Zeroing in on the task before her, Ellie drew in her breath, opened her car door and swinging her 80-year-old legs around, planted her feet on the concrete.
“There,” she thought to herself. “The first step.”
At 8:00 a.m. the parking lot spaces closest to the storefront filled quickly as shoppers made their way to the front doors labeled “Seniors Only – 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m”. Armed with lists, shielded faces set in poker face mode, these proactive beings stood waiting. Battle lines drawn, the doors open, allowing the shoppers to spring into action. Each grabs a grocery cart as they follow their plan of attack.
Her cart before her, grocery list in hand, Ellie steers toward the fruits and vegetables, aiming for the green peppers. She spies an opening and checks her perimeter. Seeing only free space in front of her as well as around the peppers, she makes her move. As she grabs the vegetable of choice (having made her selection as she drew near) she discovers another shopper staring at their list and headed in her direction. Swiftly and deftly tossing the vegetables in the cart, she steers away from the shelves, doing a ‘180’ in the middle of the aisle as the other shopper glances up. A smile creases her mask as she moves toward her next target.
Halfway through, Ellie takes a breath while she glances around at her fellow store patrons. With purposeful stride, most of the masked souls focus solely on their goal, no lingering over the canned goods or yogurt, no requests for the attending staff. Only determined and artful cart maneuvers meet her eyes as she looks around.
A small, rail-thin woman stops, allowing the appropriate number of feet between her’s and Ellie’s cart, “Excuse me, do you know where I might find pesto?”
Ellie smiles, “I believe pesto is with the pasta. Try two aisles that direction.” She points to her left.
“Your hair is beautiful,” the woman says. “It’s so white.”
“Thank you,” Ellie replies as she touches her short bob. “It needs trimmed, but, well… you know.”
The woman laughs, “Boy, do I? Do you see this mess?” She points to her head. “The only saving grace is the fact that everybody needs a haircut right now, right?”
Ellie scans the store then looks back at the woman, “Yep. As it stands, we are all in this together.”
“I venture to say, at our age, that both of us have been through tough times before. We’ll win this war, too.”
“I hope you’re right. If everyone were on the same side, we just might win—this war, as you call it.”
The woman’s mask moves, indicating a smile beneath it, “We’re tough old birds. With us on the right side of this, doing our best to beat it, we have a fighting chance. Well, it was very nice talking with you—mask to mask, that is. Beats Facetime!”
“Same here. Take care and stay safe.”
“Plan on it. I’m going directly home. I only go out every two weeks right now—to do this.” She gestures toward her cart.
As Ellie moves on toward the dairy section, she turns around to wave at her new friend. Focused on her task, the woman doesn’t notice. Glad for the opportunity to conduct an actual conversation with a stranger, Ellie has to fight the urge to turn her cart around, find her friend, and suggest that they have coffee sometime in the store. A what-used-to-be normal reasonable request.
Ellie reasons to herself, “I’m at the grocery store. I’m shopping. When I go outside the sun will be shining and the weather pleasant. I’ll get in my car and drive home with my groceries. A normal day.” Then, for a brief moment, her thoughts darken, “Only the day isn’t normal. THIS isn’t normal.”
With a shrug, she starts moving again, “But this is what is. It just… is.”
Finished with her shopping, Ellie wheels the cart to her car, unloads her groceries, falls into the driver’s seat and pulls away.
At home, after unloading the groceries, wiping each item down with spray bleach, and putting them away, she wipes the counter and washes her hands as she sings the alphabet song.
Her cell phone rings at the same time a photo pops up on the screen. The picture is of a nice-looking young woman with shiny red hair, blue eyes, a soft smile. “Sophie,” Ellie says into the phone, “Are you already at work?”
“Yep, came in about three hours ago. Did you go to the store yet, Mom?”
“I did. I’ve followed protocol. Wiped everything down, put up the groceries and now I plan on relaxing with a cup of coffee. How has your morning gone?”
“We lost another patient.” Pause.
“But two were discharged yesterday. I’m glad your home. I don’t like you going to the store.”
“I realize that. But it’s nice every once in a while to see people face-to-face, or mask-to-mask I guess I should say. With your dad gone, it can be rather quiet around this place. Besides, I do use delivery services and I limit myself to going out only once or twice a month.”
“I know I can trust you to do what’s best. Hey, I have to get back to work. They’re admitting more patients.”
“Okay. Be—” Sophie hung up.
As Ellie puts her cell phone down on the side table, she glances at the photo resting there. She smiles as her eyes light on the women, both suited up in scrubs, arms around each other’s shoulders. The older woman wears a stethoscope around her neck. She is the taller of the two and sports short platinum white hair. The other woman is smiling brightly, her red hair held back in a ponytail. Inscribed below the photo, etched in gold, are the words: Because you were a doctor, I became a nurse. Love you mom, Sophie.