My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

How Sandra Got Left At The Safeway


Not too long ago, I was looking through some old bits of writing from the old computer and I discovered a piece I'd started about a million years ago. I sat down on Saturday and noodled around with it until I looked up and realized I'd written a short story. The first one I've written since before Dusty was born. I present it, in not-quite-perfect condition, for your enjoyment (I hope). This is based on a true story. Just ask my sister.

No matter what Sandra tells you, nobody left her on purpose. It was just one of those things.

Back in those days, Sandra and I would have to go to the Safeway with Mom every Saturday. It wasn’t all that exciting but we half wanted to go anyway because of the magazine aisle. Mom would let us hang out there if we promised to find her when she was ready to go. Which might sound impossible but I could usually time it right. I knew her routine. She’d work her way from meats and produce down to the bakery, where she’d talk to Mr. Lord, the baker, and find out all the gossip. Then, she’d go down canned goods and get bogged down – every single time – in cereals and chips. She always seemed to meet up with someone she knew, either from church or one of my school friend’s parents. Finally, she’d make her way down to dairy and frozen foods, where they were always handing out samples of stinky cheese.

The magazine aisle was in the middle of the store, next to paper goods and greeting cards so if you’d been reading Tiger Beat with the cool five page spread on the Bay City Rollers for 15 minutes before she came down the aisle to get toilet paper and Dixie cups for the bathroom cup dispensers, you knew you had another 10 or 15 minutes until you had to wander around and find her choosing between chocolate ice milk and lime sherbet.

Sandra was only five then and I was supposed to make her stay with me. She knew the rules but there were times, like that day, when I couldn’t care less whether she was with me or not. Most days, she’d get bored and tell me she was gonna go find Mom so I’d turn back to the Donny Osmond exclusive and not think anymore about her. Eventually we all met up again. If not at the cheeses then at the register where Mom would be emptying the cart onto the conveyor belt. I’d read Sandra’s horoscope from one of those little books and she’d beg Mom for a candy bar. Mom would say forget it and I’d tell Sandra November was going to be doom and gloom for romance and she’d swat at me with her moist little five-year-old paw and I’d swat her back and she’d whine and Mom would threaten between her teeth, “Both of you! Can it!”

Sandra was one of those intense kids who latched on to something and couldn’t let go. First it was dirt. Then ants. Then horses. She turned one of the swings on our swing set into a horse and piled towels over the swing to make a saddle. Then she’d “ride” it sideways which meant you couldn’t use the other swing unless you wanted her stupid-jockey-self to crash into you. That horse business took the fun out of everything. If you even called a cute horse a pony, she’d look at you like you were the dumbest idiot on earth.

“That’s not a pony, that’s a horse,” she’d snoot and go into a long explanation about the difference as if anyone cared.

So that day, the day she got left, Sandra had her nose buried in Horse Fancy and I was reading Tiger Beat. There was David Cassidy, who was cute but really old. The Bay City Rollers were interesting because they were from Scotland but they were hideous and so were their clothes. I mean, a little plaid goes a long way. Even at nine, I knew that much.

We’d gotten to the Safeway around 10:30am, turned in our Tab and Fresca bottles at the refund counter, and Mom headed east toward the pork chops. Sandra and I went west towards the magazines. We always sat where there should have been a stack of Sports Illustrateds but for some reason they were always gone on Saturday. Our backs covered up the sign that said, “Sorry! We’re all out of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. See manager for delivery schedule.” Sandra was going on about the world’s cutest Appaloosa, her blonde pigtails bobbing up and down, and I was looking at Farrah Fawcett, wishing my hair were long enough to even think about flipping them into wings.

Mom came down the aisle as usual about 15 minutes later.

“What kind of TV dinner y’all want?” she asked. Fried chicken, we both said. The one with the brownie NOT the cherry cobbler. The brownie always stayed put while the cherry filling always gooed over into the grainy mashed potatoes and gravy which was just nasty and ruined the whole meal.

“Ten minutes and come find me. Ten minutes!” It was always the same thing except today her morning had been messed up by my dad having to go in to work. This meant she had to cram all his chores into her morning. Which meant she couldn’t get her hair done after she dropped us off at home. Because nobody’d be there to drop us off to. Plus, Sandra was supposed to have gone to her friend Kathy’s house only Kathy’s brother had chicken pox at the last minute so Mom wouldn’t let her go.

“You hear me?” she said. Yeah, I said.

Five minutes later, Sandra put down her pony magazine, “I’m going to find Mommy.”

Just like always. I didn’t even notice which direction she went in because I was taking a quiz to find out whether I had a chance with Shaun Cassidy. Did I like walks on the beach or dancing all night in big city hot spots? Hmmm. I did like the beach but maybe Shaun preferred dancing? What was the right answer?

Right about then, I heard, “Laura! Dammit! I told you ten minutes!” My mom was in the check out lane right across from the magazine aisle. She was slamming the groceries down on the belt like the corn nibblets were on fire and she had to get them out of that cart before the bread went up in flames. Her arm, as it moved from the cart to the belt, flapped a little where her muscle was. She was wearing her yellow sleeveless turtleneck with a pair of old pedal pushers. I watched that arm flap for about a minute until she gave me a look that told me fun and games were over.

