The Grocery List

by Lubrican & Stormy Weather

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Chapter Four

Tuesday morning, August 14th {Bob}

I leaned over and picked up the paper on the floor by the door to the front office, as usual, and stuck it under my arm like I'd brought it to work with me. I know it was a silly childish thing to steal the company paper, but the fact is that I'd never seen anybody in the whole place ever pick it up. There were days, when I didn't steal it, that it lay there all day. I decided, one day when I was bored that someone had ordered the paper just for me. Therefore, it wasn't stealing ... now was it?

Actually, I read the paper mostly for laughs. The Banner, as it was called, was about half a step above the average college newspaper. I thought of it as the place where all those journalism grads went who didn't get hired by The Post, or The Journal, or The Times. It was kind of fun to see what they came up with for headlines. They had a tendency to leave out punctuation that could be critical, or just use words that could have more than one meaning, such as one headline I saw one day that said: "Priest Holds Hostage" in big bold letters. What it was supposed to be was a headline to go with a photograph of some poor woman who'd been taken hostage by her husband, or boyfriend, or whatever, and when she escaped, the Priest hugged her. With The Banner, you got the kind of thing that ended up on The Tonight Show, with Jay Leno.

And, the kind of people who advertised in The Banner were the equivalent of those guys you see in car commercials at two-thirty in the morning, between re-runs of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and infomercials about the thing that slices, dices, wakes you in a storm, brews beer and shines your tennis shoes, all for four low payments of thirty-nine-ninety-nine.

So, my first order of the day was usually to start that day off with humor, by leafing through The Banner and seeing how many screw-ups I could find in ten minutes.

On this day, I hit a gold mine. Some hopeless schmuck had actually proposed to his lady fair in the paper! And he did it on page two, no less, which almost anybody who reads a paper actually gets to. That meant that everybody who bought this rag, (and those of us who stole it,) would actually see what he'd done. And he didn't just propose. He wrote a poem. And it wasn't just any poem. It was a singularly bad poem. You'll never get to see it if I don't repeat it here. Not even Leno would use this stuff. But here it is, so you'll know why I laughed so loud that people came to see what was wrong.

Chris, fair Chris, now hear me out,
My heart is pining for ya.
I am so blue, from needing you,
The fairest Peach, in Georgia.
Nothing means as much to me,
As the bonny fair lass named Chris
I beg ye now, come make my day,
And join me in wedded bliss.


And, if that wasn't enough, the guy basically included a self addressed stamped envelope, except that this girl had to answer his proposal in kind ... in the paper ... for all the world to see.

I read it again. There was a picture of a teddy bear, for pity's sake, and roses. Maybe Chris was a guy, and Evan was gay. No, that couldn't be. Gay marriage wasn't legal in our state. At least not yet.

I couldn't wait. I might actually buy The Banner every day for a week, just to make sure I didn't miss her answer. Maybe she'd answer him in Haiku. I could just imagine it:

Should I marry you
This is not a quandary
No - fuck off Evan

I wondered if it was legal to print "Fuck Off, Evan"

Tuesday morning, August 14th [Chris]

"Where in God's time have you been?" Grandma demanded as Lady and I walked in the back door of her house an hour later. "I was about ready to phone the police."

"They wouldn't have had to look far," I replied, sitting down in my place. Lady went to the rug in front of the sink and curled up. "I was already with one of them. Officer James Huntley."

"Nancy Grayson's sister's boy?"

I swear Grandma knows everyone in the world. I could take her anywhere and she would meet someone's sister's boy or someone's cousin's girl or any other combination there is. She and her friends -- including ladies from all over on the Internet -- have a network like nothing I've ever seen.

"I'm not sure," I said, reaching for a biscuit. "We didn't exactly get around to discussing our relatives, friends and other acquaintances."

"Oh, pish! You young people! What exactly did you get around to discussing?"

