The shopping cart moved unsteadily up the aisle. As with every cart in existence, the left front wheel wobbled and tried to pull the cart off course. He pushed on, forcing it in a straight line as he eyed the shelves. As a consequence, he very nearly hit a woman standing in front of the cereal boxes.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered as he moved to go around her.
“That’s ok. It’s easy to get lost in the food.”
Managing a half-hearted smile, he kept moving. As he got to the end of the aisle, he noticed she was right behind him. She was just carrying a basket; a loaf of bread and a jug of milk were the only items in it. Her sweater and coat seemed heavy for the unusually warm autumn day.
“That doesn’t look very healthy.” She was eyeing the contents of his cart. The bags of chips, pop, and beef jerky suddenly made him feel rather self-conscious.
“Well, I’m just getting some snacks.” He kept walking, hoping she would lose interest. An older woman walking the other way gave him a funny look. Apparently the grocery store was full of judgmental people this afternoon.
“So do you usually cook?” She wasn’t taking a hint.
“What do you cook?”
“Uh… Spaghetti? Hamburgers. Stuff like that.”
Her frown was impossible to miss. “You should try something new.”
“Like what?” He refused to stop, and he wasn’t making much of an effort to keep irritation out of his voice.
“I don’t know. What do you like?”
“I told you. Spaghetti. Hamburgers. Stuff like that.”
“I don’t know. Nothing. I just wanted to pick up a few things and go. I’m not looking to reevaluate my eating habits.”
“Oh. Ok. Well, I’ll leave you to it, then.”
She turned and walked away. Part of him tried to muster up some regret at being rude, but mostly he felt relief at being left alone.
What little interest he had had in shopping was gone, so he made his way to one of the checkout lanes. As soon as he paid, he headed for the exit with his two bags in hand. She was coming away from one of the other lanes and gave him an embarrassed half-smile. He just nodded and let her go out first.
Too late, he tried to shout a warning for her to stop. A car was driving too fast and went through the crosswalk without slowing down. It… passed right through her as though she didn’t exist. She looked back at him and gave him one more sad smile before disappearing.