Monday, August 13, 2012
Ethella picked up a few cellophaned chunks of cheese and checked out their weight and country of origin. As she put the French brie back in its place beside its brothers and placed the cheaper American-made one into her red store-issued basket, she heard the song. It was immediately familiar.
Most supermarkets play the same songs, about 100 recycled tunes from the last 50 years of rock. This particular familiarity, instead of getting lost in the mire of repetition, struck emotionally, blasting a buried memory into perfect, ringing clarity. And the cheese, the shoppers around her, the weight of the basket, it all wove into a multitude of threads, experience and perception becoming both more bright and blurry at the same time. Tears came to her eyes and she moved her head softly humming along.
She had a babysitter named Jennifer one summer when she was 10. Jennifer was 15 and had long blond hair and wore red lipstick. She suggested that Ethella and her younger sister prepare a romantic surprise dinner for their parents. They planned a menu of spaghetti and red sauce, salad and dessert, they had Jennifer’s mom drive them to the supermarket to buy the ingredients and flowers.
At 4pm they started cleaning and creating the space. Ethella set the formal dining table with their nice linens and china reserved for special occasions. The dining room was separated from the kitchen by a decorative angular archway and Ethella tacked a large tablecloth in front of it to block out the view and light from the kitchen.
Before her parents came home she went to the stereo in the living room. There was a clutter of tapes and records- none of them familiar to her. She picked one up at random and put it into the tape player, she listened to it for a second and thought it was perfect. Smooth, low vocals- it seemed right for a dinner set to candlelight.
Her parents came home. Ethella’s mother changed into a nice dress and sat at the table with Ethella’s father, both of them going along with what the girls had created. After dinner her mother asked how she had known to play that particular tape, “it’s the most romantic music we have.” Ethella shrugged, not yet having words to describe intuition and mood.
A familiar song played in the grocery store. She only remembered hearing the music that one night so many years ago. She walked through the aisles, past other shoppers oblivious to her joyful tears and open heart. She swayed her head while singing the few words of the chorus she could make out.