Sheila hated to walk down the produce aisle on Sunday afternoons, swathes of blackened vegetable leaves crushed into the tiles over which she walked. The rubber heels of her tan Ferragamo pumps slid left and right. The smell of old refrigeration and rotten produce zinged her tongue and caused her stomach to tighten against imagined alien invaders. Sheila’s fear of germs prompted her to don latex gloves before she dared to touch any loose vegetable. What if some germ vector touched it or, worse yet, licked it? Sheila did not want to take any chances. She hurried her hips out of the aisle and into the dairy aisle.
Cleaning fluids shoved themselves down her throat, and Sheila reflexively covered her mouth. The squeaking of heavy-laden pallets going slowly and followed by rail-thin teenage grocery boys catches her attention the way that fingernails on a chalkboard do. On edge, Sheila whirls around, tightly grips the metal bar of her grocery basket, and begins to scurry away, only to be cut off by a little old lady whose cart is full of hairnets and cans of dog food labeled ‘Cesar’. The steely grit of determination hardens her mouth and tastes like cola as it floods the aluminum from her amalgam fillings into her mouth.
What is her final straw? The approaching wail of an untamed child that like an ambulance siren draws closer. Like a deer that abruptly wakes up to bright lights, Sheila swirls around on her heel, dodges the oblivious old lady, dances down the produce aisle with the help of her slimy friends, and makes a beeline for the express self-checkout lane. Whew! That was a close one, she thinks, as she holds up her kumquat in front of the infrared web that strains to read the kumquat’s bar code.