I was at Walgreen’s the other day with some time to kill before my prescription was filled. Not enough time to justify the 10-mile round trip home and back so I wandered the aisles with nothing in particular in mind.
As I walked away from the pharmacy window there was this really young woman with about a 3 or 4 year-old boy in tow standing behind me. He was a good -looking kid. Blond hair, a little shaggy and it was hard to see his eyes. He had pale skin and reddish brown freckles. When I could make out his face I could see circles under his pale blue eyes and a bad runny nose. He probably had a cold or sinus infection. He kept wiping his nose on the palm of his hand and then wiping it on his jeans. There was a part of me, this instinctive daddy-and-teacher thing, that wanted to get a tissue, kneel down hold it to his nose and say, “Blow gently for me honey.”
Mom smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. She had long blond hair as well and the same pretty freckles and watery blue eyes. She had on low riser jeans and a halter-top. When we crossed in the aisle, I caught the little one’s eye. I winked and waved. He met my gaze and tried to wink back at me. He raised his own hand to wave and blinked both his eyes. Cute.
She smiled at me too. She was pretty but her teeth were yellowed from cigarettes. She had smudges under her eyes. They were probably sharing the same cold. “How ya doing?” she said and coughed a rattling cough.
“Pretty good,” I answered as we walked by each other. I thought it might be a good idea for her to leave off the cigs for a while until she and the little one got over their coughs.
As I turned into the next aisle there they were again. We were going the opposite directions down the aisles but heading the same way across the store. As they approached I could hear him ask his mama in a tiny voice if he could hold one of the stuffed Easter bunnies on display. He pointed and held up both his arms. “No!” she snapped. “If you hold it you’ll only want me to buy it for you. You already have enough stuffed animals at home.” He looked down, disappointed. But he did not cry or whine.
“What?” she pressed him. “You want everything you see, don’t you? Well, the world doesn’t work that way, so get used to it.” I couldn’t help but think that she was being louder than warranted for the situation. He could have heard her at half the volume. It felt like she was trying to prove something to me. It was weird, because she looked at me out of the corner of her eye when she was talking so loudly to him.
The next two aisles it was the same. Our paths crossed about half way down each aisle. Our eyes would meet; she would be cranky to her little boy. Harder than she had to be. At least that’s what it felt like. I broke our pattern and walked back to the pharmacy to wait for my prescription. Then I headed to the exit.
The young mom was checking out at the register near the doors, her basket was on the counter and she was getting her purchases scanned. The little guy asked mom for a chocolate peanut butter Easter egg. “Mommy?” he asked, pointing.
“You just want everything, don’t you?” she said loudly. Then she coughed her rattling cough into her fist. “There is NO WAY you are getting another thing today, do you hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded and looked down somberly. The cashier and I looked at each other uncomfortably. “Give me a carton of Marlborough Reds,” she said to the cashier.
As the doors parted and I headed out I overheard her say – too loudly – “I swear Little Rush, you are driving me crazy today!”