• Kelsey Garber

Fear Me, Fear You: 2

If you missed Fear Me, Fear You: 1, find it here.

At the entrance of the store, Mom plopped me back on my feet and adjusted the twisting of my suit. “Stay close the whole time, alright?”

“Yes, Mom.”

She guided me through the sliding doors with a hand on my back. The blinding lights on the ceiling whitewashed everything they touched and gave the impression of an overly sterile hospital. Only the eccentric colors and patterns of the patrons’ hazmat suits broke the monotony. The space between all the shoppers exceeded twenty feet and most glued their gazes to the tiles of the floor, only altering to steal distrustful glimpses at fellow customers. My demeanor remained open and wandering, defying the norm put forth by the rest.

Mom bounded down the aisles with a rushed eagerness to leave. Her collection of groceries and cleaning supplies quickly overcame all her faculties until my presence was no longer prominently on her mind. I skipped in her tracks, gawking at every interesting product on the shelves. Each time she reached for something, an automatic vapor of decontaminant rained down from little valves poised directly above. I flailed around in the haze, utilizing them as my own, personal sprinklers.

As we passed aisle seven, I ducked my head in to inspect the length of it, snoopy as ever. A woman shopped on the far end, but with the boring white of her protective suit and the mundane packaging of the medicines in stock, my curiosity fizzled into nothing. Mom marched several feet ahead so I stumbled forward to catch up.

Suddenly, a familiar sound alighted on my ear. I knew it all too well. My stagger screeched to a stop in order to listen. Muffled a short distance away, a strained gasp interrupted someone’s breath. The hitch didn’t match that of Ms. Sherry’s rasp, but that of my own after witnessing the heinous event. This was the whimper of someone weeping.

I tiptoed back to aisle seven and only peeped around the shelving, hoping to spy on the happenings without being seen. The white suited woman stood in the same spot, staring at the items in front of her, but after watching for a minute I noted the subtle tremor in her shoulders as she sobbed. Another patron walked by the other end of the aisle, glanced at the crying woman, and then averted their attention again with discomfort. I wondered if only my eyes noticed or if only my eyes cared.

Mom sallied forward, entrenched in her own thoughts. She darted down aisle nine without a backward glance.

Seizing my temporary freedom, I crept from hiding and made my way toward her. At about fifteen feet from my destination, the woman finally sensed my approach.

“Stay back,” she ordered. “You have to stay back.”

I pulled up to a halt, respecting her comfort. “I know,” I assured her.

As I gaped at her puffy, glistening skin through the glass, she side eyed me. “Can I help you with something? Where are your parents?”

“My mom is here,” I promised. Tilting my head at her, I asked, “Did you know Ms. Sherry?”

“Ms. who?” she scorned.

“When Ms. Sherry fell down, I was sad. Is that why you’re sad?”

She softened at the allusion. “I don’t know a Ms. Sherry, but I’m sorry that you were sad.”

“Did someone you know fall, too?” I asked.

An attempt at a friendly smile played at her lips and she shook her head. “No, I’ve been very lucky not to lose anyone.”

“Then why are you sad?”

Her shoulders raised in answer. “I don’t have much of a reason. Sometimes life just gets that way.”

“That’s okay,” I declared. “I’m glad you’re crying. I wanted to cry and no one else would cry with me.”

She nodded, her grin finally stretching fully though fresh tears still stained her. “I’ll be happy to cry with you.”

“Thanks!” I exclaimed. I furrowed my brow in concentration for a second before giving up, embarrassed. “But I can’t get myself to cry now.”

“I’m still grateful you talked to me,” she reassured. “Thank you.”

“Oh!” I shouted with an idea. “I have a present for you. It needed a friend, and you would be perfect for it.”

I fetched the withering daisy from my pouch where its frail frame had become more smooshed. I propped up its head in the hopes of reviving it. Gingerly, I placed it on the floor and then, remembering Mom’s lessons, I lathered it in the disinfectant I had packed away. The flower seemed unhappy with the wash and drooped further.

“No,” I whined at it. “Don’t die yet. I found you a new friend.”

The woman stepped forward, so I retreated to the other end of the aisle out of kindness. She retrieved a clean cloth from her own pouch and picked my daisy up in it, displaying the shrivelled bloom on her palm. Her eyes lit with a delight that satisfied my wants.

“You’re both wearing white,” I pointed out in excitement.

“So we are,” she beamed. “Kindred spirits.”

I gasped, startled, as Mom abruptly burst into the aisle and grabbed me wrist. “Baby, what are you doing?”

I indicated to the white woman. “I met someone.”

Keeping her head bowed as she always did in the presence of others, Mom mumbled to my new friend, “I’m terribly sorry.” She carted me off toward another aisle.

Before we left view, the woman called back, “It’s alright.”

Mom froze in amazement at the uplifted, cordial tone of the stranger. She risked raising her head enough to address her. “Sorry?”

The woman bounced the blossom in her hand to draw attention to it. “You have a wonderful daughter.”

Mom’s jaw dropped agape. “Thank you,” she replied in full voice, maintaining eye contact with this new human.

The woman in white peered down at me with a smile. “Thank you very much for this.”

As I mirrored her joy, my mom swept me up into her arms again with deliberate blinks, dumbfounded by the exchange. “Have a good day, ma’am,” she offered, her tone of uncertainty leaking through.

“You as well,” the woman beamed.

We proceeded to the check out immediately where Mom remained silent, seemingly lost in thought. I worried about the discipline I might face when we reached home. She refused to let me walk for myself the rest of time, likely wary since I went off on my own. At the exit of the store, an employee gave a curt nod in place of a farewell, conforming to the customs of a toxic world.

To my astonishment, Mom piped up, “Have a good day.”

The worker drew back, unprepared for interaction. He stammered, “Thanks.”

No words passed between us as she carried me back home. I still suspected reprimanding once we crossed the threshold. Her vacant expression proved unreadable.

As we neared home, I searched for Ms. Sherry where she had passed on, but no trace could be found. Authorities must have taken her away. I dared not voice this to my mom. As far as she was concerned, Ms. Sherry had left my mind completely.

Inside our foyer, she lifted her mask off and then aided me with the removal of mine. I lowered my head in shame, prepared for the onslaught. After a moment, she pressed on my chin to force my gaze up. Oddly enough, a stream glinted from her cheeks.

“What’s wrong?”

She knelt down with me and caressed my hair. “I’m sorry about Ms. Sherry.”

“You’re sad too?” I gleaned.

She nodded. “Yeah, baby. And that’s okay.”

Her arms embraced me and we rocked together in the entryway, not even bothering to fully remove our suits.

The woe of my loss mingling with the comfort of her touch, I whispered in her ear, “I love you, Mommy.”

She shifted back enough to place a gentle kiss on my forehead. “I love you, too, baby.”

© 2020 by Kelsey Garber

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