The supermarket’s automatic doors hushed open. After going to adjust the purse, the mammoth satchel usually slung over her shoulder, Margie stroked the bulge of her unburdened arm and raised her eyes to the sky.
“I hope you can see this.”
Summer swelter pressed upon her pudgy cheeks. A humid gust fluttered her skirts and another ushered her into the air conditioning.
With a vacuous hiss, the doors shut.
Licking her parched lips, Margie tried not to let her mouth water at the smell of fresh donuts in the bakery. With Father Remes’ voice in her ears, she forced her gaze to the tiered pile of frosted cakes and sugar-crusted muffins in their clear boxes and cardboard packages with tiny windows exposing the sweetness within. Cookies filled circular platters beneath advertisements for picnics and the Fourth of July.
Margie turned her back on the cheery ads. Although bent on the deli, a pillar of free hunks of lemon-somethings to sample detoured her trek.
“I’m not technically buying it,” she explained to the angelic conscious on her shoulder.
Her fingers neared the opening in the sample’s domed lid and a sense of guilt socked her stomach. Sending her hand to the crucifix-burdened chain about her neck instead, Margie marched along the tiled floor, head hung, belly empty.
The glistening curve of the deli counter drew her eye and she skimmed over the prepared bean salads, mashed potato side dishes, and roasted chickens. Sliced hams, slivers of turkey, slabs of roast beef came next, paired with cheddars, moldy blues, and Swiss.
“Can I get anything for you?” The balding deli attendant beamed over the counter, plastic gloves already on his hands.
Margie went for her purse, found her shoulder instead, and smoothed the ruffle of her dress’s sleeve. “Not this time, thanks.”
Tearing her gaze from the cornucopia, she walked downcast into the dairy section.
Leslie skittered to a stop before chilled cases looking even more petite in shorts and tank rather than her usual trim suits or skirts. With a quick embrace where Margie feared she might crush the other woman, they separated.
Leslie cocked her head. “You don’t usually shop here, do you?”
“No,” said Margie, her cheeks flushing at the inevitable question to follow.
Leslie hefted her basket of yogurts, rice crackers, berries, and fresh vegetables onto her other arm. “What brings you to my neighborhood then?”
Margie peered at the milks and creams, the mom toting a kid in each hand, the couple arguing over fat percentages, anything and everyone but Leslie. “A…penance.”
“That’s some kind of holy order, right?”
“Sort of.” Margie waved her hand, trying to dismiss the line of conversation, and found the chain of her necklace once more.
With dogged curiosity or perhaps obliviousness, Leslie pursued the details anyway. “What do you have to do?” Her brown eyes widened. “What did you do?”
Sighing, Margie motioned for Leslie to follow. The shorter woman needed two steps to keep up, harvest-ladened basket swinging by her side.
“You remember the Anderson’s party?”
Leslie scrunched her face and found the answer after a quick peer at the ceiling. “Where Martin ended up singing?”
Chuckling at the reminder, Margie sobered as other recollections tumbled upon the inebriated and impromptu karaoke session.
“I was going to bring a cake.”
“I saw that on the sign up board in the break room.”
Margie paused at a stack of canned tomato sauces and began reading one of the labels. “I didn’t.”
“Is that what you did wrong?”
“No.” She set the can back onto the shelf and closed her eyes. “I ate it.”
The vision of Leslie’s thoughtful scowl filled Margie’s thoughts, the same look she’d give when the computer read outs didn’t make sense.
“How could you have eaten something you didn’t bring?”
“Because I ate it before I left,” whispered Margie.
“I don’t understand.”
Margie wheeled on the smaller woman, the fluorescents casting her rotund shadow onto Leslie’s upturned face, the rows of cans, and half the aisle.
“I made the cake, Leslie. I intended to bring the cake. Instead, I ate the whole damn thing.”
“Oh.” Leslie covered her mouth, a green tinge to her face. She skittered back a step as if fearing she might be next on the menu.
Margie eased onto her heels. “Sorry, it must sound so strange to you.”
“We all have our weaknesses,” said Leslie, lowering her hand. “And what’s wrong with a little indulgence here and there anyway?”
“It’s not here and there.” Margie smoothed the front of her dress, the hem fluttering around her ankles and legs as stout as the columns supporting the supermarket’s roof. “I have a problem with overindulgence. Father Remes calls it gluttony.”
“You talked to a priest about your eating habits?”
Avoiding Leslie’s saucer eyes, Margie headed for the cereal aisle. “I felt guilty, so I went to confession. He listened and gave me this as penance.” She thumbed at the cardboard boxes, the sacks of o’s and multicolored shapes, the smaller breakfast and energy bars.
“He sent you to walk around a grocery store?”
“Look without tasting, without buying,” said Margie, pitching her voice to match Remes’ bass. “Observed the bounty available instead of gorging on it for once.”
“Rather Buddhist of a priest.”
“I don’t think that’s where his idea came from.”
“Maybe he dabbles.” Leslie changed carrying hands and joined her perusal of granola bars. “I read about someone, somewhere developing this philosophy about fully appreciating what you’re putting into your body. Where it comes from. What it took to grow. The people who grew it, picked it, brought it to the store. You don’t just put an apple into your mouth. You’re consuming whole chain of events, a whole chain of labor.”
Margie peered at the smaller woman, her flitting attention focusing on a bright green cereal box with a dragon on the cover.
“I’d never thought about it that way before.”
Leslie stuck her tongue out in disgust at the ingredients. Placing the cereal back on the shelf, she wiped her fingers on her bared thigh. “Perhaps that’s why your priest friend gave you this penance, so you would.”
“I doubt I would have if I hadn’t run into you.”
Leslie grinned. “Doesn’t faith move in mysterious ways or something?”
“I suppose so.”
“How much longer do you have to stay?”
Margie glanced up and down the aisle. Signs hanging overhead promised frozen food sections, stationary and home care, meats, and produce. The sequence of events on every item darted through her mind complete with made up faces of farmers, of chickens and pigs before slaughter, of harvesters doubled over in fields, giant freezers, and refrigeration trucks.
“I think I’ve gotten what he meant for me to see.”
“Let me check out and we can stop for a coffee,” said Leslie. “My treat.”
The cup of brew solidified into beans, unroasted, headed to southern climes where they were selected, and then back onto the trees where locals tended for the plants and their children with the same tender care. A counter filled with pastries leapt into Margie’s mind next, the sweetness combining with the caffeinated bite. The sugared morsels melted on her tongue but Margie broke each down into their disparate parts and followed their trails to the beginning, many with less than organic births. Her stomach rumbled, this time with distaste rather than hunger.
“Maybe we could go for a walk instead?”
“I’m always up for that.” Leslie sauntered to the checkout counters, her basket sway in time with the lighthearted slap of her flip-flops.
“You would be.”
With a sigh, Margie plodded in her wake, ready to round the cashiers with nothing in tow but a new found appreciation for a woman half her size and her fresh dose of understanding.