First stop is always the post office because we’re never really sure what time it closes. The clerk and I play this game together every time I mail a package. He says, after putting the package on the scale: I can guarantee this for Monday for only $52.85 (I look aghast) or I can possibly get it there by Monday, but most likely Tuesday for $22.45 (I mumble that there’s really no hurry as there’s nothing important in the box) - - or I can get it there by Wednesday for $4.23 (I nod enthusiastically). He knows I will never pay the highest price and I know that he’s got to go through the litany of absurd choices (plus the singsong: “anything liquid, fragile or perishable?”), especially when his manager is standing a few feet away. But he has a slight smile on his lips as he rattles off the numbers. He has to know no one is ever going to pay $52.85 to ship some gently-worn work jeans to a friend.
At the feed store we got a collar for Ike – his neck just keeps getting bigger, and a bright orange leash to keep in the car in case we ever forget to bring one with us (which I just had). I also wanted a big bag of black oil sunflower seeds for the birds, but the owner said they were too expensive to stock (“They went up to $35 a bag and no one was buying them.”), but he’d have smaller bags later in the fall; meanwhile folks were feeding their birds other kinds of seeds, he said. Kel picked up turnip seeds and we almost got out of there with only those items, except then Kel went out to see if the new collar would fit Ike and that gave me just enough time to find the shoe and boot section of the store. Interesting. Kel came back in and I joined him at the counter, my mind working. When he opened his wallet to pay the owner asked, fatefully, “Is that it?” and I blurted out that I would’ve picked up a pair of Bogs if only they’d had my size. He reared back a bit and assumed an expression of deep hurt. Pushing himself away from the counter he cried, “Your size! What’s your size? Of course we have your size!” and down the aisle we went, past the rat poison, the packs of sticky spider traps, the horse halters and the numbered ear tags (for cows) and he leaned down and looked at each and every dusty box of Bogs until he found one that said: Kids5, Black. He handed me the box and pointed to a cracked black chair in the corner, near a tall pile of cardboard boxes. Then he grabbed a plastic grocery bag to put on my foot since I wasn’t wearing socks. He fretted over me so much I flashed briefly back to Nordstrom’s shoe department: sitting in a comfortable lounge chair while listening to classical music being played on the piano near the escalators; someone was just about to come around with a tray of champagne when I “came to” suddenly and was still at a feed store that smelled strongly of fertilizer, in a shell of a town, sitting in a broken chair wearing a grocery bag on my foot printed with the words, ThankYouThankYouThankYou. I got the boots.
In line at Walmart (where they had bags of black oil sunflower seeds, same price as always), the cashier was telling the wrinkled couple in front of me how much she hated snakes and the old man was teasing her by inviting her to come out and sit by the pond and watch the snakes sunning themselves on the rocks. She kept saying, “No, no! I’m not comin’ to visit you!” The old man just laughed, his tongue pointing straight out of his mouth while his wife, the buying transaction over, gently urged him and their cart towards the exit. When I approached the counter I told the cashier she wouldn’t want to come visit me since we had lots of snakes, too. When she asked – and I told her – where we lived, she said, “I can’t go anywhere! They’re snakes north, south, east and west of me! I just hate snakes! Doesn’t matter if they’re only on TV, I hate them!” I pushed the cart out into the sun and the hot parking lot, thinking about snakes, and Kel loaded the bag of sunflower seeds.
While Kel got the squishy right front tire on the car looked at, I took Ike (on his new leash) for a walk along the old railroad tracks and the small garden someone planted there. There were rows of okra in bloom and tall tomato plants that looked healthy but had not a single flower nor ripening fruit. Then we found a shady alley to walk along and were greeted by the heavy, sweet fragrance of honeysuckle – the vine had overwhelmed a crepe myrtle. I prefer the honeysuckle anyway.
Kel pulled up in the car, tire repaired, and we decided to take the dirt road back home since the car wasn’t clean anyway. We’d seen a plume of dark gray smoke rising from the south and though it looked close when we’d first seen it, it seemed to recede farther and farther to the south as we drove towards it.