See My Hands
The ancient, tiny woman with white hair lingered by the eggplants too long to be thinking about eggplants. Then she moved on to the packages of dried fruits and nuts hanging on racks. She reached to touch a package and her fingers, all knuckles, looked like the walnut halves inside the plastic wrap.
But it wasn't walnuts that interested her. She was working her way down the wall to the wine department, a whole corner of the huge supermarket, thousands of bottles on hundreds of shelves. She'd been eyeing the wine aisles the whole time, waiting for the right person to come along.
I stood in the champagne section, wondering how any drink could be worth sixty dollars a bottle and how much a gallon of it would cost. I wasn't going to buy a sixty dollar bottle, or a gallon, but I was working it out. You know, a word problem: Johnny's mother gives him five hundred dollars to go to the store to buy a gallon of champagne. If each bottle costs sixty dollars, how many bottles will Johnny stash in the bushes for later?
The answer is two. With change left over for smokes.
I must have lingered too long too. Or maybe the tiny woman guessed I had time to kill, standing there like I was doing long division in my head.
Another woman came and went and then the tiny woman came up to me and said, "See my hands?" She showed me the backs of her hands, looked down at them in disbelief herself. They hardly looked like hands.
"I need a top that...." She made a turning motion with her fingers. They moved in unison.
"Oh, a screw top. Yes, they have those here." I motioned to the shelves all around us.
"I usually pay seven or eight dollars...." She looked at me hopefully, like a young girl. Would I ask her to dance or, even better, would I find her a bottle of wine? Her white cardigan had been buttoned at the second button to make a V and her shoulders looked as fragile as the wings of the white moths I'd seen the day before fluttering like snow over moss in the woods.
The only screw top I could find was on a huge bottle of Merlot. At $7.99 it was at the top of her price range but she was thrilled with the size. She thanked me, held the bottle in her arms, said it would last a long time. "I only drink a very little bit," she said.
She called me an angel, and we parted.
She had no cart, no other groceries. She'd pay for her wine, sit on the bench outside, keeping her prize in her lap, and wait for a bus to take her back to town, back to her caregivers, back to her secret.
She'd love the sunshine, the adventure of it all, like the white moths flitting over the urgent green moss, our brief lives.