"My going seven miles an hour over the speed limit. A thousand cars around doing at least two-hundred miles an hour and he pulls me over for that little piddly amount, which I wouldn't have been doing if there hadn't been a spider swinging on a web in front of my face. Of course, the spider disappeared in all the excitement and Officer Huntley insisted I take the Breathalyzer, which apparently he didn't believe since he also put me through several other sobriety tests before being convinced I wasn't intoxicated or otherwise inhibited."

"Sounds just like Nancy's sister's boy," she replied, taking a sip of coffee. "I met him at the police station when I visited it that time -- you know when they came and got us but were too busy to take us back to the park and you were kind enough to come and get me? Anyway, I met him that day and he's such a nice young man. He's a hunk, too, as I recall."

"I was hardly in the mood to notice."

"Fiddle-sticks! You ain't ever not noticed a man of any type. You're just like me. Did you ask him for his phone number?"

"Not exactly."

"Land sakes alive, Child! How on earth do you expect to get a man if you don't take the opportunities you're given?"

"It's Tuesday, Grandma. If I'd asked for his number he would have arrested me for solicitation or some such thing. And I have enough problems already -- thanks to my very own father."

"Don't worry. Nancy and I will work out something."


"Hush-up and tell me about this Evan fella'."

"There's not really much to tell," I said and went on to explain about my weekend.

"Good Lord. How old is he?"

"Thirty-five. I was with him five minutes and the only thing I could think of was Dudley Do-right."

She cackled and I took a swallow of orange juice.

"Dad called me right before you called. He's as excited as he is when one of his bitches gives birth to a litter. I couldn't get a word in edge-wise. He honestly believes I'm going to marry this goof-ball."

"He'll get over it."

"But will I?"

"Of course, you will. Call the paper and see how soon you can put in a response to the proposal and just get it over with. Write flowery and heart-wrenching and let him down as gently as possible."

"Killing him might be easier."

"Yes, but if you're arrested for murder you won't be able to go out with your Officer Huntley."

"He's not MY officer."

"Of course he is. He obviously pulled you over to flirt with you, got nervous and botched the whole thing. Men do dumb things. It's our job to help them out."

Wednesday morning, August 15th {Bob}

It was actually a let down, Wednesday morning, when I opened the paper I actually spent money for, for once, and saw Chris' response to Evan's proposal. In gigantenormous letters was the single word


Well, that's how it is with reality newspapers. You get all worked up for something cool, and the reality lets you down. Chris had the opportunity to grab me by the balls, and get my attention, but she sputtered and died in the crunch.

I put the paper down. I'd wasted precious time laughing at Evan and hoping Chris would provide me with some entertainment.

I got back to the more important business of finding my dream woman. It was almost a week since I'd found the list, and I'd done a lot of thinking about my dream woman. Most of it, sadly, was more along the lines of a bad romance novel, where I dreamed up the steamy parts, and plugged us in as the hero and heroine. What I hadn't done much of was make progress on coming up with a plan to find her.

On Wednesday, I tried to think about finding my dream woman using logic. The list said she had been on her "regular Thursday shopping trip". It had been blowing around the parking lot, which meant it hadn't been there too long. I'd been there around five. If she went at the same time each Thursday, that meant she'd be there each Thursday around, say, four at the earliest. Of course I didn't know if she'd dropped it on the way into, or out of the supermarket, but I figured four was the earliest she'd be there.

That meant that I needed to be at the supermarket by three thirty, just to be safe, and spend however long it took to spot her. I wasn't sure just how I'd do that, yet, but I was pretty certain that, based on my unbridled love for this fair maiden, that something would come to me. I was inspired, after all. I'd have to finagle my work load so I could leave early, that day, but I had all week to do that. It wasn't unheard of for a draftsman to do a site visit, to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and look at adjoining spaces. There wasn't actually a good reason for doing that, but it was an accepted practice by people who didn't understand drawing. Lots of people who didn't need to, did site visits. Jasper did site visits all the time, and the only thing he was qualified to do was use a toilet.

