Bleary-eyed, Sophie awakened from a dream where a ton of sweet soft marshmallows buried her six feet deep. Every pastel color and size, a delightful mushy smorgasbord piled up into her narrow rectangular space. Then they shifted from delight to danger. They smothered her. The little ones squished into her nose.
She awakened with a dry mouth and a stuffy nose, betrayed and bewildered.
What a drag to smother underneath her own sinuses again. Likely from all the chips she ate last night. Congestion followed her high-carb binges.
Comfort food – what a lie.
She wanted more comfort. She needed more comfort.
Sometimes she felt strong enough to function and sometimes she didn’t.
One flight of stairs put her out of breath. Carrying groceries into the house made her sweat. These days she watched her strength dwindling, her muscles going mushy.
She couldn’t fight it. It was all part of aging, right?
The memory of her wiry Phys Ed mother filled her head.
Mom used to say, “Get up and go! Work it!”
“Bad idea, Mom,” Sophie said aloud. On her last visit to the gym she’d thrown out her back, nearly got trapped into surgery. No thanks. She didn’t have the energy to set foot in the gym.
Mom had died young, anyhow.
“You got a body, take care of it,” Mom’s voice snapped loudly in the air.
What? Auditory hallucination? Mom-in-the-head never said that before.
Sophie’s hands trembled, opening the toothpaste. “Don’t scare me, Mom.”
First a grave of marshmallows and now ghost-mom? Please. Don’t wreck my Saturday morning.
“Okay, listen. I will – take a walk. It’s almost a mile over to Walmart. They have veggies. I’ll make a big salad for lunch. Okay?”
At the end of the second block Sophie gasped for breath, dizzy but determined. She heard a truck behind her, but she had the crosswalk and the light in her favor. The moment she stepped off the curb, the truck lurched across her lap in a tight right turn. A big muscled plumber painted on the side of it loomed like a billboard against her face. Then it rolled away.
She stood stock still. Her toes were not flattened. Shakily she sat down on the sidewalk and waited through a couple of light changes. Anger bubbled up, rage against the big muscled plumber, whoever he was.
Anger powered her to walk the next few blocks faster, her lungs burning.
After the huge parking lot she approached the Walmart entrance.
Suddenly a guy in tight shiny bicycle shorts, showing off his muscled thighs, ran in front of her to hold open the door. He smiled but barely glanced at her.
“Thanks,” she said, noting his bulging biceps.
She thought, polite guy. Not flirting. I wish he was. Muscles in front of my face again.
What the heck, Mom? First the marshmallows, then your voice, then muscle men? Are you messing with me?
In the produce section she debated over the limp lettuce, the flimsy celery. She dug deep for better specimens.
Some chubby kids milled around their mom nearby.
One big-cheeked boy begged, “Mom, I found Hercules for cheap. Can we get it?”
“You’ve seen that movie how many times?” said the mom.
He squeezed the DVD in his hands. “But it’s a classic new release! Can we get it? Can we?”
Sophie inspected the tomatoes.
The noisy family passed behind her and moved on. One child bumped Sophie’s hip on the way.
Sophie sighed, turned back to her cart, and went looking for honey smoked turkey.
The bleak rack of cold cuts glared at her.
The fragrance of fresh fried chicken wafted in from the deli.
Sophie winced, grabbed a wimpy turkey package, gripped her cart, and forced her feet toward the checkout lines.
Then. On top of her romaine a cartoon Hercules grinned at her with his fist in the air. Argh. Yet another muscle man. Wrong cart, Big-Cheeks.
She didn’t see that family anywhere.
She shoved the DVD into the magazines at the checkout.
Somebody else had put a hand grip squeezer in the magazines.
She hesitated. Picked it up. Squeezed it. She could do this while she watched a movie or surfed the web, maybe. She put it on the conveyor belt with her purchases.
Then the check-out woman had to gush about it. She was pushing seventy but dressed like a teenager. “Oh, these are great! You know we lose muscle the older we get, but we can build it back! I couldn’t open jars anymore, but this grip squeeze gadget brought back my muscles!”
“Good for you,” Sophie said evenly. This lady was like Mom’s soul sister or something.
“Have you ever noticed, everybody leaving the gym is all smiles?” the woman raved.
“Yeah, they say forty minutes of exercise will boost your mood for twelve hours!”
“Right?? Good stuff! No kidding, Kid. You have a lovely day.” She practically tried to shake hands as she gave Sophie her bag.
Another deep breath on her way out of the building.
She murmured, “Geez, Mom, you’re channeling through Walmart employees now or what? Hit me over the head with a two-by-four, why don’t you? Don’t let me get run over on the way home, okay?”
“I won’t,” said Mom, clear as a bell in her right ear.
Sophie smiled and shook her head.
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(Thanks to wikimedia and public domain for these pics.)