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          There’s no space where I won’t get brushed against or breathed on or worse, trapped


shuffle up the street as Chava, my ten-year-old, skips ahead. We’re on our way to the grand opening of the latest supermarket in town, with promises of super low prices and a musical band with famous singers. My darling chatters about the pinks and reds of the mishloach manos stuff she’ll be buying at the supermarket as I half listen, half plan my strategy. I’ll escape to the apple bins while the kid gathers her loot, watches the show, and chums up with friends.

We near the entrance. Music clangs, carriages drag mothers, balloons clutch kids. A mob. My chest feels hollow. I can’t go in. “Uh! Chavs. Maybe we can come ba—”

Her eyes pop, mouth hangs open like a wailing tiger.

“Uh, let’s wait for the way to clear.” Except that more and more foot traffic swallows us, hair and furs chaff my face. All my leg muscles urge me to push the line to get inside, get to any clearing fast, but it’s a fight to inch in slowly. Finally we’re in, and my jaw tightens. Towering shelves filled with goodies. What seems like hundreds of girls reaching, dropping, laughing. There’s no space where I won’t get brushed against or breathed on or worse, trapped.

High on some makeshift stage, tambourines crash, men in red vests thunder a high pitch. Who needs all this? Not me. I need to get out of this tight place now.

But Chava is already ogling her treasures, so I search for a safe spot, finally lean against a shelf on which the ketchup and mustard shiver. Chava touches base every so often, holds up a pink or red find like a trophy. Her shopping cart is filling up; all she needs, she says, is 22 cans of Coke.

“I can’t find them,” she says.

My gut freezes. I’m not going anywhere in this stuffed place. “Look where the drinks are.”

“I already did. Come help me.”

I can’t.

Chava’s eyes do a little tizzy.

“Let’s find it together,” I croak, heave off the shelves, urge the shopping cart on. Round the bend where the coast is clear, up the next aisle where the Voss waits. There’s the Coke. Chava’s face lights up and the cans clink into the cart. “And Ma,” she says, “I saw little chocolates with cute red hearts. On the top shelf. Next to the cookie aisle. Can you get them for me?” And she runs off to exchange one nosh for another.

I’m left stranded with the cart, the crowd swarming in my face. My heart squeezes, but I push the cart forward, my eyes roving for space. I peer in at the cookie aisle; boxes are strewn across the floor and a ladder on one side makes it a one-way street, but it’s clear of other traps. I swerve in, swift on my feet, on and on. Up ahead a woman with a cart moves in, then another. I look back to move out and my stomach drops. A family, two overloaded carts.

If I abandon my cart now, I can still squeeze through the tight path to a clearing. But Chava’s mouth will open like a chasm with unasked confusion. I can’t do it to her.

I’m trapped.

The cart’s handlebar shakes in my clenched hands. My skin crawls as if a colony of ants invaded. Shelves, food, people fade as I drop down a dark winding panic hole.

From somewhere far away I hear, “Hello.”

I vaguely see a face I don’t recognize with a soft concerned voice, a rope I hold on to. I nod in her direction, stretch my lips into a thin upward motion. She moves on slowly. I blink, blink, focus outward. Tinkling sounds of music, black shoes tapping to the rhythm of a song I often sing with Chava. I start up the rope, feel my feet attach to the ground underneath. And finally I’m calm enough to find my way out of this gridlock.

At the end of the aisle, I see it, high up: the heart chocolates Chava wished for. My chest tingles as I reach for them and gently place 22 pieces next to the Coke. Then I maneuver my cart through the masses until I reach my safe spot next to the ketchup. I settle back with the sound of song. Chava finds me then, her eyes twinkling as she fingers the chocolate.

“Exactly what I wanted, Mommy.”

And my heart does a little dance as she prances off to watch the show with friends.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 885)

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