so crazy! Like, my girlfriends think I'm so lucky an' everything 'cause I can eat Bear-claws an' sugar an' not get fat or anything like that, an' I hardly even have to exercise or anything? I don't look fat, do I?" It wasn't a question so Noah quit thinking he had to answer every time she ended a sentence like it was a question "I guess I'm all lucky an' everything, because like I never had acne or problems like that when I was going through puberty? An' I never had bad-hair days an' like, you know, all the stuff girls always worry about. I guess I'm just totally lucky?"
Noah raised his hand like a kid asking permission to speak. "Ah…well, I was just finishing my shopping stuff…I got ice cream here that I should get in the fridge…so… ." He was cut-off before he could finish.
"So, like, I was all done, too," she said and giggled, pivoting on toe and heel like a wind-up toy. "So, like, where were you gonna go after here? I mean, after you put your ice cream in your frig? Like, I wasn't gonna do anything but go across to the mall an' check out some stuff? Were you like serious about, you know…like, getting coffee or something?"
"Well," he began, chewing lower lip nervously, "I was…going to do my laundry… ."
"Oh, my Gawd! A guy who actually does his own laundry? Oh, my Gawd! Like, no one's gonna believe me? You are just totally so cool and everything! You're not like married or anything?"
"No…no…I'm a bachelor…I'm definitely not ready for marriage… ."
"You are just so cool!" she beamed, toes together, wagging heels. "You're like, well…someone's gonna be real luck-eeee… ." She giggled again, fingernail playing with a plump lower pink lip.
"So anyway… ." He shrugged and reached for the handle of his cart. "I better get this stuff home before it spoils or melts or something… ."
Without missing a beat, the bubbly curly-headed blue-eyed blonde was nearly in his cart as he tried to get it rolling. "Like, I can always come back an' get a Bear-claw later…like they won't sell-out or anything if I don't get one now… ."
He had the cart rolling toward checkout, stride purposeful, a man with somewhere to go, but all the lines were full of waiting shoppers, carts piled with food.
Linda Lindsay was undaunted. "Oh, my Gawd! Look at all these beauty magazines! Like, you just know those girls don't really look that good, I mean, without all that make-up an' everything an' all that airbrush stuff they do to photos. Some people say I could be a model, too, 'cause like, I don't even have to wear make-up to look good or anything. Do you think I look good without make-up?"
Noah sighed and nodded, avoiding her gaze. "You look good… ."
"Like, I guess you're right an' everything, because so many girls get all mad an' everything because their boyfriends always talk about me, but that's not my fault, is it? I mean, like, that's their problem if their boyfriends are like, looking at other girls an' everything, not mine. Actually, I quit working-out at the gym an' everything because girls are like, so catty! Just because guys all look at me an' everything, that's supposed to be my fault? Like, I was even gonna be on a cover of a magazine, too. One of the guys at the gym wanted me to pose with his car an' everything for a magazine cover, but I didn't because they wanted me to wear such a tiny bikini and my folks go, 'No way!' Like, I would-a posed an' everything because I don't mind letting people see my body, I mean, like, if you have a nice body what's wrong with showing it off? I'm not like, some girls I know, like, know what I mean?"
Noah wasn't sure.
"So, are you into working out or anything?" she smiled, white teeth good enough for a dental ad. "I mean, like you look real buff an' everything, like you work out or like that…like, so many guys just look so lame and don't take care of themselves or wanta look good an' all they do is drink an' party an' act so stupid instead of just like, having a good time an' not being stupid or anything, right?"
He started to answer but didn't.
She wasn't overwhelmed. "You're like, different than most guys, did you know that? Most guys would be all over me if they had the chance, like, if what happened to us happened to them…they would be all, like, 'Wanta see my pad?' Like, I'm so sure! Like, I'd just go, 'Oh, yeah! Like I can't wait to do you!' I mean, like, I have nothing better to do than, like, just go, 'Oh, you stud! I'll do anything you want! Get real!' Guys can be so lame. But look at you…it's so cool to meet a nice guy…like, I'm sure you're very different than most guys! Most guys treat girls like tomatoes or something, like we're just here to get squeezed."
