“It’s part of the culture, Andrew.” Annie propped the phone on her shoulder and sorted press releases while they talked. “You get paid on Friday, you go to the supermarket, you buy food.”
“I thought you got paid, you got drunk.”
“That’s for 20-year-olds, sweetie . . . though you should know I never did that, even at 20.”
“I know. That’s why I’m here.”
“—You don’t have to come. Though really, if you want me to buy food for you, it would be nice if you did.”
“I’m there. I’ll even take a shower first. Can we go to MacDonald’s afterward?”
“I was thinking Chinese. The place in the mall isn’t bad.”
* * * *
“Take a candy bar and save the wrapper, so that we pay for it.” Annie pulled a shopping cart out of the row. Inside the store, she put a shopping basket into it.
Andrew chose a Snickers bar and put the wrapper in the cart. “They’re so fucking cheerful,” he whispered. “When do people have sex?”
“But they have all these children.”
“—I don’t know, Andrew. You’re a reporter. Ask them.”
“I’m not a reporter. I move apples. What can I do here?”
“Take this basket and get two half-gallons of milk. Two percent for me, whatever you want for you. Near there are eggs. Get two dozen. Check that none are broken. Can you do yogurt?”
“Um. Brand? Price? Flavors?”
“You’re right. I’ll do yogurt.”
Annie pushed the cart toward produce. A short black woman in a multicolored turban, with a hospital staff ID on a red ribbon around her neck, was frowning at the bananas.
“Look at this,” she said, “full of bad spots.”
“I know,” said Annie. “They’re only good in winter, but I buy them all year.”
“And 49 cents a pound! My mother told me never to pay more than 25 cents. You remember that?” She looked at Annie with a smile. They were about the same age.
“Yup. My mother told me never to pay more than 25 cents for a head of lettuce.”
They both laughed heartily.
“Well,” said the woman, “have a good weekend anyway.”
“Thank you, same to you.”
Andrew walked toward Dairy. It was almost a town square, he thought; people chatted over the food, over their carts. Have a good weekend! they said, oblivious to the camera eye above them at the end of every aisle.
And staring at the milk shelves Andrew found his coworker Billie.
“Hey man”—they shook hands—“sak passé?”
Billie smiled. “Where’d you learn that, Southern boy like you.”
“In the yard. Where I learned everything else. Looking for some milk?”
Billie nodded. “Girlfriend wants it.”
They stared at the milk. Andrew took a two percent and decided on regular for himself, resisting the impulse to lecture Billie on the gross overabundance of American life as they faced fifty units of milk, different types, brands, sizes. Billie, tall and dark-skinned, a watcher and listener, stared at the milk.
“Does she want two percent?” asked Andrew. “That’s what women usually drink.”
“No, she want the milk without the milk in it.”
“Yeah, Lactaid, which one’s that.”
“This one.” Andrew ran his finger under the word. “Lactaid. Half-gallon or quart?”
Billie sighed. “The small one.”
Andrew tapped a quart.
“Thank you,” said Billie, his eyes on the milk.
“No problem. Have a good weekend.”
At eggs, Andrew found Glaron, another coworker.
“How you doin.’” Glaron smiled broadly. His gold teeth were in front.
They shook hands. “Is the whole place here? Steve? The boys?”
Glaron shook his head, still smiling. “Boys ain’t got the sense. Steve’s got a wife.”
“You’ve got a wife.”
“She works. We do this together. I better get some eggs.”
“Me too. Look at this, Glaron, a dozen kinds of eggs.”
Glaron nodded. “Silly, ain’t it. These are good.” He tapped a carton.
“Thanks. Have a good weekend.”
“Same to you.”
Andrew found Annie checking the weight on packages of chicken.
“Don’t get Tyson’s,” he said.
“Never. Or Purdue.”
“The whole shop is here.”
“Well, the nice guys. What else should I get?”
Near Gatorade, Billie introduced Andrew to “my fiancée, Tiaje,” a tall, slim woman, also dark black, with elegant cornrows and a hospital ID on a silver chain around her neck.
“What do you do at the hospital?” Andrew peered at the ID.
“I’m a pharmaceutical technician,” she said, speaking clearly, keeping eye contact with him.
In paper products he met Teresa, Glaron’s wife, who also wore a hospital ID and worked in the kitchen, she told him.
“You the famous Andrew?” she asked.
“—No ma’am . . . I just move apples.”
“And talk back to the boys. You be careful, you’ll lose your job.”
“—You think? They related to Steve?”
“They must be. Why else . . .” Teresa shrugged.
