Monday, October 16, 2017

Fiction #75: Suzanne Bowness

Alternatives to Knitting

I hope I have enough room in my satchel. I’ve brought the pink patchwork bag, the one I used to store my wool when I tried to take up knitting. Stupid hobby. Takes days to make something you could buy for $10 at the store. Lainey tries to tell me that people hang on to the handmade things forever. I don’t believe in forever anymore. Roger, now there was a man who believed. Kept every ticket stub he ever bought. Every birthday card. And now who’s left to hang on to them? Me. He threatened to haunt me if I ever tossed them. So there they sit, in that stingy alcove they call a closet.

I reach in to feel the space inside the bag, and my hand disappears into its silky pink lining. All you can see is the creamy lace cuff of my blouse. Definitely ample. Last time I took my old black leather bag. Inadequate. Close call—I know I’ve gotten a little bold with practise. Can you really blame me? I mean I expected this to be easy but not this easy. Hell, I could start bowling melons down the paper products aisle, smash all the glass jam jars onto the floor and they wouldn’t even notice. Wouldn’t notice except to say, “aw there she goes the poor dear,—bet she keeps her knitting in that patchwork bag.”

As I pull my hand out again I avert my eyes and focus on the cottage cheese tubs in front of me. Cottage cheese: gross. The cafeteria ladies seem to think anyone over 60 must be crazy for it. In the mornings, it’s cottage cheese with yoghurt. Lunch is vegetable plate with cottage cheese. Dinner--well, let’s just say the lasagna is suspiciously cheesy. Most of them don’t give it much thought; they’re too busy gossiping or angling for the right table with the right people. Just because Gladys Earl wears those slimming pantsuits and by some miracle managed only to put on ten pounds to the standard twenty (okay, thirty) somehow she thinks that gives her dibs on the table near the window. And Hubert, always right there to pull out her chair, to slip her the Sudoku he clipped from his morning paper.

I hate looking at my hands now that they are wrinkly and veined. Roger used to say that my hands were lovely. Elegant, he called them. “Rose, you have elegant hands.” I’m sure he’d hate to see them now if he were still around. The sad thing is, I’m sure he’d love to see them.

Roger would not approve of Hubert one bit. But he’d approve of my walkabouts even less.  Not that it gives me a pardon, but Roger never did like this store when we lived nearby. Too commercial. We’d only come here for the specials and staples: tuna and canned soup and deodorant. Otherwise we shopped at George’s, the local market around the corner. I think Roger felt a twinge of disloyalty to George even with the occasional visit to the supermarket; they had been friends after 20 years in the neighborhood. But there’s disloyalty and then there’s a third off sirloin.

The light here is so sharp when it glints off the plastic. Burns my eyes. It’s almost blue, that light. My eyes lately aren’t what they used to be, well for that matter nothing is. Hair thinner, hearing harder, legs wobblier, boobs saggier. Even my wardrobe seems to be falling behind which vaguely depresses me, although not enough to spend a hundred and eighty dollars on a pantsuit. I heard that’s what Gladys paid. And just last week Sonia strolls in too wearing a powder blue ensemble. Just marched right over to Gladys for inspection.

I’m glad I decided on the patchwork bag, besides being larger it also blends in well. Non-descript coat. Grey scarf. A bit of shuffle. Grey hair, curly. Really playing up the old lady here. Shuffle in; grab a flyer and a cart. Be sure to leave the cart in produce and wander by myself over to the dairy section. Fruit is beginner territory. First the occasional sample right in the store. Once I even heard them, just barely. “The old lady is eating the grapes!” Then, “Relax, Joe, in her day that was probably what they did in her time. What are you going to, bust some old lady?”

After they walked away, I munched on a few more, then put a couple in my pocket. That was all that happened the first time. Two anonymous pale green globes rubbing against each other as I paid for my magazine at the front cash. Now, I know some would think I would have moved on to more expensive hauls by now: the pharmacy for instance. But it’s the anonymity I relish, the interchangeable objects, the green globes, the oblong nuts, the smooth brown discs with their sugary centres, all mingling in my pockets and my patchwork bag. Freedom. Liberated from their neat stacks and packages.

My legs are a little sore from walking. This store is further from the bus stop than I remember. But it’s far enough from the centre that I won’t see anyone I know. Everyone I used to know around here is likely dead. I haven’t lived in this part of town since Roger died. Still the usual mid-afternoon crowd though. New mothers with their screaming toddlers. Older mothers with their bodies beginning to sag as they chase after their coughing school-aged children off sick.  A senior or two. We blend in here. We try to ignore each other, too obviously members of the same grey haired, wrinkly skin and everywhere-sagging clan to really feel the need to associate.

That man looks like Hubert, only thinner and without the moustache. If you squinted you could imagine that lady trailing him to be Gladys. Although she’s probably ten pounds heavier. And without quite the same look of smug judgment as Gladys. Bitch. The more I think of her the more irritated I get. Four months ago Lainey and I used to be good friends. Then Gladys moved in. Now it’s all, “Lainey, we need one more player for bridge. Lainey, why don’t you show me how to do the purl stitch.” And Lainey just eats it up. I say, Margaret would have seen right through that. Friends on the inside are just not the same as the friends from before.

I look past the cottage cheese, locking in on my target. “She moves in.” That’s what Harrison would say, even at eight he’s already memorizing the scenes in those ridiculous cop movies his mother lets him watch. Harrison, what a nonsensical name, parents these days trying to outdo each other with their so-called creativity. But what do I know? I would never tell his mother, but those shows he tells me about are actually quite something. I don’t let on that I watch them but I’ve started tuning in to the program on Wednesdays with the blonde detective. I mean there are some real tricks revealed in those programs, places the ordinary mind does not naturally go. I wonder if real criminals study them too.

There, it’s in. One quick motion is how you do it, really. First the hover, then the twist. The tag comes off in your hand, that’s the fussiest part. I like to pocket the tag as a souvenir. They’re all over my cutlery drawer. But things have to move quickly now. The quick reach. Three plastic cylinders. Cool. Pliant. Inside my patchwork bag the one bag is moving anonymously now, liberated from its siblings, free and rolling around. Untraceable. I imagine sipping tea later this afternoon, pouring it in and watching it swirls around, warming my insides. Maybe I’ll invite Gladys and Hubert over to sample a cup, listen for them to ask for just a bit more when I fail to fill the pitcher enough. I imagine Joe or his dairy counter equivalent coming along later and trying to figure out the mystery. Two instead of three. A mistake at the processing plant? This is the largest I’ve liberated yet, and it’s taken three afternoons to work up the nerve. The raisins from four weeks ago now seem amateur by comparison. Maybe next week I’ll try the crackers, crinkly packaging be damned.

“But we’re not in the clear yet,” Harrison would say solemnly. Time to make my escape. As I head to the door, the middle-aged butcher nods his bald head indulgently and winks at me. I blush in a suitably old-fashioned manner.

*

Suzanne (Sue) Bowness is a freelance writer and editor who published her first poetry collection The Days You’ve Spent (Tightrope Books), in 2010. In 2006, she won the Ottawa Little Theatre’s National One Act Playwriting Competition. Sue is working on a collection of short stories and a novel. Keep an eye on her at suzannebowness.com

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