I’m loading my groceries onto the cashier’s counter when someone taps me on the shoulder.
“I’d steer clear of that if I were you,” says a middle-aged woman in Birckenstocks and a shapeless brown dress. She stands just a little too close, rocking slightly from heel to toe, heel to toe. With her long face and closely cropped hair, she looks more like a cattail than a human. She points to the frozen chicken breasts I had just placed on the belt, staring at the innocent yellow package as if it contained, in flash-frozen form, the very essence of horror.
“It’s not past the sell-by date,” I assure her. “And it doesn’t smell spoiled. I think it’s OK.”
She inches closer still. A pungent mix of pine and underarm odor wafts from her. Her mouth opens but, for a moment, no sound emerges. Then she mouths the words: “It’ll kill you.”
I step back. “The chicken’s for the dog,” I tell her.
She grimaces and shakes her head. “Oh no, no, no! Chicken is much too intense for a dog.”
Pardon? I’ve heard many words attached to the ubiquitous bird: fried, shit, even choking, but intense? Never. Especially not in relation to canines, who are after all creatures that devour rain-soaked road kill as if it were a communion wafer.
I turn away from the advice-doling woman and pretend to search for something inside my purse. Thank heavens for that feedbag I lug around with me. There’s always an excuse in there for ending a conversation, for ignoring somebody, for being overtly rude. “Chapstick,” I mumble, “where’s my goddam Chapstick?”
I can feel her eyes boring into me but I don’t dare look.
“Thirty two fifty four,” the cashier says. I swipe my card and steal a furtive glance over my shoulder. The woman in the brown dress presses her lips together; her nostrils flare. She doesn’t utter a sound, but I know exactly what she’s thinking.