At the deli today. Ordered a tuna sandwich. An old woman came to the counter and stood next to me. Her small shopping cart between us. Said an employee, noticing her: Are you being helped already?
Said the woman: How could anyone be helping me? I only just got here.
She looked like my grandmother: big glasses that magnified the eyes, orange hair, a shawl. She turned to me and gave an expression that said: how put upon I am, you see?
So many times my grandmother had looked at me that way, what writers call a “conspiratorial” look. Sharp intake of breath and hold it; widen eyes; stare and pucker lips. Oh, the world and the fools who populate it, the look says. Grant me grace to suffer them.
I visited my grandmother a month or so before she died. She complained that people were only visiting her because she was sick. “Pity visits,” she called them. She was not wrong.
Said the employee: Well, I didn’t know, I was just checking on you. Miffed.
The woman asked about soup cup sizes. Four dollars for a small cup of soup. What flavors? Chicken gumbo, corn chowder, broccoli and cheese.
My tuna sandwich still wasn’t ready.
Said the woman: I haven’t been around in a while because my grandson was killed.
The employee said nothing.
Said the woman: He was so young. And now he’s killed.
Said the employee: That’s really too bad.
I moved to the end of the display case. I waited on the other side of the meatballs and veal cutlets in their steaming metal vats. I did not want to hear about this grandson. He had been dealt into the conversation like an ace from the bottom of the deck.