Romance in the cat food aisle.
On Saturday afternoon an aging widower drove to the market. He placed a few items in his shopping cart and went to the cat food section in the pet food aisle.
An attractive younger woman with brown hair and slim ankles was looking at the cans and packets of cat food.
“Not much of a selection these days,” he said to her.
She turned and looked at him. He had aged well. “The shelves are rather bare,” she said.
The man reached for a packet of catnip treats. “Does your cat like these?”
The woman looked at the packet. “She does but I don’t like to give her too many, they’re very fattening.”
“Yes, I only give my cat a few,” he said, “at cocktail hour. I have my gin and she has her catnip treat.”
The woman smiled.
“I appreciate her company,” the man continued, “she’s all I have these days.”
“Me too,” said the woman.
They looked at each other. There were more words waiting to be said. They hung in the air like an overcast cloud.
Then the man said, “Well, so long.”
He pushed his cart away with a grimace that said: You blew it, idiot. To himself he muttered, mimicking his own voice: Why is an attractive young woman like you living alone? I’m a widower, what’s your reason? Then louder: “Idiot.”
Most of that night he replayed the scene and variations of dialogue. He imagined that the woman, too, regretted the chance of getting to know another lonely soul who lived alone with a cat. He imagined her going back to the store at the same time the next day in the hope of meeting him again.
So be it. The next day at the same time he ventured from his comfort zone in the hermitage and went back to the market where he had spoken to the woman.
He went to the pet food aisle.
It was a crazy idea, a million-to-one chance. Seeing her again in the same place at the same time time would, in fact, be a miracle. And he didn’t believe in miracles.
He waited there for a while. He walked around the store and grabbed a couple of items and went back to the pet food aisle. He waited a while longer. He went and got some beer and came back to the pet food aisle. He lingered there.
Finally, he drove home and turned on the television. A movie, Last Tango in Paris, was already in progress. He sat down with his gin bottle. He heard Maria Schneider say the line: “Growing old is a crime.”
He filled his glass with gin. The cat jumped up on the coffee table. The man took a packet of catnip treats from the coffee table drawer and shook out a few for her. He slowly drank his gin. He thought about going back to the market the next day and acting out the same scene: Act 3, Scene 3 — Elderly man in store encounters attractive younger woman, etc etc.
As he sat there, the scene faded to black and he was overcome with a deep sadness. In a booming voice reminiscent of Ned Beatty’s Mr Jensen in the movie Network admonishing mad news anchor Howard Beale — to wit: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr Beale, AND YOU WILL ATONE! — the man in the armchair heard a voice in his head telling him: You have strayed too far from your comfort zone, Mr More, and you will atone!
As he sat in the living dead room, all the old man knew was that he missed his wife. Thirty-four years cannot be replaced in a goddamn pet food aisle.