Who Knows


I ran into her again recently, on a Wednesday evening, very late, at the supermarket.  I do my grocery shopping on Wednesdays because Thursday is my day off, and I shop late in the evening because the supermarket is nearly empty then, which makes everything more convenient.  And then my Thursdays are free, free me to do whatever I choose to with; which is to say nothing, really, because that's what I generally choose.

Sherri! I cried, surprised and perhaps just a little apprehensive.  Partly because, although I'd heard she'd come back, I hadn't really expected to see her, and partly because we'd never really gotten along that well.  In fact, when she'd left town, we were barely on speaking terms.  She was a gossip, and she'd said things about me that were both unflattering and untrue.

Hi! she cried back at me, equally surprised and equally as apprehensive perhaps, though her smile evinced nothing but pleasure.  In fact, it was the degree of pleasure she showed that made me think she might actually be apprehensive.

Karin told me you'd moved back to town, I began, and we chatted for a moment about that, about where she was staying, what she was planning on doing now that she'd returned.  She'd left, oh, it must've been at least a year ago, moved to Florida to live with her daughter, from whom she'd been estranged for over a decade I'd heard, though the reasons for that were, I'd been told, many, and were therefore, to my mind at least, vague.  How they'd reconciled, why Sherri would go so far as to sell her house and move such a distance to live with someone whom she'd been in conflict with for so long – it seemed something of a risk – nobody knew.  Even Karin thought it surprising; didn't really understand it; moreover, since the move, Sherri had been more or less incommunicado.  She'd not responded once to what Karin said were the many attempts she'd made to get in touch with her.  Very odd, considering how close they'd once been.

I noticed her hair; she'd let it go gray.  It didn't seem to make her look any older.  You look well, I told her.

Thank you! she cried, and though she'd never stopped smiling, it seemed as though she smiled again; or smiled harder.

I didn't know how to handle the subject, but if we were to go on talking it seemed to me a subject that must be broached – acknowledged, at least.  And, since she was looking so well, I decided upon an avuncular approach.  So . . .  What's all this I hear about this cancer schmancer business?

Yes, I've got it, she said quickly, her voice turning rather sharp, though still not unpleasant.

You look very well, I said again.

I've got it though, she repeated.

I didn't know what else to say.  We didn't know each other well enough – or, frankly, like each other well enough – for me to feel comfortable with probing any further.  She turned and began poking about amongst some canned goods on a nearby shelf.

Where're you living now? I asked, curious for any little bit of information I might share with Karin next time we met, for I knew she was curious too.

With a friend, she told me, and supplied me with the woman's name.  And then went on to say that she was hoping to rent a house in nearby government-subsidized housing project.  I knew of the place; I'd heard good things about it.

That's supposed to be a nice area, I said.

Well, they're small houses, you know – but very well kept inside, she said.  I think I've got a good chance of getting one.

Good, I said, that's . . . very good.

Yes! she cried.  I think so too.

There seemed nothing else to say.  Sherri began pushing her cart away.

I had a sudden thought.  Have you been in touch with Karin since you've been back? I called after her.

She turned.  No! she said, and sounded herself a little surprised to report the news.  I've called a couple of times, but she's always at work, and she's never called me back.  Have you seen her lately?

No, I said, considering.  Not in several weeks now.

Huh.  Well, she's busy I guess.

Yes, I agreed, she always is.  You know Karin.  Well . . . it was good seeing you, anyway.

Oh, you too! she cried.  Bye!  She began pushing her cart again.  I took up my cart too, pushing off in the opposite direction.


I ran into Sherri a second time at the same place, same night, only a week later.  Apparently she also liked to do her grocery shopping late in the day, or – Surely she's not here because I am, flashed through my mind.  And then:  No, of course she's not.  Of course not.  Don't be stupid.

Hello! I cried.

Hi! she cried back, still with the same big smile, seemingly happy to see me, if as surprised, perhaps, as I was.  Or not – to be honest, I really couldn't tell.  She still looked well, very fit, considering that her cancer was, so I'd heard, fairly advanced.  Her hair was still gray.  We stopped in the middle of an aisle, carts pointed in opposite directions.  She gazed at me with an air of bright expectancy.  Perhaps she'd gotten good news recently on the health front; or perhaps not; perhaps the news was even worse than before and she simply held herself ready, when meeting anyone she'd once known, to break the news in a way that wouldn't burden them.  But I could hardly say, How's the cancer going, could I?  I shuffled through various possible conversational topics.

So . . .  Did you find a house to rent? I asked.

Yes! she beamed.

Ah!  One in the neighborhood . . . you know, where you were looking before?

Yes, she replied.  And said no more, though she continued to look at me with the same air of bright expectancy.

I always thought they looked like very nice houses – well, you said they were, inside.  Umm . . .  Did you get a single, or a duplex?

No, a single, she said.  It's small, but quite cozy.  It's got everything I need.  For now, you know.

Ye-es, I replied, a bit uncertainly.

I've already started moving in.

Oh, good! I cried, and then fell silent.  My eyes began to drift, ranging along the shelves ahead of me, as if distractedly, as if I were in some haste.  Good for you . . . I said, beginning already to give my cart a push.  How long could we go before the unpleasantness that had formerly existed between us surfaced again?  This thought had, to tell the truth, been hovering in my mind ever since I'd first seen her.  It was a barrier I didn't know how to break through.  I didn't even know if I should try, really.

I began pushing my cart slowly forward.

Hey! she called.  Have you heard anything from Karin yet?

No, I said, no, as a matter of fact I haven't.  Not a word.  Have you?

No, she said, and her air of expectancy was quieter now, still present but more subdued.

Well, I said, when it comes to Karin – who knows?

Exactly! she agreed.  With Karin, who knows?

Who knows, I laughed, pushing my cart away safely at last.  Whooo knows!

She laughed too, and as we separated and began heading towards opposite ends of the aisle we were hooting it back and forth, as if echoing each other:  Whoo knows!  Whooo knows!


Another week has gone by.  I still haven't heard anything from Karin.  I did my usual shopping tonight, at the usual place and the usual time.  Sherri was not there.

~ END ~