Who Knows



1


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 for me to do whatever I choose to with; which is to say nothing, really, or nothing special at any rate – which is to say, whatever I want –

Sherri! I cried, surprised and perhaps just a touch apprehensive at the sudden sight of her turning into one of the aisles.  Surprised because, although I'd heard she'd come back to town, I hadn't really expected to see her – certainly not here at any rate; apprehensive because we'd never really gotten along that well.  In fact, at the time she'd left we were barely on speaking terms.  She was a gossip, and she'd said things about me to a mutual friend of ours that were both unflattering and untrue.  Forgive her?  Sure.  Forget about it?  Sorry, but . . .

Hi! she cried back at me, apparently equally surprised, and perhaps equally as apprehensive – though her smile evinced nothing but pleasure.  In fact, it was the degree of pleasure she was showing that made me think that behind that smile I might still see fangs . . .

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 apparently many and complex, the relationship complicated, the situation . . . vague.  That is to say, how they'd reconciled, why Sherri would go so far as to sell her house and move such a distance to live with someone she'd been in conflict with for so long – it seemed something of a risk – nobody seemed to know.  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 many attempts 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.  Funny, 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 her smile refreshed itself; or maybe her smile turned harder, considering . . .

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 somehow 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 had dropped, turning rather sharp and becoming not so much confidential as . . . uncomfortably personal.

Well, you look quite . . . well, I affirmed.

I've got it though, she repeated, still speaking in that rapid yet somehow insistent tone.

I didn't know what else to say.  We didn't know each other well enough – or, frankly, like each other well enough (she'd said things about me that were both unflattering and untrue) – for me to feel comfortable with probing any further.  She turned and began poking about amongst some canned goods on a nearby shelf.

Soo . . .  Who was it you said were staying with again? I asked, curious for any little bit of information I might scoop up and share with Karin next time we met, for I was certain she'd want to know.

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 housing project.  I knew of the place; it was government subsidized and 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, and added brightly, 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:  Ask the obvious.  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 fact.  I've called a couple of times, but she's always at work, and she's never called me back.  Haven't you seen her either?

Well, no, I said, considering.  A couple of weeks ago – but not since then . . .

Huh.  Well, I guess she's busy.

Yes, I agreed, she always is.  You know Karin.  Family and job, job and family, and always some trouble brewing.  Well . . . I sighed, it was good seeing you, anyway.

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

I didn't see her in the check-out aisle.




2


I ran into Sherri a second time at the same place, one week later.  Apparently she also liked to do her grocery shopping at night, or – Surely she's not here because I am, flashed through my mind.  And then:  No, of course she's not.  Of course not.  We don't even like each other that much.  Don't be stupid.

Hello! I cried.

Hi! she cried back, with the same big smile she'd had before, seemingly happy to see me, if as surprised, perhaps, as I was to be seeing me again.  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, and that some time ago, 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.  A little less apprehensively this time, perhaps?  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, however uncharitably, 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 openings.

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 bright air of 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.  It'll all be ready soon.

Oh, good! I cried, and then fell silent.  My eyes began to drift, ranging along the shelves ahead of me as if I thought I might have just seen . . .  Good for you, I repeated, allowing my cart to begin rolling gently forward.  How long, after all, could we go before the unpleasantness that had formerly existed between us surfaced again?  This thought had, to tell the truth, been hovering at the back of my mind ever since that first time I'd seen her.  It made me feel nervous.  It was, after all, a barrier, and one I didn't know how to break through.  I didn't even know if I should try, really.

I pushed my cart a little harder.

Hey! she called before I could roll too far away.  Have you heard anything from Karin yet?

No, I said, stopping again.  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 – family, job, money problems, husband problems – y'know?  It's always something.  So 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 headed towards opposite ends of the aisle we kept hooting it back and forth, like two owls calling to each other:  Whoo knows!  Whooo knows!




3


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 ~








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