As he stepped out of their apartment, Roy zipped his heavy jacket to the top against the late November wind. He glanced back at his wife. “Are you gonna be warm enough, babe? It’s colder than a ...”
“Witch’s tit?” Gloria finished for him. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
No kidding! thought Roy. “I was thinking ‘polar bear’s grave.’”
Algrieve’s—the mere thought of it depressed Roy. It was just the first leg on a multi-stop shopping expedition. At the start of days like this he and Gloria both had to take a deep breath. By the time they returned and everything was put away, they would both be exhausted, with dinner, phone calls, laundry, and household chores waiting.
“Where after Algrieve’s?” Gloria asked as she locked up. “Men In Style?”
“I suppose,” answered Roy, without enthusiasm.
“No, wait. I can’t handle your dithering this early. Besides, we risk not getting everything done. Let’s make it At Home.”
Nolo contendere, Roy decided. “At Home it is,” he said with a smile, as they reached the car.
Gloria drove most of the time. She tossed her purse in the back seat. “How’d these seats get so dirty?"
I hadn’t noticed, either. Out to lunch, as usual, Roy scolded himself, sliding into the front with Gloria. “When did this little spiral-bound notebook get here?”
“Wait a minute!” Gloria exclaimed. At the same instant, they both realized: wrong car!
Moving quickly (for them), they got out and looked about. “Who moved us?” Roy joked. “Looks like they stuck us over there. Damn car. It honks to tell us we’ve locked it. Is it too much to ask for it to alert us when we’re about to do something dumb?”
“Speak gently to your little car,” Gloria chided.
Roy grinned at the parody of Lewis Carroll. “Well, it is a convenient scapegoat, don’t you think?”
“Better it than me."
Silly mistake, Roy reflected as they rolled out of the parking lot. Cars not even that much alike—ours a charcoal grey Avalon, the other a slightly more bluish LaCrosse. Even had a big spoiler. The grimier seats were a subtlety by comparison. “Good thing nobody noticed. Do you think we could have come up with a convincing song and dance in response to any challenging questions … or at least an entertaining one?”
Gloria rolled her eyes theatrically. “With our skills combined? Nothing to it, hon!”
They laughed at themselves, recalling how once, years before, Roy had left the supermarket laden with groceries, and couldn’t understand why his key wouldn’t fit the lock to the door of their silver Caravan. It took ten seconds or so—although in hindsight it seemed more like ten minutes—to notice that the car in the adjacent stall was also a silver Caravan.
That was nothing to the stunt Roy’s father once pulled, Gloria reminisced. “Oh, God—don’t remind me!” Roy laughed, his memory on instant replay. His panic when he noticed the Falcon wasn’t in its assigned parking slot at his apartment, the call to the police, their stroll with him almost arm in arm across the street to the strip mall, where they found the thing just where he’d left it.
Roy buried the thought that something similar, or worse, could happen to him or Gloria. “What was it we needed at Algrieve’s?” he asked, shading his eyes as they emerged from the shadow of St. Maximilian’s Church. His aversion to supermarkets aside, Roy was hoping he could talk Gloria out of their first stop, even though it was a mere seven minutes from their place. For days he’d been putting off Jerry, his assistant in the home school basketball league they’d started. A brief meeting was critical—over Gloria’s protests, if necessary, and knowing he’d be ready to drop by sundown.
“Not much. Check the list again if you’re so interested,” Gloria teased.
Her eyes said it: her response was a low-key defense, not at all a suggestion that the supermarket might be skipped. A quick stop, for once, Roy consoled himself, not bothering with the list. He turned his mind to the other challenge of Algrieve’s: remembering their parking spot.
Gloria gave Roy a start as they turned into the first aisle, slamming on the brakes for a mother trying to corral her straying three-year-old. “Nothing the matter with your reflexes,” he recovered. “Wanna try for left guard on the Johnson’s Team?”
“Dead-eye from the free-throw line, too.” Close call, but somehow Gloria was always ready with a zinger. “Hey, look at this! Parking spot in less than half a minute. The gods are smiling on us.” Another word to placate her impatient spouse would not be amiss, she realized. They climbed out of their Avalon, and she opened the back door to retrieve ... “Oh my God! I left my purse in the other car!”
“What?—you’re kidding! We gotta hustle our buns back there, on the double!” The two hurried back into their car and drove off. LaCrosse was unlocked. Maybe the driver was just making a quick stop before taking off again. Will it still be there? Roy fretted. “Well, this is one way to donate to charity, not to mention share our identities, bank account access ..."
“Oh please, Roy! You’ve had so many lapses lately, even the best statistician couldn’t keep tabs.” Indignation vied with guilt in Gloria’s mind. At the same time, hope lightened her worry.
So like Roy, to think the worst. Good thing we didn’t head to Underhill’s Furniture first, or the Goodwill drop-off—fifteen miles away! Silently, she swung between contemplating her mistake and trolling her memory for comparable goofs of Roy’s. Gloria’s recent blunders wrenched Roy’s mind away from their current fix.
As they entered their parking lot their anxiety was partially dispelled: the LaCrosse sat where they had found it. Now the question was: Is the purse still there? A hundred fifty dollars may not go very far these days, but still … then there are the credit cards and what else?
Parking close by, they walked over to the LaCrosse in abstracted apprehension. All other things—things as ordinary as the neighbor’s ash-grey cat peering at them from beneath the pick-up across the way, an apartment door swinging open to their left—were lost beyond the margins of their attention. “It’s still here!” cried Gloria as she opened the door.
Over Gloria’s shoulder, Roy noticed something in the well on the opposite side of the car. “Hey, what’s with all that powdered sugar?”
A soft click from behind them followed Roy’s question. Before they could turn, a voice began—calm, firm, almost inviting, “Go ahead—get in.”