A Normal Morning (A Covid Story)

Grocery cart

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 firmly 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 opened, allowing the shoppers to spring into action. Each grabbed a grocery cart as they followed their plan of attack.

Her cart before her, grocery list in hand, Ellie steered toward the fruits and vegetables, aiming for the green peppers. She spied an opening and checked her perimeter. Seeing only free space in front of her as well as around the peppers, she made her move. As she grabbed the vegetable of choice (having made her selection as she drew near) she discovered another shopper staring at their list and headed in her direction. Swiftly and deftly tossing the vegetables in the cart, she steered away from the shelves, doing a ‘180’ in the middle of the aisle as the other shopper glanced up. A smile creased her mask as she moved toward her next target.

Halfway through, Ellie took a breath while she glanced around at her fellow store patrons. With purposeful stride, most of the masked souls focused solely on their goal, no lingering over the canned goods or yogurt, no requests for the attending staff. Only determined and artful cart maneuvers met her eyes as she looked around.  

A small, rail-thin woman stopped, allowing the appropriate number of feet between her’s and Ellie’s cart, “Excuse me, do you know where I might find pesto?”

Ellie smiled, “I believe pesto is with the pasta. Try two aisles that direction.” She pointed to her left.

“Your hair is beautiful,” the woman said. “It’s so white.”

“Thank you,” Ellie replied as she touched her short bob. “It needs trimmed, but, well… you know.”

The woman laughed, “Boy, do I? Do you see this mess?” She pointed to her head. “The only saving grace is the fact that everybody needs a haircut right now, right?”

Ellie scanned the store then looked 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 moved, 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 gestured toward her cart.

As Ellie moved on toward the dairy section, she turned around to wave at her new friend. Focused on her task, the woman didn’t notice. Glad for the opportunity to conduct an actual conversation with a stranger, Ellie had 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 reasoned 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 darkened, “Only the day isn’t normal. THIS isn’t normal.”

With a shrug, she started moving again, “But this is what is. It just… is.”

Finished with her shopping, Ellie wheeled the cart to her car, unloaded her groceries, and fell into the driver’s seat. After a few moments she pulled away from the lot.

At home, after unloading the groceries and wiping each item down with spray bleach, then putting them away, she wiped the counter and washed her hands as she sang the alphabet song.

Her cell phone rang at the same time a photo popped up on the screen. The picture is of a nice-looking young woman with shiny red hair, blue eyes, a soft smile. “Sophie,” Ellie said 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 put her cell phone down on the side table, she glanced at the photo resting there. She smiled as her eyes fell on the women, both suited up in scrubs, arms around each other’s shoulders. The older woman has a stethoscope draped 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.

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