Noah was thinking about what he had been thinking about when he'd first seen her bending over the bins. Face blank as new paper, he was staring off out the store window, hoping the line would move, only one person left in front of him.
Linda was bouncing up and down like the blonde girl in L.A. Story. "Like, I'm having such a totally neat summer! I'm, like, being real careful not to get too much sun or anything, because it's so bad for my skin an' I don't, like want to be all wrinkled an' everything like when I'm thirty or something an' look like all those women who sit around swimming pools at golf courses an' spend their husband's money. Have you ever been to Jamaica? Wouldn't that be so cool? Like, listening to Reggae an' eating Jamaican food an' going out at night to all those clubs an' everything? Like, my parents took me on a cruise last year? An' it was so lame but, like, when we got to Jamaica an' Cancun it was totally neat! People were like even asking me for autographs! Like, isn't that so weird, or maybe they thought I was some TV star or something or somebody they should know, but I'm just me, an' it so totally funny, like, I actually signed my name an' everything when they gave me something to write on, an' people even took pictures of me! Maybe because I was wearing lots less than this! Isn't that too weird? But I didn't mind or anything, like, maybe someone might have seen me an' really wanted me to do some TV thing? Who knows? Like, I could have been discovered in Jamaica! Oh, my Gawd! My girlfriends would have been so totally weirded-out an' everything if someone would have discovered me and I got on TV an got real famous an' everything!"
The line moved. Noah reached in his pocket for his ATM card and ran it through the machine.
"Paper or plastic?"
"Plastic," Noah answered, laughing out loud at the unintended inference.
The checkout clerk's amused eyes met his; leaving Noah desperately hoping she wouldn't think the girl was with him. The clerk moved with robot efficiency, smiled like she was holding-back a laugh and handed him his receipt. "Thank you, Mr. Clark."
Linda was already pulling the front end of his cart. "You got lots of neat stuff. So many people just eat all junk food these days even though they know it's not good for them or anything. Complex carbohydrates are best even though everything turns into sugar or we just as well not eat it. Do you like, eat red meat?"
"Some," Noah answered, unlocking the side door of his car and setting bags on the seat.
"Like, I was totally vegetarian for three years but, like, it's so hard to do that an' eat at other peoples when they invite you over, but, like, I eat fish an' chicken an' eggs once in a while but my real problem is sugar. I'm so totally in love with sugar stuff an' even worse is chocolate! Oh, my Gawd! I could just die for chocolate when I'm in the mood!” She wagged a finger in his face. “An like, don't try to tempt me by offering me chocolate, because I'd like do very naughty things for brownies." She giggled again, hand on his arm, blue eyes making offers that could get a girl in trouble. "I don't have-ta like, drink or anything ta have fun…know what I mean?"
He tried not to consider that question. "So hey…thanks for lending a hand… ." He closed the passenger door before she could get in. "And really, you'll never know how sorry I am for knocking you down back there. I don't know what I was thinking… ." He knew he was lying.
"Well…so, like…would you like my phone number or anything? Like, I'm not doing anything later… ."
"Oh, yeah…sure… ."
She was already writing on a scrap of paper she'd found in her purse. “Like, you don't smoke or anything do you? Oh, my Gawd! Like, kissing smokers is like kissing ashtrays or something… ."
"No…I don't smoke… ."
"Great! So…like, I'll wait for your call…an' remember what I like… ." She was doing things to her first finger with those too plump lips that could have gotten her arrested.
"Ah…sure… ."
He smiled nervously, rolled up the window and backed out of the parking spot, perspiration trickling down the back of his collar, experiencing a similar sensation to one he'd had after nearly being hit by a drunk driver.
He wanted to tell somebody what had just happened, but decided never to mention it again.

* * *

david coyote
May 5, 1999
Revised May 2, 2004

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