Wednesday morning, August 15th [Chris]

Wednesday morning would have been better than Tuesday if I hadn't carefully looked out my front window and seen Evan -- along with a thousand people -- at my front door. Okay, maybe it wasn't that many bodies, but when you've just been awakened by the door-bell ringing and the cold nose of a Golden Retriever on the back of your neck, even just one person at your front door at the crack of dawn can look like a stadium full of folks.

I couldn't really complain about not being warned of the impending doom outside my door. Certain I'd be bombarded with calls as soon as the paper came out and not wanting to deal with anyone before noon, I'd silenced the ringer on my phone before going to bed the night before. I was certain if I listened to the messages on my machine there would be plenty of people telling me I was headed up the creek without a paddle.

I never dreamed the circus would show up outside my door at eight in the morning.

Taking another look to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, I noticed some of those well-meaning people were bearing cameras -- one of them was Dad. He and Evan both were wearing tie and tails. That's when I noticed the others, some of whom I recognized as my sisters and their families, were dressed to the nines, too.

"Well, are you gonna' let them in, or not?"

I squeaked and turned to see Grandma standing in the doorway leading from the kitchen. She has a key to my back door. Thank God, she'd kept everyone else out of the house.

"Good Lord, Child!" she continued. "You're still in your pajamas. Go get some clothes on, while I let them in. We can't have a wedding with the bride not properly dressed."


She cackled.

"Simmer down, Sweetie. They're not here for the wedding -- least not today. I talked your father out of that, for which you owe me. He was ready to bring the preacher and the whole shebang when he saw the paper."

"Looks like he didn't leave much of the shebang out," I replied.

Snorting, she said, "Why in thunder didn't you do what I told you?"

I explained about deciding at the last minute that I simply couldn't turn Evan down in front of a million people -- okay, the few thousand who read the paper. My plan had been to just give a one word response along with picking out a teddy-bear image to go with my "Yes". Then, in private, I'd tell him I'd changed my mind.

"Maybe you shouldn't have made it quite so big," said Grandma, "or used all those exclamation points."

"The 'points' are a bit much," I agreed. "And I didn't specify a size. The editor obviously wanted to put in a little pizzazz."

"And your father added his own pizzazz by bringing everyone here to celebrate."

I sighed and shook my head. "All I wanted to do was let Evan down in private. Not have everyone laughing at him."

Hugging me she said, "You meant well, Doll. I love ya' -- we all do. Now go get changed and I'll take care of things out here so you can talk to Evan in private."

"Thanks, Grandma." I kissed her cheek. "You're the best."

"I know." She pinched my cheek. "By the way, you're having lunch with your Officer Huntley at one this afternoon at The Olive Garden."




She reached to open the front door and, cursing, I high-tailed it to my room.

Thursday, August 16th {Bob}

Thursday, it turned out that I could leave early without an excuse. Jasper and all the big dogs had gotten in on a benefit golf contest, where they got to hobnob with other movers and shakers in town. They all arrived at work wearing checkered slacks and pullover shirts with alligators or polo ponies on them, and strutted around saying words like "handicap" and "par" and "bogey". One guy even wore his golf shoes in. He slipped on the marble floor outside the elevator and landed hard. The crystal of his Rolex cracked, which was mourned more than the fact that his elbow didn't want to work right any more.

So, when I was ready to slip out and go find my princess, there were very few people around to see me do it.

In the week since I'd found the list, she was all I could think about. I knew it was crazy, but that's the way it was. I cruised the parking lot, and waited until I found a parking spot that would let me see the front of the store.

I sat there for forty-five minutes. I counted eighty-seven "possibles" going in or coming out, before I realized how ridiculous this plan was.

