The sun had set, leaving the parking lot in varying shades of grey and black. It was only six o’clock but felt like much later; the parking lot was less than a quarter full as if it was midnight on Christmas Eve. The carts were stacked neatly in their port, no doubt due to the one dollar fine if not returned. Their wheels madly rejected being pushed through the winter mush. They had a thin layer of snow on the metal as if asking shoppers to leave them alone. Elderly shoppers chose to go elsewhere – where their bags were packed and carried to the car for them, while young parents had their little ones walk beside the cart before getting into the seat on dry ground. While pushing the cart through the slush, I am forced to surge ahead with my head down, hoping to make it up the curb to safety. In doing so I almost run over an older man returning a handful of bags to the recycle containers lined along the outside walls of the store beside the ashtrays. He is dressed in ill-fitting jeans with a light grey bomber jacket zipped up to his white bearded chin. He returns the bags and then returns to the car. I get the cart up onto the concrete curb and as I enter through the “Automatic Caution Door,” my boot steps down onto the black carpeted mat designed to catch the moisture off of boots. The mat has long passed its saturation point and my boot smacks the fibers, causing grey water to spurt up around the perimeter of my sole. The sound is reminiscent of a young child playing in a rain puddle and I know my pants will now be covered in mud. Too bad my Mum is not here to stop me from squishing again and again, with increasing force, until I reach the end of the mat.
As soon as I enter the store I hear Christmas carols playing, drawing me to the cranberry sauce, sparkling water and six foot high towers of chocolates lying neatly in their paper cups inside their boxes. These Christmas goodies are plugged at the end of every aisle, taunting shoppers as “We wish you a Merry Christmas” plays in the background. As I turn down the first aisle, I notice it is placed strategically perpendicular to the remaining aisles. Stacked high with chips in dozens of flavours the music plays on: ‘songs of good cheer, Christmas is here.’ Beside the aisle of salty concoctions lie pallets stacked up with interesting combinations of food: canned baked beans and sparkling juice, graham crackers and plastic wrap, and applesauce beside cranberry flavoured soda pop. The cart, longing to retire for the evening, is pushing its way continuously to the right, having never been designed to handle this much snow.
Turning to look down the aisle of oils, vinegars, jams and jellies, I notice the gentleman from the parking lot. He has his jacket unzipped, revealing a plaid flannel shirt in bright reds and greens and a turtleneck trying to be the white it was born as; but like the snow, it too has turned a dull grey. He is humming along to Silver Bells as it plays softly overhead. I had forgotten about the carols playing and wondered how many I had missed.
There are no line-ups at the checkout so I finish my trip quickly. The cashier looks worn and tired, longing to go home before the slush freezes again and becomes treacherous. She wishes me a Merry Christmas and I do the same. I return the cart to its outdoor home and stop myself before wishing it a Merry Christmas too.
Written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge