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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Body Language (11/25/10)

TITLE: Vanquishing the Chaos of the Aisle
By Theresa Santy


With equal portions of excitement and dread—twisted in a knot in the pit of my stomach—I take my place in line at the grocery checkout. A short distance remains between me and the freedom to return home where I will reunite with my fuzzy blanket and overstuffed couch. But I fear this will be the most difficult stretch of my shopping journey. It is a place where every nearby thing is compressed like at the tip of a funnel where mass and energy are combined and driven through by the brutal force of gravity.

My kids are bloated with liveliness as if their little bodies were energized from friction with linoleum as they ran wild through the store. Getting through this narrow checkout passage with even a trace of elegance will be nothing short of a miracle, yet my skills as a mother will be earnestly judged here. I will give in to exhaustion however, and do nothing to prevent the inevitable.

My four-year-old Jacob darts ahead, brazenly invading the personal space of the tall woman ahead of us in line. Consciously I grasp the importance of manners, but I wonder; can such a possession be maintained?

Jacob zips to and fro, scanning the racks filled with candy, sweet nectar for my little humming bird son. The boy has no idea it’s not his turn to peruse the racks, but the tall woman knows and her posture stiffens. This woman holds her back toward me and I watch her knuckles pop, nearly breaking through the skin, as she clutches the edge of her cart. The tall woman stands firm, unmoving while her daughter loads her groceries onto the belt, as if by maintaining rigidity and concentrating all her energy from her center outward, she might create a force field to protect her space.

My wayward son returns to my side. I imagine the tall woman’s force field is working, but then my three-year-old Rebekkah escapes and scales the tall woman’s cart, since it is the perfect tree for her monkey limbs. The tall woman breathes audibly, clenches her jaw and beyond all conceivability, stiffens further.

I realize I should control my children. But I believe Rebekkah’s climb will be short, and I’m weary, so the only action I take is to feel empathy for the tall woman. I recall what it was like to be overcome by the smallest of life’s annoyances.

Rebekkah hops off and the tall woman proceeds to the cashier. She glances back while sliding her credit card and her posture softens in the space of a snap. Her jaw is soft and noticeably unclenched.

Ahh, she’s noticed my beautiful scarf. Its bold rich prints are quite and eye catcher, but I suppose this fine silk piece is never enough to distract from the baldness below. The tall woman realizes her tension is wasted on me, or so I imagine. She gives me a smile before walking away.

I take my turn with the cashier, who looks at me for the first time. Her loving smile rests gently on my eyes. It’s the same smile given by the tall woman and the same expression I see from others whenever my scarf comes into view. I used to despise this gesture, believing strangers had no right to smile at me when they had no conception of what I was going through. But now I look forward to this gift. At times it feels like a hug. More often it feels like the very light of God bathing my soul. It is a soft and pleasing rise of the lips which seems to say, “I know, dear one. I know.”

My children and I exit the tip of the funnel. We are free. I’m minutes away from my fuzzy blanket and overstuffed couch and could not be more delighted. Jacob and Rebekkah are surprisingly calm. Perhaps my tired little conquerors will be willing to take a nap.

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This article has been read 1128 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Rachel Phelps12/02/10
Really lovely story and great for this topic. Some of the descriptions felt almost too flowery for the setting, as if I couldn't see the scene as a whole because of the amount of description. Still, excellent. Your MC was wonderful.
Lollie Hofer12/03/10
You did a good job capturing the frustration of the older woman in line. I also like how your mc learned to embrace people's smiles as hugs.
Lillian Rhoades 12/03/10
Great descriptive language, but I'm not sure of the significance of the scarf.
Gregory Kane12/04/10
I loved the exuberant chaos caused by the bored children - all very realistic. Made it think that it's sad that shopping has become such an impersonal experience where people will queue without speaking to their neighbours.
I presume that the scarf and the baldness relate to some form of chemotherapy.
Noel Mitaxa 12/04/10
There's so much energy here; and all so true to life and all so well-described; as was the "force field" rigidity of the tall shopper. I also wondered if the tide of gentleness that swept the scene was exaggerated - until a second reading touched on why your MC was wearing the scarf.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/05/10
Wow I didn't expect the ending nor the emotion I felt when I read it. This is one of my favorites. You did an outstanding job describing that look of pity and I love how theMC changed it from pity into love which is often what the look is really about!
Cheryl Harrison12/06/10
... sweet nectar for my little humming bird son.

Beautiful description of an active little boy.

Your story is very touching.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/09/10
Congratulations on your EC!!! I love reading your stories each week:)
stanley Bednarz12/09/10
Congratulations Theresa! Nice to see you rise to the top. Stan
Lollie Hofer12/09/10
Well done, Theresa. I'm glad it received an EC. It was one of my favorites.
Stacy Aannestad12/09/10
Wonderful story, Theresa! You captured very well the feelings of both the mc and the tall woman. For a second I, too, was confused about the scarf, but when I read more carefully I realized what was going on and really liked the subtle way you brought that out.

Henry Clemmons12/09/10
You're quickly becoming one of my favorites. I like a read I have to think about and ponder; one that is written well and doesn't haphazardly place a word or prop in the story. Great job. and congrats on EC.
Noel Mitaxa 12/09/10
Congratulations on a well-deserved win.

Mariane Holbrook 12/10/10
Congratulations and kudos on your win!
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/11/10
Congratulations on your EC for this excellent story.