I saw lots of women who I hoped were her ... women of all shapes and sizes, and dressed in all sorts of ways. It was summer, so my girl-watching was fun, even though it was idiotic. It was time to move on to plan B.

Plan B was to hang out inside the market, at one of the parts of the store she might shop in again. I mean you had to replace strawberries ... right? A small bag of Ruffles only lasted so long, and I didn't think too many people would buy red vines on a given Thursday, between four and six.

The problem was that all those items were in different parts of the store, and I had no idea which one to zero in on. Lots of people buy Ruffles, and who knew how long a package of licorice would last her? It was summer, and everybody was buying strawberries. Everything else on the list was scattered all around the store too, and the kind of thing anybody might pick up.

I finally settled on black olives. If she found her guy, she'd be buying them again.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to loiter in the condiment aisle, in a major supermarket, without ten employees trying to help you locate whatever it is that is taking you so long to find?

It wasn't until I was sitting in my car again, with six cans of black olives in a sack beside me, that I realized the obvious.

If she needed more black olives, that meant she'd found her man, and was sucking him off regularly. Ergo ... she sure didn't need me.

I tried to forget about her. Any woman that passionate had to be floating in a sea of her lover's body fluids.

This was crazy.

Thursday, August 16th [Chris]

Evan took things better than Dad over me "changing my mind". In fact, he seemed almost relieved. When I asked him about that, he explained he'd read in a book that the best way to know if a girl you're seeing is really interested in you, is to show interest in someone else. He was seeing a girl and, afraid just showing interest wouldn't be enough, he'd decided on a proposal, but he hadn't counted on my accepting -- any sane woman wouldn't have. He'd almost died when he saw my response in the paper -- his lady love nearly choked him to death before he could promise her he would take care of everything.

Dad, on the other hand, left messages on my machine all day, and I talked with him three times Wednesday evening before dinner trying to get to him to understand how I could turn away the wonderful Golden Lab, as he called Evan. Even when I told him about Evan not really wanting to marry me he told me I should hang in there and he would soon want to mate with me rather than that other bitch who was only -- at best -- a poodle.

"You'll breed prize-winning grandchildren," he whined pitifully.

Finally, after the sixth call, I turned off my phone and spent the evening looking on EBay at antique post cards, which I collect. I have close to a couple of thousand in my collection, which I keep stored in acid-free sleeves in binders I keep on the shelves in my living room. I don't collect specific themes but stick to cards circa 1900 through the 1940s and buy whatever catches my fancy. I also buy cards for resale when I find things at shops and flea markets and yard sales I think others will enjoy having in their possession.

When I woke-up Thursday morning, I decided avoiding anything to do with men for a few days would be the best thing in the world for me.

"Lady, how would you like to go stay at the lake house? No ringing phones and no men for a few days."

Woofing, she wagged her tail.

"It's unanimous, then," I said, smiling and scratching her ears.

The place at the lake was actually a small cabin Grandpa Sparks built himself and used for getting away from "the women" as he called Grandma and Mom. I was the only other person he'd ever taken there. I'd been interested in fishing and we'd spent hours out in a boat; him sitting with his rod in hand; me with a book in mine. My rod was at my side and was easy to get to if anything bit.

When I turned sixteen, I thought I would find my future husband the same way my sisters found theirs. The only thing I'd gotten, though, was Jimmy Horton the class clown. He was dreamy looking with black curls and green eyes and any girl would have given her arm to go out with him -- me included. The first time we went out, it was to the fair. He won me a huge teddy bear in a baseball toss and I got sick on cotton candy. I was scared to death he would never ask me out again when I threw up on his sneakers, but he'd been sweeter to me than most any male had been up to that time.

He didn't even seem to notice my boobs.

On our first three dates he only kissed my cheek or the back of my neck and only put his arm around my shoulders. His hands never touched me any place that wasn't appropriate. On the fourth date, though, he turned into an octopus, touching me all over.

