By Bonnie Carlson
Francesca first noticed the old woman as she pushed her shopping cart down the canned vegetables aisle looking for chick peas. The woman was standing facing the creamed corn. Even over the buzzing of a fluorescent light that needed changing Francesca could hear her crying. The store was pretty uncrowded on this Thursday morning. It was her day off and while the kids were in school, she needed to pick up a bunch of stuff for the next few nights’ dinners and the kids’ lunches. Managing the kids and the house were so much harder since Logan had moved out.
Francesca and several other shoppers walked right by the crying lady. She struggled not to stare. Francesca thought she was done with all the divorce tears, but just seeing the poor woman made her weepy again.
She continued shopping, tossing juice boxes and applesauce into the cart, trying not to think of the crying lady. She was old, older than her mom, late seventies at least.
After Francesca had gotten everything on her list, she returned to the canned vegetables aisle to check. Was the woman still there? Sure enough, she still stood there, weeping into the cans of creamed corn. Why? Was she okay? How could she be? Who cries in the grocery store, in front of complete strangers? Overhead, Judy Collins sang a song she remembered from childhood, something her mother had played over and over. If it was Mom, wouldn’t she want somebody to see if she was all right?
Three people walked by and stared. Francesca stopped another older lady, gently touching her on the arm. She pointed to the crying lady. “Do you think we should do something?”
The woman pulled away and shook her head. “Better not to get involved.”
It bothered Francesca so much that after she checked out and paid, she decided to go back a third time. She returned once more to the vegetable aisle. No sign of her. Whew. Relief settled over her. When she remembered that she’d promised Kayla bagels, she walked to the bakery department, the smell of fresh-baked cookies filling her nostrils.
Darn! There she was again, leaning over a table with cookies and brownies and pies. Francesca couldn’t tell if she was crying. She worried the frayed ends of her chestnut ponytail.
On impulse she walked over. “Hi, I’m Francesca. My kids’ favorites are the cookies with M&Ms.”
The woman looked up at her. “I’m Louise.”
Francesca peered into her sad gray eyes. Her wrinkled pink face was wet. With tears? She handed her a packet of tissues from her purse.
“I was just headed over to Starbucks for some tea, Louise. Would you like to join me?” Maybe she’d needed to talk. What was the harm in that?
“I don’t think so, dear. My angel is due to arrive soon.”
“Why yes. God told me that when my Jimmy died, he’d send me an angel. I expect him any minute.”
Bonnie E. Carlson is a retired professor of social work who lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband, dog and three cats. She has published three short stories, “Boost Your T” in Down in the Dirt; “What to Do When You Lose the Love of Your Life” in Foliate Oak; and “Sylvester,” in Praxis and is completing a novel.