“Hey, here’s Annie.” Andrew introduced them.
“Hi,” said Annie. “Teresa and I met in produce.”
“Are we done?”
“We’re done! Now we stand in line.”
“You don’t have much food there,” Teresa observed.
“We eat out a lot,” said Annie.
“Tch.” Teresa shook her head.
“Teresa, mind your own,” Glaron said gently.
“I got this chicken,” said Annie. “I’ll cook chicken tomorrow night.”
“I thought we were going dancing tomorrow night,” said Andrew.
“Sunday then, I’ll cook the chicken Sunday.”
“Dancing? You’re going dancing?” asked Teresa.
“Yeah, want to come?” said Andrew.
“It’s really fun,” said Annie.
“In your dreams,” said Teresa. “Let’s get in line, you’ll tell me about this dancing.”
Billie and Tiaje were in the next line over, so Andrew described dancing to all of them while Annie tracked their groceries going through checkout.
“I thought these were on sale,” she said to the cashier, tapping the two twelve-packs of seltzer that Andrew drank.
“I’ll check it when I’m done.” The cashier flipped on her “call’ light.
“What’s up?” said Andrew.
“Nothing. She’s going to check a price. Can you pack?”
The others were silent while the manager helped the cashier check the price and reduce the total by two dollars.
“Well,” said Teresa, “you do run a tight ship.”
“Twenty-five cents a pound, right?” said Annie, and they both smiled.
Andrew handed the cashier a 100-dollar bill. She raised her eyebrows just the slightest bit over her eyeglasses, took in all of them and made change for him.
Glaron was whispering to Teresa; Billie and Tiaje nodded, and Teresa said, “We’re having supper at the Chinese place. Come on and join us. We got a cooler. Glaron’ll help you put your cold food in it.”
“Thanks,” said Annie, “but it’s not hot tonight.”
“You put the chicken, the milk, in the cooler. Glaron’ll help you.”
* * * *
“She’s appraising us,” said Annie as they leaned against the No Loitering sign near the Chinese restaurant while the others finished at the market.
“You think?” Andrew tapped the ash on his cigarette.
“She’s going to ask us how we met.”
“Remember, stick to the truth as much as possible. We met on an airplane. You were visiting your mother . . . I’ll think of something for me.”
* * * *
“So this is where the cool people eat,” said Andrew, looking around him at the crowded restaurant.
“African Americans like Chinese food,” said Teresa. “Are six dishes enough, or should we get eight?
“Eight,” said Andrew and Billie in chorus. “I’ll pay the extra,” said Andrew.
“We’ll all pay,” said Teresa.
They were figuring out their order when the waiter came over.
“Can I get an iced tea?” asked Andrew.
“No ice tea, hot tea!”
“OK, how about a pitcher of water for the table.”
“Order drinks, get water!” said the waiter.
“Wait on tables, get tip,” snapped Andrew.
The waiter stormed away.
“Andrewwww,” said Annie, “he’s going to spit in the water.”
Tiaje had followed this with some consternation, but Teresa couldn’t resist a giggle. “He’s always testy, that waiter.”
The waiter came back, slammed a plastic pitcher of water onto the table and went away.
“I’ll try it,” said Andrew. He poured a glass. “Well, he didn’t pee in it.” They all took water.
“OK, in my restaurant, the waiters eat first, and every table gets a pitcher of water, without they ask for it,” said Teresa.
“You’re opening a restaurant?” asked Andy.
“Well, the date’s not set. But I think about it.”
“What kind of food?”
“Barbecue. With my special sauce.”
“It’s a great idea,” said Annie. “There’s no barbecue around here.”
Teresa nodded. “I know. I’m watching. Anybody opens a barbecue restaurant . . .” She sighed.
“It has a mysterious fire,” said Andrew, patting her arm.
“Don’t even say that out loud! Where you come from, you and your attitude.”
“Should of figured. How’d you two meet?”
“On an airplane. She picked me up.”
“He was taking two seats!”
At this point even Tiaje giggled.
“Tiaje,” said Andrew, “will you come dancing tomorrow?”
“It’s at a bar, right? We don’t drink,” she said firmly.
“We don’t either,” said Annie. “Get a Coke, a ginger ale.”
“Colored people go there?” Billie asked, barely audible.
“—Nnno,” said Andrew, “you’d be integrating the dance floor. But they’re nice people. No fights, no drugs.”
“I think you should go,” said Teresa. “Integrate the damn dance floor. Your age, I would.”
Copyright (c) Debby Mayer