Yesterday Ally and I needed to to town to get supplies for the garden we’re building, but I didn’t want to go until I cleaned the house. It’s not that I’m that big of a neat freak, but the amount of dog fur on the floor had reached my personal tipping point. For the last three days we had been cooped up inside because of rain and so there was extra fur and mud. It lay scattered like confetti on every surface, but especially the floor, so that our house was beginning to feel slovenly. It didn’t matter that I’d done the dishes and cleaned the counters, but it made me not want to bother with any other attempts at neatness, like straightening and fluffing the pillows on the couch. The amount of fur was so overwhelming that it formed cloud, creating its own netherworld, shadowing our wooden floors. They moved and flowed with the drafts of air as we opened and shut our doors.
Never has pulling out the vacuum and plugging it in given me greater pleasure. The vacuum is the only way to get up fur. If you try to sweep, then the pieces just blow around on the ground; it’s like watching a man with a leaf blower try to clean up leaves in the wind. I put the dogs out on the porch, because with every shake, more fur comes off. Ally followed behind with the swiffer sweeper to get up all their muddy prints, until the floor looked clean again. Our dogs looked at us through the windows on the porch, desperate to make eye contact so they could beg their way back in. With the floor so clean, I never want to let them in again.
Ally drives her father’s truck, a Ford 250 with an extra long bed, not the most ideal vehicle for a beginner driver but she’s getting a lot of practice. We go to see her father before we head to town. He’s trimming trees near the barn and we drive up to say goodbye. Then Ally has to back the truck up but she’s pretty new at this and her father watches with a disapproving look. He stares with what appears to be a really annoyed look as she turns the wheel one way (wrong!). And then the other (wrong again!). The ground is extra muddy, adding to threat—steer the truck off road and we may get stuck.
When we reach the HEB in Victoria, we get out and cross the massive parking lot and find that everyone is being channeled into only one entrance on the opposite side of where we parked. Employees stand guard at the exit, pointing customers to the entrance. The grocery store has used yellow caution tape and overturned grocery carts to form a makeshift lane. We get our cart and an employee hands a wipe to clean it down. Nobody working at the store is hard on one another, or angry sounding. Everyone is somber, like at a funeral, and they treat the employees like the funeral attendees, who are in mourning. But we’re not mourning a person yet, at least. We’re in mourning for the old normal.
“I feel like I’m in Disneyland,” says the old woman behind us, “getting my steps in today.” Her attitude feels refreshingly good, compared the dour, annoyed woman ahead of me, who I’m careful to stay six feet behind. There’s barely anyone in it but the lane snakes back and forth six times and we all have to make our way through it, like security at the airport. At the front, a manager lifts the caution tape so we don’t have to go through the last stretch. The bright yellow tape adds an extra touch to the sense of vigilance and care, even in this small Texas town, where COVID-19 has yet to surge.
Inside, some of the shoppers are wearing masks. You can’t smile at each other in the same way when a person wears a mask. I look into the eyes of a middle-aged brunette woman passing me. I can’t tell with her mask on, but it seems like she might be frowning. It’s just something about her eyes. People are waiting turns around the tomato section, so as not to crowd one another. We head for the celery and I get a paranoid feeling that maybe even the person who packaged that might have corona virus. Who would know?
Billy wants roast beef and a brisket so Ally and I follow the red footprint signs on the floor that lead us one way down the massive aisle of Cryovacked meat. We are at a super store so there’s a lot of it—mounds and mounds of red flesh in white styrofoam trays, wrapped in gleaming plastic. I venture towards a butcher—not too close—and ask him where I can find the roast beef.
“Oh, we don’t have any more,” he says. At first, he said he didn’t have brisket, but then his manager found some. I head towards it. A female employee tells me I have to enter down through the way I just came.
“But I just came from that way,” I said, confused about the system, like, if I go forward, I can’t go backwards but have to start all over again, like traveling the wrong way down a one way street.
The same worker catches an elderly lady who’s coming into the meat section from the totally wrong direction.
“Excuse me, but if you want to shop for meat, you have to enter down through there,” she tells her, pointing at the distant entrance.
“I don’t really know if I care,” said the old woman. “I mean, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I con’t care that much. Can I at least go check the expiration dates on the meat before I go down there to the line?”
“No, I’m so sorry, you’re going to have to go around,” the employee told her in what I could tell was her most sincerely kindest voice, whose tone even managed to sound like she was apologizing for have to stand there and tell people these directions.
“You know what? NO! It’s fine. I’ll just go do the vegetables. It’s fine, thank you so much.” She stormed off back towards the cheese aisle from where she came.
“Most people cooperate, but we have our few,” the employee told Ally, who had witnessed the exchange.
The same system applied for the rice and beans aisle, which was mostly empty—and the pasta aisle, where, to our delight, we found chickpea pasta, the only pasta left. But there was no more Clorox of any kind, wipes or spray. No more hand soap, even.
At the checkout lane, the women employees joke around with each other. They’re young and beautiful, compared to the decrepit old man who used to check me out at my local HEB. He has a major case of kyphosis, so that his head is permanently facing down. I wonder where is he now, and if he’s getting paid time off because he’s too old to be in the front lines. These young workers are not wearing masks; they’re wearing makeup and false eyelashes, standing at their cash registers, behind a plexiglass barriers, as if they’re zoo animals protected from the public.
We pass a woman and her daughter squirting hand sanitizer into their hands as they load bags into their car. When is it best to hand sanitize again? Now that all the Lysol wipes are sold out, my door handle isn’t clean, but if I touch it I’ll make it dirtier and same goes for the steering wheel. We resort to cleaning our hands once we get in the car, before Ally touches the steering wheel. We hope the sanitizer effectively sizzles this invisible killer virus off of our hands before we open up our new bag of Siete chips and eat one. We should probably wait, but it’s 3 pm and we haven’t eaten lunch and we’re hungry.