Copyright 2016 E. John Love
Jack walked as quickly as he could, reciting in his mind a list of the nine items he needed from Safeway. He’d started sorting them alphabetically, but as he began visualizing his probable route through the store, he reorganized it by the location and shortest path through to the checkout lines. He had a few other chores to take care of that afternoon before he rode the bus out to see his Aunt in Coquitlam, and it gave him a sense of control to try and order his day well. Control meant more confidence, and that usually meant satisfaction.
As he walked through the parking lot, he broke into a trot to avoid careless drivers, and he was reminded how relatively invisible he was as a pedestrian. Big store exteriors were built around the needs of cars and drivers. Out here, people just got in the way.
“Excuse me honey. Can you spare a little something?”
Jack had been coming up to the entrance. The voice came from somewhere below him, and it caught him off-guard, as if someone had silently tapped his shoulder. Down to his right was a little white-haired woman, standing up from some outdoor seating that was considered to be a courtesy to smokers. She locked her eyes on his as she raised herself up and Jack knew he couldn’t just blow past her.
“Yes ma’am?” As a kid, he’d been raised to respect elders no matter what. Some deserved it. Some didn’t. It cost nothing.
“Could you spare a couple dollars so I can get a coffee in there?” Jack saw the Starbucks counter inside where Safeway clerks were trained in the fine art of pouring coffee. He wouldn’t have minded one himself today.
“Sure, I can do…”
A skinny man in a short-sleeved dress shirt and a poorly-knotted tie started calling to her as he came outside. “Hey! C’mon now. This is the third time. What did I tell you?”
“Oh, come off it,” she said. “Gimme a break, Joe!”
“I’m not Joe! Quit calling me that! You gotta stop begging off people out here. Get lost.”
Jack noted that the man’s name tag said “Bernard”, and under that “Assistant Manager”.
Something nasal, tightly-wound and pissy got caught in Jack’s ear, and he immediately knew where he wanted to be.
“Hey – take it easy there Barney! She’s not hurting me. We were just having a little talk, right?” He winked at her, and her eyes lit up.
Bernard was unimpressed. “Don”t give me that! She’s been here all day. Take off. Get lost!” Jack saw Bernard’s arm go up in a mock, phony swing, trying to threaten her off as one might shoo off a stray dog.
“HEY!” Jack heard from himself, “if I see that arm touch her, I’m gonna fucking well touch you buddy! Got it?” Bernard’s face registered shock, and he straightened up and put his hands down. “This lady just happens to be my grandmother,” Jack said.
“Oh yeah, as if!” Barney was no threat. Now it was just playground taunting. Paper tiger.
Jack’s new Granny beamed and slipped a dirty sleeve through Jack’s arm, as if he were going to walk her across a busy street. “This is my grandson! Um, uh…”
“Right, and she’s just a little lost is all,” Jack said, shooting Bernard a wink while he spun a finger in a circle around his ear. “Don’t you remember Grams? You said ‘Jack, meet me at Safeway at 2 and we’ll have coffee and donuts’. Remember that, Grandma?”
“Jack? Yes, that’s right!” Click. The penny dropped. She beamed and Jack smiled back at her toothless, wrinkled maw of a mouth, and saw a well-used yet eerily beautiful smile reflected back to him.
“How could you doubt this little old lady? Gawdamn Barney! C’mon Grams, let’s go inside and have our coffee and doughnuts.”
Bernard gave up, and muttered as he spun around and rushed off to take care of something else. Anything was more worthwhile than where he was.
As they got inside, Jack shook her old hand and told her his name again. She said “thank you dear” and that he could just keep calling her “Grandma” if he wanted to.
“But not that motherfucker,” she said. Jack laughed and started pulling her towards Starbucks as her head turned back behind them.
“Fuck you Barney!” she bellowed her parting shot to the other end of the store.
“Grandma it is”, Jack agreed. “Welcome to the family!”