I asked him to stop several times and when he didn't, I told him to stop. Then I banged my forehead against his nose and kicked him where it hurt. I put him in the back seat where he stayed until his Dad took him out after I drove us to his house.

The next day, I went fishing with Grandpa and he gave me the cabin as a late birthday present. He'd wanted to wait 'til we were actually there to give it to me so he'd had to wait a couple of weeks. He gave me my own key and told me I could come there anytime I needed, between our fishing trips. He also told me not to worry. "Some smart fella' will come along some day and see the prize these other chumps passed up."

Speaking of chumps...

I won't be marrying Officer Huntley in the foreseeable future. It's hard to love a man who writes you a citation for trying to bribe him. You heard me right. He gave me the sweet little thing the moment we finished having lunch Wednesday afternoon.

"You're not the first young lady to try getting out of a ticket this way," he explained.

I sputtered for a several seconds and did the most natural thing in the world -- ripped the ticket up in shreds and threw the pieces at him and poured the remaining tea and ice in my glass over his head. I'm not sure what made him madder -- the shredded ticket or the fact he would have to change his uniform before going back on duty. Whichever it was, he arrested me right then and there for assaulting a police officer and a couple of dozen other charges he steam-rolled out faster than a speeding bullet. Thus, was I led, wearing handcuffs, out of The Olive Garden, which was owned by Patsy Eldridge's husband's brother's daughter.

I would have called Grandma from the station, but she and Nancy Grayson saw the whole thing live and in person. They were at The Olive Garden to make sure their match-making scheme didn't fall apart and followed us out of the restaurant and gave Nancy's sister's boy hell for having me in handcuffs.

He defended himself but the more he talked the deeper he dug himself into a hole and Nancy finally placed her fingers to her lips and let out an ear-splitting whistle. "It's no wonder you ain't found a wife," she said. "You're dumber than my daddy's old jack-ass used to be. For your information, I'm the one who set up this lunch. So, uncuff this sweet innocent girl -- Now!"

"Aunt Nancy --"

"Do you want to taste my apple pie ever again?"

Muttering under his breath about the crazy women in his life and wishing he'd been an orphan, he took his cuffs off my wrists. He then told me he'd seen enough of me to last him a life-time.

"Apologize to him," Grandma said.


"Christina Melanie Bryant!"

So I apologized for losing my temper and dumping tea over his head.

His apology to me was just as heart-felt as mine, which means it wasn't very heartfelt at all.

"Kids!" Grandma and Nancy chorused.

The cabin is couple of hours off the beaten path and, after stopping for breakfast at Denny's and shopping at Piggly Wiggly for things for the next six days, Lady and I stepped into the kitchen of our paradise just before twelve-thirty. She immediately began her routine of making sure all the burglars were gone. She went from one corner to the other sniffing and wagging her tail before going across to the living room and then into the bedroom to do her duty.

Putting groceries away, I placed a stack of legal pads on the cedar table. I'd written my first novel here when I was nineteen. I wrote in long hand and then typed everything into the computer when I get home because there isn't any electricity at the cabin.

The fishing trips with Grandpa continued 'til I was twenty when he died from Alzheimer's. Him not knowing who I was is the hardest thing I've ever been through. And I know his loss of memory was harder on Grandma. They'd grown-up together, lived next-door to each other, and been married for fifty years.

Lady is the only one who has ever been to the cabin with me and that's the way it'll stay until I find my toad.

Whistling for her, I opened the door and stepped out on the deck which over-looked the private lake. Only a handful of people owned homes in the area. The rest of the surrounding land belonged to a private wild-animal refuge which had been started by the original owner of the land umpteen years ago. He and Grandpa were college buddies and he'd given Grandpa this place. The property was cared for by the people who tended the refuge.

Lady ran down the steps ahead of me and waited 'til I caught up with her before taking off down the trail she and I had hiked since she was a pup.

As I walked, it began to sink in that I might not ever find my toad.

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