But first, coffee. Please God, let Aunt Maggie have hoarded the magical brown bean of happiness.
After a quick shower in my aunt’s searing hot-pink bathroom, I dry off with one of her zebra-striped towels and slap some expensive moisturizer onto my face. It soaks in and—I swear to all that is good in the world—my skin lets out a relieved sigh. Karl got me the moisturizer for my last birthday. No doubt it was his way of telling me I’m looking old. Sure, I was tempted to hurl the hourglass-shaped bottle at his head, but I controlled the urge. And my skin has thanked me every day since.
A quick brush of my teeth and topknot later, I make my way down the creaky stairs, doing my best not to trip on everything my aunt piled on the edges of them.
By the time I get to the kitchen, every cell in my body is jonesing for a hit of caffeine. But when I finally open one of my aunt’s circus-tent canisters—the one marked Caffeine, not the one marked Quaaludes—it’s empty except for a lone coffee bean. Desperation has me searching all the others—Calories, Candy, Quaaludes, Ganja, Gluten, and Glitter—but to no avail.
I do find small individual snack packs of Oreos in the Calories canister, though, and a bunch of Hershey Kisses in the Candy one, so I take the win. It’s okay to chew a Kiss and a coffee bean at the same time, right? Isn’t that just a deconstructed mocha?
As I swallow, I do my best to ignore the gummy bears in the Ganja canister. It’s possible they don’t contain marijuana.
The part of me that is more like Aunt Maggie than my parents can stand is totally curious. I’ve never smoked weed—or done any other kind of drug—in my life, but that dearth just makes the gummy bears all that much more enticing.
Too bad even thinking about trying one of them is for another day, when my to-do list doesn’t involve driving to town for trash bags, coffee, and—I open the door to the very empty pantry—absolutely everything else a human being needs to survive.
I grab my purse and the keys to Aunt Maggie’s purple Cadillac, aka Jimi Hendrix (Jimi for short), and head toward the store, marveling as I make my way downtown that nothing in this place has changed. Nothing.
I pull into the local Stop & Shop parking lot—which is packed—and try to find a place to park Jimi. I end up circling the lot for five minutes before someone finally pulls out of a spot all the way at the end of the lot and I manage to squeak in. A guy with wild hair and a wifebeater tank top in a baby-blue minivan waves his fist at me like I didn’t just sit here for several minutes with my blinker on for this spot before he turned down the same lane.
As I climb out of Jimi, the guy rolls his window down and yells about my driving, my parentage, and—my absolute favorite (sarcasm alert)—the fact that women shouldn’t be able to have driver’s licenses at all. I ignore him; a pissed-off dad in the New Jersey burbs has nothing on a New York cabdriver when it comes to creative insults. Plus, it’s hard to take him seriously when at least two kids in the van are singing at the top of their lungs about Mickey Mouse’s clubhouse and a third is screaming that she wants her My Little Pony.
No wonder he’s in a bad mood.
In fact, if I didn’t need caffeine so desperately, I might have felt bad enough to give up the parking spot. But there’s a Starbucks right next to the Stop & Shop, and inside it is a caramel macchiato screaming my name. Or maybe I am screaming its name. Either way, right now I need coffee more than he needs a parking spot, My Little Pony notwithstanding.
As I hop out of Jimi, I’m not surprised I’m drawing a few questioning looks. I throw my shoulders back, tilt my chin up in a total yes-I’m-bold-enough-to-own-a-car-like-this move, and head into the store.
I have a date with the coffee shop—or there will be bloodshed. And I have a trunk big enough to hide the body.
Ten minutes later, I’m pushing a wobbly wheeled cart through the grocery store with one hand and drinking my venti macchiato with the other. I’m also doing my best to pretend I don’t miss the little neighborhood bodega and specialty stores where I used to do most of my grocery shopping. It seems I traded in Effie the bodega cat for a set of four-year-old twins in matching pink outfits and snotty noses. Both are dangerous in their own way, I guess.
On the plus side, Stop & Shop does have an abnormally wide variety of specialty cheeses with samples out, and I decide to try a dozen or so of them, mostly because there’s no one around to stop me. Whoever says a woman can’t live by cheese alone obviously hasn’t met this deli department—or me.
After sampling everything from Brie and gouda to goat cheese and pepper jack, I head to where those with costly home renovations in their futures and anemic bank accounts shop—the cereal aisle.
I have every intention of picking up my usual box of Cheerios—it’s heart healthy and eminently sensible, after all—but once I’m standing right in front of the bright yellow boxes, it’s the last thing I want. Not when every time I reach for the box, I can hear Karl lecturing me on the importance of fiber—and how much I need him to make sure I eat well—as he pours the little round Os into his favorite black-like-his-heart cereal bowl.
You know what? Fuck fiber.
I drop my empty coffee cup into the cart and grab a family-size box of Crunch Berries in one hand and a box of Froot Loops in the other, throwing them into my cart with wild abandon. Karl doesn’t get to tell me what to do anymore. And he sure as hell doesn’t get to tell me what to eat.
I toss in a box of Cookie Crisp for good measure and then start to make my way toward the trash bag aisle. But just as I’m rounding the corner, a woman with wild red hair squeals my name.
“Mallory? Holy s-h-i-t! Is it really you?”
She looks vaguely familiar, and as I struggle to figure out how I know her, the toddler she’s holding reaches up and yanks on one of her huge hoop earrings. The woman responds with a sound that is half squawk and half yodel as she stops dead and tries to pry his hand off her earring.
And just like that, I place her. Angela Mancini, cheer captain, senior class secretary, and the girl who could shred an air-guitar solo as if she had hopes of winning a college scholarship for it. She was always brash and loud but overall pretty sweet—which is why I step forward and ask, “Can I do something to help?”
“It’s okay. I think I’ve got it,” she answers as she finally manages to pry her kid’s hand off the gold hoop before he rips it straight through her ear. “It’s my own fault. I know better than to wear earrings like this around Joey, but Manny gave them to me for my birthday yesterday, and I couldn’t resist.”
It takes me a second to realize she’s talking about Manuel Perez, her high school boyfriend and—I glance down at her ring finger and find a small but sparkly diamond ring and wedding band—apparently current husband.