Panther in an herbal jungle.
"The rosemary is out. Can you help me?" she asked. It came out flatly, like the bored command of a woman used to getting her way. I might have cringed at the abruptness of the words, but I hadn't even processed her question yet. Her stars and bubbles swirled past her as she stopped moving. They tickled my nose, spun around my shoulders and drifted toward the floor.
She meant, of course, that there was no rosemary, but I did not understand. The little bubbles had popped against the bridge of my nose and tiny puffs of ether had made it to my brain. "The rosemary is out" I thought again. Of course its "out," I'm putting "out" the corn and the grapes and the bananas; cilantro and parsley and klondike rose potatoes. Everything is "out," because that is what I do.
"Show me what you mean," I said, "and I'll see if I can help." I was giddy and clueless. That's when I noticed the tall Midwestern American guy standing a few paces behind her. He was good looking, charmingly rugged, but clean and seemed smart without uttering a word. Three days of dark whiskers smudged his chin and cheeks.
The three of us walked over to the herb section. I lead the way because I like to seem like I'm busy and capable. The woman followed closely behind me pushing a cart with shallots, portobello mushrooms, other fancy veggies and an expensive looking cut of meat. As we arrived, she said "See, no rosemary."
The commanding tone rung in the air like a large deep bell, the kind of bell that is struck by three men and a large, swinging log. It was now obvious, even to me, that she needed rosemary for some extravagant meal, but I didn't have any "out." I poked at the other packages of herbs hanging there; hoping. Occasionally, an extra of one thing gets put behind a row of something else. I had no such luck. Mr. Clean and Steamy brought up the rear and waited for us to resolve the situation.
"Give me two minutes and I'll check if I have some in the cooler," I said, sounding crisp and confident, like some minion trying to please the lady of the manor.
I walked briskly toward the backroom with the vague worry that I wasn't going to have any rosemary. This worry competed with the not so vague sense that this woman, as beautiful as she was, was actually quite difficult in real life. She countered the fear that every man who talked to her was on the make with aloofness and brutish behavior. Mr. Clean and Steamy was probably doing all the cooking tonight; under careful supervision.
The skin on my arms shrank and goose pimpled in the cold air of the cooler. Occasionally, even if I knew we were out of something, I'd wander into the cooler for a minute or two, before telling a customer we were out of what they had wanted. They felt better because I had made some effort to help them. I felt better because I had spent 90 peaceful seconds alone in the cold hum and out of the chaos of the retail trade. This time, however, I thought I might find some rosemary. The cooler was packed. Neither the night shift nor the morning crew had been able to make much of a dent in the huge delivery we had received.
I was looking for the little card stock boxes that the herbs came in. The herbs all seem to get ordered at the same time and the pile of small boxes is easy to spot. The herbs were a pain to put out. The clear plastic clamshells stuffed into little boxes could only be priced one at a time. Rather than the rat-a-tat-tat of a rapid fire pricing gun, these went up slowly. Each shift was likely to put them off for the next. There was no pile of little boxes, I left the cooler empty handed.
As I pushed through the swinging doors from the backroom, the panther woman was walking across the floor toward the fancy tomatoes. The same bounce, the same glow, the same shimmering waves of blue black light. She smiled expectantly.
"I'm sorry," I said as I headed back toward the herb section, "I don't have any rosemary back there, but I should get some on the truck tonight." Out of the corner of my eye: a little pouty frown.
She followed me over to the herbs and watched me paw at the potted plants. It would be more expensive to buy a whole pot of rosemary, but it would be rosemary. In fact, a renewable resource of rosemary. I'm sure they lived in some trendy, formerly industrial, neighborhood. Their bright, open loft would be decorated in a minimalist way. Expensive Scandinavian furniture, in teak and chrome, would sit on an expensive rug, apart from everything else on the reclaimed industrial wood floor. The sterile, professional kitchen would tuck against an exposed brick wall on one side of the open space. Stainless steel and european birch would stand proudly under a bevy of expensive, but rarely used pots and pans clinging to a repurposed industrial rack. They could put the pot of rosemary with the other plant that sits under the window on the old radiator. The radiator they don't even use for heat anymore.
"Nope, sorry. I don't have rosemary in a pot either."
"There might be some in these tubes," Mr. Clean and Steamy offered, a whiff of desperation twisted through the air like a chili fart at a funeral.
The panther woman's face slammed shut like a prison. I felt the big door hit the hinges and heard the dead bolts slide home. The little bubbles and stars were swept away as smoke oozed up from under her black hair. Fire flashed behind her eyes like a broiler's first roar off the pilot light.
"We're going to another store," she said curtly and was gone. Only the smell of burning hair remained . . . and the squeak of italian shoes on terrazzo as Clean and Steamy struggled to catch her.
Silently, I saluted him. Putting up with her shit probably seems worth it. But he should really be thinking in the short term with that one. I grabbed the cart and started toward the meat counter, the fancy vegetables I could put away myself.