From a foot away, the waxy roses in their plastic cones of water look fake and are scentless until you stick your nose right up to the dusty stamens.
Some of the flowers have been shoved into arrangements with babies breath and unidentifiable greenery.
I finger a pink petal. It’s as soft as a cat’s ear.
“C’mon,” Dave says wearily. “The groceries aren’t going to get themselves.”
We grab a cart, still wet with rain from where it sat in a corral outside. We need so much food that I’m overwhelmed. Everything overwhelms me lately.
“You wanna take the produce and I’ll do the meat?” he asks.
Isn’t that always the way? The woman dallying among the carrots and apples while the man goes for the steak and whole chickens.
I shrug. “I want saltines.”
“Okay,” he consults our list, jotted on grease-stained paper. “You do the middle section then.”
Instead, I just trail him through the coolers of ham hocks, pork chops, ground turkey. “Stew,” I say. “That would be good.” I toss a Styrofoam tray of pink beef cubes into the basket.
Grabbing a plastic bag from a paper towel-like roll-–because now all our meat that’s already wrapped in plastic has to be shrouded in more plastic in case of leaks-–he seizes a pork loin and says, “Don’t you think we’ve spent enough time together lately?”
Yes I do. We’d fornicated every day, sometimes twice a day, often against our will, for months now. Almost a year, actually. But being with him has become a strange sort of addiction.
I shrug again.
I look at the stew meat I selected and my stomach churns. Quickly, so as to forget I ever picked it out, I put it back.
Dave glances at me over his shoulder but continues ambling along, pushing the rattling cart.
We never used to grocery shop together. He would grab a few things on his way home from the office, or I, driving back from whatever house I’d decorated for a local real estate agent, would stop for milk, bread, and Twizzlers. The necessities.
But there was something about spending hours a week groping desperately at the other person, hair plastered in strips to your cheeks, heart pounding hard with hope and resentment, that made you almost afraid to leave them for long. We’d become grumpily codependent.
I didn't even work anymore. The fertility doctor said our chances of conceiving would be better if I reduced my stress level, so I quit my job as a staging consultant.
In leaving, though, I found myself rattling around our three-level house obsessively straightening photos, vacuuming blinds, and snaking drains, my temples pulsating, my sense that if I could just make everything right and neat, all our dreams would come true.
Sometimes, when I was scrubbing the upstairs bathtub, I would actually shake, afraid to miss the ring from a shaving cream can or a curly hair caught in the filter basket.
Dave says, “How about some fish?”
I vomit onto Safeway’s shiny, white tile.
I am mortified, but the look on Dave’s face makes the public spewing worth it. His expressionlessness of late, his features that I can’t nudge into a smile or grimace even when I come up with a dumb pun, which we both normally love, or execute some strange dance move, arrange themselves into stricken concern.
He flags down an employee and stands with me, rubbing my back as I hunch over my puddle. “Oh, my God.” I dig a Kleenex from my purse and blow my nose.
“Ok, no fish,” he says, trying to make a joke.
“I, uh, I should tell you–”
“Twizzlers?” he says. “I know you like those.”
I nod, conceding this to be truth.
Maybe now isn’t the time to talk, anyway.
It definitely isn’t the place to tell him about my mixed feelings.
I saw a movie recently, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, based on the pregnancy manual, where when Elizabeth Banks’ character found out she was, indeed, expecting, she was so excited she ran right into a swimming pool waving around the white wands she’d just peed on.
That wasn't my reaction. Looking at the double pink lines three weeks ago, I sank to the edge of the bathtub and thought, Really? This is what it feels like? This is it?
A teenage boy wearing a pimply but impressive poker face, drags a mop and bucket on wheels toward us.
“I’m so sorry,” I say.
I can’t watch him clean my mess, so I head toward the cereal. Cereal. So comforting. Cheerios and Frosted Mini Wheats and Count Chocula.
I don’t know where Dave has gone. And, oddly, I am hungry again.
Ripping into a box of Lucky Charms, I devour handfuls of frosted O’s and fluorescent marshmallows. They are better than I remembered.
My parents used to let my sister and I eat whatever sweet cereal we wanted growing up. There was no limit to the Super Sugar Crisp or Honeycomb we could consume in one week.
It is truly amazing that neither of us ended up obese.
Though I soon would be. Or, at least, would swell significantly.
Dave finds me, our cart now full of crackers and cookies.
Starship plays through the overhead speakers. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. From that dumb 80s movie, Mannequin.
Looking down at the box of cereal then up into my face for the first time in forever, Dave says, “Do you have something to say to me?”
Without thinking it, without really meaning to, I say, “I just think we should cool it.”
His features bleed into smooth relief. “With the trying? Oh, me too. Me too. I’m so happy to hear you say that. I don’t…” he stares toward the oatmeal and PopTarts. “I’m not even sure this is what we want anymore. What I want. In fact I’m sure it’s not. I think we should just be us. Forget the kid, who will tap us dry anyway.”
Despite my earlier antipathy, I have known since the fish, have known deep down before the fish, that Dave and I are headed in different directions, down different aisles, if you will. His denial has fueled my desire, once again, to be a mom. “Forget the kid?” I say, a marshmallow sticking in my throat. “You don’t want it?”
“It’s always been your thing, Cas. If parenting is anything like the trying, if it’s anywhere near as frustrating, then I’m not cut out for it. I know that now.”
I nod, wishing I’d thought to grab a quart of milk to wash down the cereal. So this is it then, our priorities have diverged overnight.
“Dave,” I say.
“What Cas?” He looks suddenly exhausted, his eyes drooping, forehead creased again.
“I, uh…” I begin to back away. My voice vibrates with sadness and fear and clarity as I say, “I think we need to not be us anymore. I think we need to get separate carts."