She entered the store with a spring in her step, her first lone outing since the baby was born. She’d taken great care with her appearance. The daily walks had paid off and she was finally able to get back into her jeans, albeit laying down on the bed to zip them up. The waistband cut painfully into her protruding belly and she winced every time she bent over, but didn’t they say that beauty hurt? The baby was asleep, the sun was out, and she had one glorious hour in which to peruse the grocery store aisles before her husband left for work. Just the fact that she was dressed , in make-up and out the door before 8:00 a.m. was a miracle in itself. But with her well organized coupon box and grocery list in hand Mary felt as though she could conquer the world today. She felt the familiar rush of adrenaline as she approached the produce section. Bags of overripe bananas lined the shelves and were marked at 39-cents each. Two bags went into her cart.
It was in Aisle 1 that she noticed him. A young man was filling his cart from the display of Pepsi at the end of the aisle. As she walked by, Mary noticed him checking her out. It had been a long time since a man had looked at her in that way, other than her husband of course, and Mary couldn’t help but feel flattered. She pretended not to notice him. He was barely twenty, if that, and had the sleek physique of a young man involved in contact sports. He reminded her of the blond guy on the Dukes of Hazzard show her oldest son used to watch.
By the time she’d gotten to Aisle 2, she realized she’d forgotten the cans of chunk chicken that were on sale and she had a coupon for so she headed back to the previous aisle and ended up only inches away from the blonde Adonis who was chucking several cans of beef ravioli into his cart. Mary felt his eyes on her as she pulled three coupons from her coupon box and put the matching three cans of chicken in her cart. She realized that she also had several coupons in the box good on ravioli. Her children hated canned pasta so with her heart beating wildly, she offered the man her four coupons to apply towards his purchase. He accepted them with a smile that could advertise any of the tooth-whitening toothpaste.
Mary headed for Aisle 3, noticing that the young man followed quickly behind her. Determined to show him that she was way more than just a pretty face, she carefully compared coupons to sale prices, dropping six boxes of the rice dishes she had coupons for into her cart. They would cost her just a few cents each. Mary’s coupon fever rose as she briskly went from aisle to aisle, matching coupons to sale prices. By the time she reached the baby food aisle she’d almost forgotten the young man who was watching her.
“Well, there goes my cover,” she thought as she put twelve jars of baby food (free with coupon) into her cart. “Now he knows I have a baby,” her thoughts continued. “But surely he would never guess I have five older children.”
It was at that moment she felt her jeans give in the front. Her zipper had just broken. She was grateful for the long shirt she’d worn, sure that no one could tell. She breathed a huge sigh of relief, the first good breath she’d taken since zipping them up. By the time she reached the cereal aisle, Mary was getting a little irritated that they young man still seemed to be following her. This was where she had planned a good coupon attack. Many cereals were on sale for $1.67 a box and she had dozens of 50-cents coupons. Her cart was already overflowing and Mary was annoyed that other customers seemed to be staring. She was sure they were thinking that either a pig or had an army to feed. At this point she would be relieved if the manager of the store announced that a mother of six was approaching the checkout.
Her face flushed, she juggled two boxes of cereal that fell off the cart and entered the checkout closest to the doors. Sweating with the effort of pushing the overloaded cart, she felt felt her underarms perspiring heavily, probably staining her blouse. As she waited in line, Mary straightened her blouse over the open zipper of her jeans, brushed back her unruly hair and noticed the young man in the cookie aisle, still watching her. As the total approached the $100 mark, she wished the floor would open up and swallow her. She knew she only had $80 left in checking. She handed the cashier the stack of coupons and watched the total dwindle until she could triumphantly write out a check of $72.89.
While the stock boy loaded up the back of her station wagon, Mary noticed the young man heading her way. Her mind racing, she wondered how to let him down . She was happily married, the mother of six. If her ravishing beauty had given him pause, had made him fall in love with her at first sight, it wasn’t her fault. She always wore her wedding ring, she’d bought baby food, she drove a station wagon, for gosh sakes! Mary looked straight into the young man’s eyes as he approached, ready to defend her honor and her marriage, ready to break the young man’s heart.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I couldn’t help but notice you in the store.” Mary’s direct gaze didn’t waver, though her brain was rapidly trying to come up with a way to let him down easy.
“My mom is about your age. I was trying to come up with a perfect birthday gift for her and wondered where you got that great coupon box…”
I had this piece published in 1996, shortly after I’d given birth to our sixth child. I still use that same coupon box.
The station wagon is long gone.
And so are the jeans.