Boy, she was in a state. Even to point where she was making “hurry up” moves with her hand to the cashier. The cashier, the same old lady we always get who chews and chews her gum like if she stopped, even for a second, she’d deflate and be nothing but a week-old balloon down there on the floor where the little kids always drop the stuff they took off the bottom shelf of the candy rack. And then stepped on real good with their baby ankle boots. I’ve seen behind the counter before. It’s a mess! That lady wasn’t in any hurry. Neither was the bagger. I don’t think those two knew what “hurry” meant.

“Double bag ‘em! Double bags!” my mother screeched, just about out of patience which is not something I recommend witnessing.

“I got a million other things to do today. Here now, don’t put that bread in like that. And where are my eggs? What’d you do with my eggs? My god, am I going to have to do this myself?”

The bagger just stared at her and stepped back. Just let my mother paw on down in those bags and rearrange everything properly as the cashier dropped every item after she’d rung up the price and kind of let each one roll down to the bags and bonk into them real good. Which just about made my mother tear her hair out of the pin curls she’d set it in.

Finally, everything was bagged and my mother paid (and complained about how expensive everything is at the Safeway and how she ought to just give up and start shopping at the A&P but I knew she’d never do it because everybody shopped at the Safeway. You don’t want to know what kind of people went to the A&P. People who ate pig’s feet in clear glass jars, that’s who) and we scurried out to the car as fast as we could.

We went from there to the post office to mail bills (and I swear I heard my mother say a bad word when she licked the stamp on the mortgage payment), to the Standard Drug for her ‘lady things’ plus some Clairol hair dye, over to the pet store to get Precious the only kind of dry food he’d eat, then back down to pick up her dry cleaning before they closed. And then home. All the while listening to her complain about how everything frozen was melting. And something about my dad not having a spine and standing up to his boss about this working-on-a-Saturday business.

Neither one of noticed that Sandra wasn’t in the car. Not when we stood in line for a book of stamps and some old man with enormously bushy white eyebrows leaned over and breathed his deathly cigarette breath in my face and said how lucky my mother was to have a nice boy like me. I won’t even tell you what I thought about that! I’d been begging for long hair since second grade! We didn’t miss her when I got Mom to buy me a lollipop at the drug store without noticing because I snuck it in behind the Clairol and snatched it back as soon as the girl rung it up. Sandra would have loved that trick. Even as I thought that, I didn’t realize she was supposed to be with us and wasn’t. Swear on the Bible!

In fact, we were unpacking groceries and almost kind of relaxed and laughing a bit – mostly when I told Mom what I thought of that post office gramp and his waggling eyebrows and how that was proof I looked like a boy with this stupid haircut – when the phone rang. Mom looked up at the phone, then over to the clock.

“Who in the world could that be?” and she picked up the receiver and said, “Yes?”

I watched her face as she listened. It was a minor miracle of different expressions, some I’ve never seen her make before.

“Yeeeessss….Yes, I am…..Yes, I do…..Oh my….goodness! I can’t imagine! Oh my word! I’m on my way! Thank you.”

She hung up and looked at me.

“Who was it?”

“The manager of the Safeway. It seems you left Sandra behind.”

“I left her? Mom, I didn’t do it!”

“Well, she’s crying her eyes out in the manager’s office and we need to go back and get her. Put your coat on. You were supposed to be watching her!” She looked around then at everything but me, making sure all the refrigerated stuff was put away. Only the cans and boxes were left, all crowded together on the table.

“She said she was going to look for you. Like always!”

“Then why didn’t you say something when she wasn’t with us?”

“I don’t know. Why didn’t you notice?”

Mom started to cry then. I felt bad but I wasn’t going to let her pin this one on me. No way! I’m not responsible for Miss Pony who ruined my swing set and put up piles of bricks in the front yard that she would jump over like she was a stupid horse in a stupid horse show – right there next to the sidewalk where everyone could see her! Nuh-uh.

When we got back to the store, the manager – a fat man in a too-small white shirt with a silver Safeway name tag on it that just said ‘General Manager’ – had Sandra in his lap and was letting her type on his typewriter. She had a lollipop in her mouth so I didn’t feel bad that I’d gotten one on the sly from the Standard Drug. Not that I would have felt bad anyway but now we were even. Sandra was smiling and just typing away, the manager pointing out where the different letters were. He’d point and she’d push. Point. Tap! Point. Tap! I don’t think I could have stood to hear that noise all day long.

Sandra saw us come in the office and burst out crying, “You left me here! I thought I was lost forever!”

Mom picked her up and hugged her and said all kinds of stupid things like no, we didn’t, well we didn’t mean to, we love her and missed her, blah blah blah! Truth is, we didn’t miss her one bit. Not for a second. Mom and me, when we got home, never even noticed that it was just us two emptying the bags and kidding around and talking about what to fix for lunch with nobody butting in. Mom was crying again saying how it was just a bad day all around and she thought she’d been at Kathy’s and forgot she hadn’t gone because of the chicken pox and we’re sorry, sorry, sorry! It would never happen again.

And it never did because Sandra wouldn’t go back to Safeway for ages, even when Dad had to work, so Mom had to get a sitter. And then they tore the Safeway down and built another grocery store in its place that was even better and bigger but by then I was old enough to stay home and not be dragged from place to place and Sandra had given up horses and usually spent every Friday night at Kathy’s house and everybody just eventually forgot about how she’d wandered off that day to find the bathroom and ended up in the back of the store wandering through boxes of Ivory soap and Borax and almost got left there for good.


7:34 p.m. ::
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