“It gets pretty crazy in there so stay close,” Heather says as she pulls into the Whole Foods Parking lot at 5:03pm. She parks her Escalade in a compact spot between two silver Priuses. We should get inside before anyone sees us next to this giant SUV, she thinks as she forces Dylan to hold her hand across the busy lot. They dodge cars and he lets go the very moment they enter the market. Heather grabs a small cart and pushes her way through the crowd.
“There’s a dog adoption here tomorrow,” Dylan says, pointing to a flyer by the entrance.
“That’s nice,” Heather says and walks toward produce.
“Mom, can we please get a dog?” Dylan asks for what seems like the fifteen-hundredth time in the past week.
“We’ll talk about it later,” she says stopping quickly as a man with long blond dreadlocks cuts across her path.
“You always say that,” Dylan says. “I’ll never get another dog. You don’t even miss Marigold!”
“That’s not true,” Heather says, but she feels guilty because it’s partially true. Not that she didn’t love that dog. She did! But the idea of taking care of more things feels impossible right now. Ava’s almost two. Kaitlin is busy with club soccer year round and Dylan is starting a new school and the tutoring.
Carts roll past her like a race. Their metal wheels clank on the cold floor. A baby cries while a vaguely familiar song is playing from the store speakers. Dylan walks ahead, mad about the dog and tired from an extra long session with his tutor.
“Don’t wander off,” Heather calls to him.
He turns to face her and rolls his eyes. She wishes that she could make everyone happy but feels that she fails daily. She tosses a bag of red seedless grapes into the cart.
“I’m starving,” Dylan says.
“I’ll start dinner the minute we get home,” Heather says, feeling guilty for an entire day of procrastination. She blamed the summer heat for luring her into laziness, for not following her normal grocery store routine. Now she’s paying the price: a hungry, tired son plus two children and a husband waiting for her at home. She’ll have to go to Ralphs in the morning to finish the rest of her list. Their unhealthy staples like Kraft Mac and Cheese aren’t sold here. She surveys the array of roasted chickens.
“What’s free range?” Dylan asks.
“It means they let the chicken wander around and treat it humanely before it goes to slaugter,”Heather says, quickly regretting her words.
“Is this the same kind of chicken that you get for us at Ralphs?” Dylan asks.
“Not really,” Heather says, “But almost,” she quickly adds.
“Well, I’m only going to eat this kind from now on,” Dylan says. “I am an animal lover.”
Heather places the hot chicken into her cart, grabs grilled asparagus and quinoa from the deli section and they get in the express checkout line.
“Why does everyone have those bags?” Dylan asks looking at the woman ahead of them whose selection of soy foods in being placed into a canvas eco bag.
“They’re better for the environment,” Heather says unloading her few items onto the conveyor belt. A cashier wearing a purple beanie scans the chicken, grapes, and hot deli items. $52.45. They could’ve gone out for dinner at this price. She should be saving money. It wasn’t a smart choice to shop here.
“Bag?” the cashier asks and looks at her intently.
“I left it in the car,” Heather says.
“You only have those plastic bags in the back of the car,” Dylan says, in what seems to be an extra loud voice.
Heather’s face flushes. The cashier sighs. Heather takes out her credit card and pays for her purchases.
“Do you want to donate an extra dollar today to help disabled homeless children?” the cashier asks, as if offering a challenge.
“She won’t even get me a rescue dog,” Dylan says. Heather’s eyes widen. The cashier smiles. “We’re actually having an amazing dog adoption here tomorrow,” she says.
Is this payback for the plastic bags?, Heather wonders. She turns to face her son. “I told you that we’ll discuss the dog later,” she says through gritted teeth. “And no, I can’t donate that dollar.” She signs the shopping receipt with a shaking, angry hand.
“Why are you mad, mom?” Dylan asks as she pushes the cart toward the exit.
“We need to have a talk in the car,” she says as she pushes the cart furiously toward the parking lot. “And no. It’s not about getting a dog. In fact, I’d say your chances have gone down considerably in the past ten minutes.”