Growing up, I was anxious to have my own time, to immerse myself in TV and video games, and would accrue anger as I followed my mother around the grocery store, each time she stopped to make an acquaintance or play with a baby. “Enjoy these years,” she’d say, pinching a tiny foot. “This is easy.” So when I stop by her place, and she asks me to take her to Safeway, a half mile up the road, I want to say no. I have reasons. Okay, I have one reason: I want to write. I won’t say no. Instead, I munch tortilla chips in her kitchen, listen to her footsteps pound the third floor, loud, and her muffled promises to come down in a minute.
The microwave clock, set fifteen minutes ahead, throws me off. I pace. Her concept of time, it’s impractical as her sense of needed space. Growing up, just the three of us—I have a brother—every house was too big, extra rooms, oversized pantries stacked with snacks and soda.
There are three stories to this house. Where she lives alone.
Overcast, faint blue livens tree-trunk gray. Six years ago, when we traded Texas for Washington, this depressed me. Driving to Safeway, I don’t mind now.
“I need printer ink,” I say.
Not a minute later, Cartridge World slips by.
My mother pokes the window. “Wasn’t you gonna get ink?”
“I meant—I’ll go while you’re shopping. I really don’t have a lot of time.”
Silence returns until I pull up to the magic doors of Safeway. Carts within carts, a line longer than my car, are pushed inside by an employee, a girl moving between shoppers shuffling in either direction, some with bags, others with carts. I ask my mother if she has her phone. She doesn’t, but she’ll be right out.
Cartridge World is closed on Sunday, according to a sign taped inside the door.
Down the street, the Staples clerk plucks a box of ink off the shelf. I could have found it on my own, had I not been thinking about my mother. If I wanted to watch TV when she wanted to make a “quick” run to the store—my brother and I couldn’t stay home alone, too young—I’d set a VHS to six hours, feed the VCR, record.
Before I check out, I make a detour. She’s probably making detours right now, like she always does, master of wasting time. My keyboard has been acting up lately, typing on its own. I price them on the next aisle. Thirty dollars. Forty dollars. Fifty.
In the Safeway parking lot I split my gaze between a book and the store doors. A half hour later, a mere page or two later, my pocket buzzes. “Home” flashes on my phone. Why it says home when I don’t live with her, I don’t know.
“I stood outside,” she says. “I waited and waited.” Chasing her breath, she doesn’t sound upset. Just tired. Maybe, the way I needed my time for TV and video games, the way I need my time now for writing, she needed her shopping, her socializing. Not today.
I start to lie. “I’ve been out here the whole time, facing—”
“Then I walked all around the parking lot.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was reading.”
At home, my home, finally, I check my email. An apology: my mother didn’t have my phone. She’s sorry. It was a bad plan.
The clock on my desktop says I have four hours till bedtime. Four hours to write.
About the author:
Bernard Grant is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Barely South Review and Blue Lyra Review.