It was not predicted to be the storm of the century, but it didn’t sound good, either. Adam and I listened to the weather report on the radio while I circled the grocery store parking lot, trying to find a space. Everyone was picking up supplies before the weather turned.
“What’s freezing fog?” Adam asked from the back seat.
“It freezes onto anything it touches.”
“Like a spider web?” he asked, sounding alarmed.
I pictured birds suspended motionless in the sky and people on sidewalks, caught mid-step.
“No, Sweetie. It forms a very thin layer of ice on surfaces, kind of like the glaze on those cookies that Elise makes.”
“Can we get some cookies?”
I walked right into that one.
Adam slumped into his booster seat. He knew what “we’ll see” meant.
The intermittent wipers thumped, clearing away the drizzle on the windshield. The pavement wasn’t slick yet, but the temperature was predicted to drop soon. At the end of the row, a teenager with an arm wrapped around a large bag of dog food and a twelve-pack of toilet paper tucked under the other arm hopped into an idling car. They backed out, and I gunned the engine and whipped into their space before someone else could take it.
I was worried that school would be cancelled tomorrow. Normally Adam could stay with Elise in a pinch, since she was retired and lived just down the hall, but she was in Cleveland visiting her sister this week. I was already on thin ice at work. Between Adam’s strep throat last week and his ear infection last month, I was all out of sick leave. If I had to stay home tomorrow, it would be without pay. And when I returned to work, my boss would call me into his office and tell me to shut the door so we could discuss my attendance record.
There were only a few shopping carts left and they were the small ones with no child seat. All the anti-bacterial wipes were gone, too. I dug a little bottle of hand sanitizer out of my purse and Adam automatically presented his hands. I gave him a squirt, then squeezed some on the cart’s handle and rubbed it across. The last thing I needed was to catch a cold.
A big sign by the door advertised the Digital Deal O’ The Day. It was free range organic chicken, at a rock bottom price. I pulled out my phone and opened the store’s app so I could add the digital coupon. A little circle appeared and started spinning.
“I think I’ll make a big pan of chicken and cheesy rice. Does that sound good?”
“Yes,” Adam said, without enthusiasm.
He trailed after me in the produce department, while I grabbed some baby carrots and a bag of salad. A woman with a droopy eyelid and a baseball-sized goiter on her neck was picking out apples. Adam stared at her, open-mouthed.
Oh, good. A teachable moment.
“Close your mouth and stop staring,” I said in a mild voice, and waited until he complied. “You know what? People stare at that woman all the time. But she gets up every morning, leaves her house and does what she needs to do. That takes courage. You should admire her.”
Adam was looking at his shoes, probably trying to figure out how to talk me into buying cookie dough. I sighed and pushed the cart to the apple display. I had turned away to grab a produce bag when I heard Adam speak.
“My mom says I should admire you for leaving the house.”
I stood there stunned as the woman with the goiter gave me an evil look, which was especially sinister with the droopy eyelid, then walked away.
What was I supposed to do? Chase her and try to explain? That would only make matters worse. I wondered if I would get arrested if I started putting duct tape over Adam’s mouth whenever we went out in public.
I checked my phone. There was an error message. I closed out the app and tried again. This time it opened without incident. I found the chicken deal and tapped “add.” The little circle appeared and started spinning.
After I had bagged some apples and grabbed a jug of milk and a carton of eggs, we headed to the pasta aisle. If I was going to lose a day of wages tomorrow then we would need some cheap, filling food. A jar of pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti would last through several meals, and Adam would eat it without protest.
Both the spaghetti and the pasta sauce were part of the weekly Buy Five deal. If you bought five participating items then you got an extra dollar off each of them. It was a good sale, but I didn’t want to wander the store looking for five qualifying items. I scowled at the little navy blue tags, then chose the store brand instead.
At the end of the aisle, I noticed the big Digital Deal O’ The Day sign over the chicken and checked my phone. The little circle was still spinning. I closed the app and reopened it to try again.
If I could add the stupid coupon to my account then that would make the free range organic chicken dirt cheap. But if the coupon wouldn’t load, then I couldn’t afford to pay the regular price for that stuff. I would need to grab a package of the store brand, instead.
“Excuse me,” a woman said and shoved past me. Don’t get between a woman and her Digital Deal O’ The Day.
I decided to give the coupon a few more minutes, then come back for the chicken.
In the cereal aisle, I grabbed a variety pack of oatmeal then headed to the juice boxes. The cherrylicious flavor, Adam’s favorite, was on closeout. I sighed and put the last three packages in my cart. Hopefully I could find that flavor at a different store. If not, then I would break it to him later. Why deal with a problem today if it could be put off for a few weeks?
