Star Trek style doors swoosh out stockyard air and Gladys steps into a hospital ward where every patient is infected by a contagious plastic disease. A visit to SaveTmart ramps up her nearly constant panic disorder. In dizzying haze, she staggers past greeters and pushcarts. The infinite colours of plastic/food swarm over her as she reels and swoons. Her heart loses its regular beat pattern; she cannot bear the no-air-circulating fan humming in the din. Babies scream, though, in sync with her own alarms.
Beep. Beep. Every vinyl case screeches across the black rubber belt to MatterCard land. She wonders how many germs are on those conveyors.
Already, in just the first aisle, she sways against the $3 clearance clothing rack for strength. Inside her head she hears, “The Rack. No, no. Anything but the Rack.” Already her senses are on overload. Thank God, a foolishly abandoned, up-for-grabs discount city walker divinely provided for the infirm. She leans heavily on the sweaty shopping cart handle, plasticized for security. Grabbing sterilizing wipes compulsively tucked into her pockets, she whisks across the pretty, shiny bars. She can’t recall a single item from her list. She can’t even recall the last time she made a list since she hasn’t left her tiny bedroom in weeks.
Careening along now at a fairly stable pace, she prays now that no one from her former life as a English teacher is shopping SaveTmart at this hour. She’s reminded of an old carnival Tilt a Whirl ride as she tries to shop and evade at the same time. Her constantly panicked cortex snaps with premonitions; she has no luck, only kismet.
The first comes into to view: The Still-In-Braces-Barely-Blonde-Bimbo from the high school. Gladys ducks into the next aisle. There lurks the Cruel, Vindictive Boss, still sucking the same toothpick he pointed as he preached that her work was just not up to school district standards. “Gladys, so good to see you out and about again. How are you feeling, these days?” His simpering tone inflames her paranoia. She dare not speak for she could not control the rage that seethes inside the pockets of her soul. He intentionally uses her dreaded real name to antagonize her, knowing she prefers her less ridiculous nickname.
She’s not actually specifically selecting groceries now, just sliding trembling hands along the shelves and shoving products into her cart/walker. Later, at home, she will stare at the items, wondering why. The thought of returning the flotsam and jetsam has occurred to her in the past, but it will be months before she can gain the courage to enter this haunted establishment again.
The Stalker Duo skulks in Electronics as she weaves the weight of the half full bumper cart, dodging customer-like statues. She knows the Duo still drive by her house late in the afternoon and toss giant Slurpee cups onto her garden plots.
In the flower section, swimming among swirled glass vases, she brushes the velvet petals of a single Peace Rose along her reddened cheeks to find her way back to rationality. By mere reflex, she recalls the proper botanical name: Rosas, Madme. Meillandus.
“Oh, nice job.” she mutters to her muddy wits. “You can remember Latin but not a list for today?”
An odd mix of Tupperware, Purina Chow, and imitation Dior perfume coats her tongue, as she buckles at the visa queue, nearly unscathed. She swipes her card. The irony is not lost in her Poisoned Perfume brain. Swipe means steal. She is stealing from the earth’s precious oil resources, using plastic to buy more stuff in plastic. Gladys feels like a synthetic knock off of her own self.
She hears it. Her own voice nearing a shriek as she reminds the worn clerk, who cannot Associate with reality, to use the very present canvas totes, not the disposables offered. Quieter now, on her quickly available soapbox available in several convenient SaveTmart sizes, she informs the disassociated clerk that: Plastic is not disposable, never bio-degrades. It is death to the Oceans, to us.
That’s when Glad-less makes her first eye contact on this shopping trip, deeply into familiar piercing black irises narrowing to squints. She can’t pull any more names from her damaged synaptic core, but knows she’ll remember later who the clerk was. Someone she flunked, dismissed, deceived, evicted, testified against. All of the above.
Something resembling sun moves through the sky lights. She knows it is her anger that frightens her the most. She is afraid that she will loose and lose the filter captive in her throat. Decades have been devoted to the development, implementation, and nurturing of that filter. She wants to erupt onto the population as a whole. She dreams of eloquent revenges: The betrayers and the bullies stampeding like cattle in the ruins of a packed SaveTmart Coliseum. With all the scanners beeping as torture, she releases the beasts from lower dungeons.
She slinks to her old truck from the reeking, over-stocked SaveTmart yard, totes packed to overflowing.
Home again safely, hidden behind her solid, sterile brick walls and English Privet hedges, she breathes balmy scents of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus). Some of her Gladness returns. She sips the resonant silence with acacia tea as she nibbles chocolate covered sunflower seeds and dried dates from her savory cache.