Ian Randall Wilson
Of All Possible Rigidity

To enter the store with a cart and a list on a Friday night is to signal that he is a single man of limited invention. To enter the store with a cart and no list suggests he is only cruising. To enter the store with no cart and a list reveals that his life is chaotic. To enter the store with only himself is an indication of spontaneity, an acknowledgment that anything can happen, a herald that he should be watched.

He swings past the aisle of fresh produce figuring the night's return. One hand tucks into a side pocket, he leads with his hips keeping loose knees; his steps roll. He hums in the tuneless whispers of children who remember every third word but not the song. He tests the air seeking the essential attraction, past the avocados tumbled to the floor. The peaches are in dire need of rotation but the grocery boys are engaged with the corn. There is an old man pressing bananas, searching for a clue to longevity in bruised yellow skins. Farther up, a younger man with his tie askew balances lettuce trying to summon up the spirit of the vegetable inside. Is the answer in the pork chops? Has she chosen to stand among the fryers?

The dairy case is deserted, cardboard boxes extravagantly piled with whipping cream and fresh butter ready to be placed into waiting gaps on the shelves. The boxes sweat with condensation and moisture stains their fronts. The restocking is beginning.

Changing pockets, he walks past displays of gaudily-covered cookbooks and chilies ground to powder hanging in bags like ornaments on a wire tree. From what ovens does such food emerge? Certainly none he has ever known. Without pause his circuit brings him past the whole-beaned coffee redolent with steam, past the rice and the pasta and the twenty-six varieties of tomato sauce. One Friday he stood for twenty minutes talking to her-who-might-be-the-one. In the end she scorned his choice of low-fat dressing, left him standing alone on aisle three. She was nothing real.

Tonight he is alone on aisle three with the mustards, unaccompanied through the soups. She is not there in the bottled juices, in the baking section asking for help with the flour nor in the aisle whose shelves are filled with oil. It is only midnight on a Friday, perhaps too early to snare the returning crowd. Still he has had success on other Fridays in this store at this time wearing the same gray shirt and the same pair of pants, his hair cut the identical length. He has chosen it after careful attention to the new romantic comedies, and the ones released on tape which might entice her not to shop. He has reviewed the television section of the paper and considered whether a local concert might be too big a draw. There are no such distractions this evening and the store's deserted floor is hard to fathom. He considers changing tactics, altering the stalking ground. Where are you, my Angel?

He stops in front of the spices to reorient himself. Why does no one turn the labels face front? Order is important, without it, how can anyone read? There is the sound of rubber on the washed linoleum floor. A cart flashes by at the far side of the aisle, he thinks he catches the hint of long hair and an attractive posture. Only another musician buying snacks, long hair rustling in back, low-slung jeans. Quelle mistake.

He turns a corner and moves from shadow into outer darkness. He listens for the sound that might have gotten by him, only steady light.

He makes his way, childless, through the personal hygiene products, past the shelves stacked neatly with blue and red containers of toothpaste and fresh, gleaming brushes of all possible rigidity. He fingers the boxes feet numb with the weight of walking.

This may be her, there at last, in front of the refrigerated cheeses, small and dark and wearing a man's white T-shirt, thin blue skirt bound at the waist. Her hair is shoulder-length and swinging as she bends down to take up a pack of shredded cheddar. He grabs a gallon jug of bottled water and moves to her side, each step intention. He will ask her about dips and salsa, about Mexican cooking and do you live nearby.

He is next to her now and as if sensing him, she wheels around. A frown. Right hand against the cheek.

And the clear stone mocks the tilt of a chin.

I can't understand you, she says.

You shouldn't talk to me like that, she says.

I don't think so, she says,

He pays for his water at the 10-item or less checkout stand using small bills. She is two cashiers away, bent over and writing out a check for her frozen delicacies. Her skirt is slit on both sides and the shadow of her underwear is visible underneath. Nothing bold in this: her hint at revelation, feinting with bare skin uncovers nothing that tells -- even the nipples are battened down beneath a white-lace bra, and the panties conventionally wide. Her body has a touch of hunching, suggesting a calcium deficient future.

And there is the ring.

She is not here tonight, will not be here tonight. He knows that now, tasting nothing of her smooth skin in the air -- only her idea sensed within the shadows by the door. When he has at last walked the last display of fresh fish resting in ice beds laid out by married workers, filled a basket with five perfect nectarines, swept down the even aisles and carried off his goods to the line, stretched in the cool, waiting, found the bones of his back in their deep cracking, limbered out his knees, he may find her then. He has named her Ellen, glad and ready. His search requires patience, the tenacity of a saint. He is getting into his car when the full moon breaks through the cloud cover giving him enough light to find the keyhole, to start the engine on the first attempt, to turn around.