As I caught sight of the pancake mix, I realized that one box would not only be cheap but would also make dozens of flapjacks. And Adam loved breakfast for dinner. I gritted my teeth when I saw the little navy blue Buy Five tag. The store brand cost more than the sale item.
Fine. I flung the sale item into the cart.
“Are you mad, Mommy?”
“Yes. I hate this store.”
He stared at me with those big, serious eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean that.”
“You need a nap,” he said wisely.
I smiled. “Yes. I do.”
We went back to the pasta aisle to replace the spaghetti and sauce in the cart with Buy Five items. Now I had three, so I needed to find two more participating items.
I picked up a loaf of bread and some canned vegetables and soup, none of which were included in the promotion. After I grabbed some shampoo and a tube of toothpaste, I had gotten all of the essentials.
We wandered down the soda aisle. The two liter bottles were on sale, but they weren’t participating items. Adam stopped by the orange soda and looked at me with big, hopeful eyes. What the heck? He had trailed along after me down the cereal aisle without once begging for a box of some sort of sugar bomb. He deserved a treat.
I put a bottle of soda in the cart and Adam’s face lit up.
In the snack aisle, there were navy blue tags galore. I hated to waste money on this kind of stuff, but the sale prices were cheap and I needed two more items. The lines at the registers were long, and I wanted to get out of here before the storm hit. I didn’t have time to continue trawling the store.
I grabbed a bag of plain potato chips for Adam and a bag of sour cream and onion for me. I hadn’t had any chips in months. The purchase felt decadent. That’s how sad my life had become. Buying a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips felt naughty.
We got in line behind a man with a cartload of frozen dinners and beer. There were two shoppers ahead of him.
“Can I get a candy bar?” Adam asked, studying the kid-height display of candy.
“Sure, if we put back the orange soda.”
He had to think about that one. I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t choose the candy, because I wasn’t getting out of line.
The store had mailed me a coupon for four dollars off a forty dollar purchase. I checked the side pocket of my purse and found it. I had remembered to bring it and it didn’t expire until tomorrow. My first victory of the trip.
Adam and I were both sagging by the time we made it to the register.
“Do you have a preferred shopper card?” the cashier asked.
I handed her the card and my coupon, then got into position to keep an eagle eye on the little monitor.
The soda scanned at full price.
“That was on sale,” I said. “It was supposed to cost one dollar.”
“They’re two for two dollars. If you only buy one then you have to pay full price.”
“But the cans of vegetables were five for five dollars. I only bought three, but they rang up at a dollar a piece.”
She shrugged. “Some things work that way; some don’t. I don’t know why. Do you want me to call someone to go get you another bottle of soda?”
The line had grown behind me. I felt guilty holding up all these people who just wanted to buy their groceries and get home. Besides, I didn’t want two bottles of soda.
“No. Remove the soda.”
Adam sniffled. He was right on the verge of bursting into tears.
“We’ll hit a drive through on the way home and get you a drink, okay?”
He nodded, almost mollified. The cashier finished scanning the groceries and hit the total button. No discount appeared.
“Where’s my Buy Five discount?”
The woman behind me sighed loudly and I began to feel less guilty about holding up the line.
“It’s Buy Four this week. Last week was Buy Five.”
I felt a pang. I would have to decide whether to put back my sour cream and onion potato chips or pay full price for them.
“I have five participating items. Spaghetti, pasta sauce, pancake mix and two bags of chips.”
The cashier exchanged a look with the teenager bagging my groceries. He stifled a snicker.
“The chips are a Buy Three item.”
“The items in the snack aisle are Buy Three. The Buy Four is a separate promotion. You have two of the Buy Three items and three of the Buy Four items.”
I felt heat creeping up my neck and my hands were starting to shake. I wanted to grab that jar of pasta sauce and drop it on the floor, then walk out the door. If I did that I would never be able to return here, and this was the closest grocery store to my apartment.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Remove the pasta sauce, spaghetti, pancake mix and chips.”
“Oh, come on!” the woman behind me said. I looked her in the eye and she suddenly found the gum selection fascinating.
The bag boy had moved on to another register, so the cashier had to dig through the bags and find the items. Once she had deleted them all she held out my coupon.
“You can’t use this. You only spent $38.79.”
I took another deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Add the soda back on.”
Adam threw his arms around me. I thought that was melodramatic, but I appreciated the hug anyway.
After I paid, I pushed the cart out to the car. The sky opened up and tiny ice pellets began pelting us. A flash of lightning lit the sky, followed seconds later by a crash of thunder. I let Adam into the car before I loaded the groceries.
My phone dinged with a weather alert, probably to let me know about the sleet currently stinging my face. Once I was in the car, I dug the phone out of my purse to make sure there wasn’t a tornado or an asteroid headed our way, also.
The store app was still trying to load the digital coupon. I had forgotten the chicken.