- Michael Frank
- A photo from Michael Frank's series of business signs in Kingston and New Paltz.
It's a few minutes before six, the new early closing time at my local market. The lines are not long. Everyone knows by now not to go to shopping late, when everything's picked over and the air is filled with other people's exhalations. There's only one woman ahead of me. She's packing her groceries so slowly that I'm sure my face shows what begins as frustration and quickly intensifies into anxiety. The more time I'm here, the more risk I'm in.
I have never been good at controlling my face. A favorite college professor once told me my stern expression intimidated my classmates so much they reported it to her. I'm wary of this now because checkout lines are the new judgement gates. They expose the toilet paper-hoarding sinners and the hedonists indulging in high-end treats, as they illuminate the saintly cashiers who risk their lives for pittance wages. I'm not sure what circle of hell my jittery impatience puts me in, but I do have a four-pack of West Kill Pale Ale in my basket so I'm already a marked woman. I think of the yoga class I used to go to and try to make my face soften.
I start to put my groceries on the belt, then stop myself because the woman still hasn't paid, and I have to keep my distance. She hesitates at the credit card machine. "What's the round up charity this month?" she asks, as if closing time and the virus weren't upon us. I flush hot. She's lingering on purpose! Haughty words for She Who Tarries lodge in my throat.
The cashier is patient and tells the woman the money goes to educate children with autism spectrum disorder. "That's good," the woman says. The cashier announces the rounded-up figure. The woman fumbles in her purse and pulls out a large wallet, which requires more fumbling. She carefully counts out twenties and hands them to the cashier.
I realize that there is a very good chance that this may be the only time this week —this month?—when this woman is not alone. She's clinging to her moment, lingering in the spotlight of the cashier's attention, and mine.
With effort, she lifts her groceries into her cart. She's packed her reusable thermal bags tightly. In another time, a bagger would step in to expedite the line, thinking nothing about grabbing the handles of her bags and hoisting them in her shopping cart. Now, it's all up to her.
Lisa A. Phillips, author of Unrequited: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Romantic Obsession, is the chair of the Digital Media and Journalism Department at SUNY New Paltz, but has the soul of a troubadour.