Between the Aisles
Thirty-seven steps. Maggie counted thirty-seven steps from her parking spot to the door of the grocery store. Odd numbers gave her anxiety, but she was about to be in her happy place so she shook it off. A long time ago Maggie decided to stop counting steps when she entered the grocery store. It helped her focus more on the beautifully organized displays of produce and canned vegetables. Just like in her home, everything has it’s own special place at the grocery store. The best time to go was in the morning when everything has been freshly organized and nothing has been misplaced by a rude customer. She came in the evening today. That doesn’t help the ever-present shadow of Maggie’s anxiety.
The concrete floor was polished, dark, and hid any dirt. The too-bright fluorescent lighting showed every nook and cranny within the aisles and on the taupe walls. She could see the rafters and air conditioning pipes snaking along the ceiling. Maggie always visually checked the ceiling and walls before she walked into any building to make sure they were structurally sound and nothing was going to collapse around her, leaving her stuck in a pocket of air until she was successfully rescued. This store in particular proved to be somewhat safe so Maggie lightly stepped through the automated doors.
The produce section was to her right with intricate displays of apples, oranges, peaches, peppers, and bananas that instantly eased her nagging anxiety. At the sound of thunder, Maggie’s heart quickened, only for her to realize that it was the automated sprinkler system that waters the vegetables every half hour.
Avocados. Red peppers, Asparagus. Feta cheese. Coconut oil. Black Beans. Tampons. Cool whip. Ice cream. Eggs. Vanilla almond milk. Maggie glanced at her list again despite having it memorized. First things first, it’s time to get some avocados.
She came in the evening this time. 6:05pm to be exact. Andrew noticed her as soon as she walked through the door. The way she carried herself was slightly different than the last time he saw her. Her light brown hair was pulled into a messy braid that draped over her shoulder. The old t-shirt she wore looked soft and loved. Her Nike shorts weren’t too short, although the combination of workout clothes and socks with sandals confused Andrew. She was wearing the fanny pack again today.
Andrew didn’t want to get caught looking at her so he quickly diverted his eyes and continued restocking the apples.
“Dude, that weird girl is back again!” John ran over and whispered in his ear. “She’s even wearing the fanny pack today. Check it out!”
They both turned slightly to watch Maggie as she picked out avocados. Every time she touched one she mumbled something, gave it a little squeeze, closed her eyes, then either put it in her bag or continued touching and mumbling. Andrew knew she would only buy four.
“She kind of freaks me out. What do you think she’s saying to the avocados? IS she cursing them for other customers?” John asked somewhat seriously.
“I have no idea. She’s intriguing though. Have you ever noticed her method of gathering all of her groceries?” Andrew replied.
“No way, man. I don’t pay any more attention to that crazy chick than I have to. I gotta get back to dairy; Brett is going to kill me for taking so long. Have fun creeping on oddball over there,” John said as he walked away chuckling.
Andrew shrugged and turned back to arranging the apples by size and shape. Organizing the produce had a calming, cathartic effect on him.
Maggie reached for another avocado and hoped this one would also be perfect. Her mother always brought home perfectly ripe avocados and had a system for selecting them. Maggie held a rather large avocado in her hand, squeezed it gently and asked, “Are you ready to be eaten?” She closed her eyes and listened. Yes! Another ideal avocado. Maggie put her bag of four avocados in her basket and walked to the bell peppers. She has a method for every section of the store: a different way to pick out the best produce, which carton of eggs in the stack has no broken ones, only pick cans halfway back on the third shelf, never grab cool whip from the top or bottom shelf, and always get Dr. Bronner’s organic virgin coconut oil. No exceptions.
The anxieties of shopping were nothing compared to the anxieties of everything else. At least at the grocery store the meticulous way that all of the merchandise was arranged kept Maggie’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at bay. She didn’t count her steps or feel the inexplicable need to touch everything seven times. Maggie could get lost in a clean, established world and find everything on her list with ease.
While she was selecting her bell peppers (must have four lobes, be the size of a softball, and rich coloring), Maggie turned to her right and noticed a boy carefully stacking apples about ten feet away from her. He was somewhat tall, athletic enough to fill out his work polo, and had tousled curly brown hair. He was facing her but was too engrossed in his work to notice her. She studied him for a minute, noting the way he gingerly touched each apple and the concentration set deeply on his face. Without warning, he looked up and locked eyes with Maggie. The look of surprise and embarrassment on Maggie’s face drew the corner of the boy’s mouth up in a slight smirk and he quizzically raised an eyebrow. His startling hazel eyes made Maggie’s stomach drop.
“Oh!” Maggie exclaimed with huge eyes. She flushed and dropped the pepper she was holding.
Leave it! Don’t embarrass yourself more. The only way out of the produce section was to walk right past the boy. Maggie looked at the floor sheepishly and walked so quickly past him that it could have been considered a run. She caught a hint of fresh laundry detergent and honeysuckle as she walked within feet of him. When she had made it past him and could see the canned vegetable aisle, she looked back over her shoulder and saw him watching as she walked away. Maggie’s stomach flip-flopped again. She needed to finish her shopping.
Andrew shook his head and laughed to himself as the peculiar girl ran away from him. He couldn’t believe it. She was looking at him the same way that he looked at her. A gentle consideration. Unsure, yet intrigued. And her eyes. Her eyes right before she ran away were gorgeous. The deepest blue he’d ever seen.
He watched as she walked away and wondered what part of the store she would be heading to next. Once he finished putting out these stupid apples then maybe he’d go find her. Today might be the day he builds up the courage to talk to her.
Why do you always come in here alone? What are your secrets and your desires? This unusual girl has been coming into the store for as long as Andrew has been working and he’s studied her the last few times. There’s something a little off about her, but there’s always something off about people in the grocery store.
He wasn’t sure why he was so intrigued by her. Maybe it was the way that his coworkers discussed and laughed at her. Maybe it was that he saw himself in her in the way she talked to herself while she shopped and always entered the store like it might collapse around her.
Finally. He had finished stocking the apples. They weren’t as beautifully organized as usual, but he had something else occupying his mind. It was time to talk to the elusive creature with the fanny pack that has been haunting his dreams for weeks.
Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine. Why was she counting her steps again? That boy must have thrown me off. It’s okay. Relax. Maggie had everything on her list except for a can of black beans. She had successfully avoided another run-in with the boy from the produce department when she went back over there for the peppers and asparagus. A part of her had hoped he would still be there.
Maggie dug through the shelf full of cans of beans trying to select the perfect one. Most of them had dents and were slightly damaged. There has to be a perfect one in here.
A loud noise to Maggie’s right caused her jump and press her back into the safety of the shelf she had been digging through. She looked down to see cans of black eyed peas littering the floor with the boy from the produce section sitting in the middle of them all. Maggie’s deep blue eyes locked with his hazel ones and a blush spread across his face.
“Hi. I”m Andrew. Do you need any help finding anything today?”
Story by: Susanna Loosier
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