garlic coconut milk
green onions rice noodles
spring mix spag
ginger fr broccoli
carrots fr pizza
onion bl beans
red bell pepp wild rice
potato x2 tahini
tofu veg oil
I look forward to grocery shopping. It is a simple pleasure. In between meetings and home visits, I scroll through recipes on my phone and contemplate each week’s dinners. It’s begun to turn into winter, stale blue by late afternoon, so I decide to make coconut curry soup tonight. At the office, my coworkers hardly speak to one another, everyone fogged and dragging. Three weeks until Christmas. Every time I go to the bathroom, the hallway smells of a burp.
At Woodman’s, the fluorescent lighting makes everyone look slightly ill. The produce is never quite fresh, but their prices are the lowest in town. I pinch avocados, looking for one that will be perfectly ripe in three days time. A gray-haired woman in a shiny purple coat shyly asks me how to tell when one is ready to eat. I show her the dark green skin beneath the press of my thumb and say, “This. Just a bit of give.”
At home, I slice onions thinly, peel ginger with a spoon, dice carrots with a roll of the wrist. M comes up behind and gathers me, saying, “Smells good” in my ear. I smile and lean back, soaking in all the warmth of the kitchen. I feel most in love when my fingers smell of garlic.
15 oz diced tomatoes
bananas (if good)
Sitting in living rooms throughout the county all week, teaching preschool to children who otherwise wouldn’t attend, I think of what to cook. In between these visits coaxing three year olds to look at a book for just a few minutes, I sit in my car and remove my gloves to jot ingredients onto a scrap of paper.
Today I spring for the organic prices at the community co-op, a treat. It’s bougie and expensive here, but I take pleasure in the beautiful ingredients. I choose a small double-decker cart, the best kind to maneuver, and wheel through the small store. These choices are easy. I like my tofu firm, mushrooms in bulk, bananas light green where they join together. I say hello to a familiar employee stocking potatoes. They compliment my boots.
In the summer, I savor our trips to this co-op. I even dress for the occasion. Sometimes on Sundays, we get breakfast sandwiches on English muffins and walk around the farmer’s market in the parking lot. I often buy berries because it feels nice to do so in my long, light skirt. Popping them in my mouth one at a time, I crush into the sweetness.
mushrooms saus sub
farro jar marinara
parmesan orange juice
salmon if cheapish rice
spinach ice cream?
tofu sparkling water
dried cherries steel cut oats
I trudge through the brown slush of the Woodman’s parking lot and into the busy store. Everyone is shopping for the holidays. A grocery run feels like a chore right now, but it has to be done. I stare at the nuts & dried fruit, unable to do the necessary math to make a sensible selection. I’m sick of hearing other people’s voices. Patience has trickled out of me, leaving little to draw from. Dry hot air blasts from above and my down coat has begun sticking to my armpits. There’s no relief from the heat even after I unzip it. My mind refuses to focus, flitting across the latent stress of Christmas ahead, all that needs done before then. I can’t seem to work out how many ounces of dried cherries I get per dollar. A middle-aged man hovers at the end-cap, contemplating coffee pods. Fucking waste, I think of telling him. A plague to the planet.
2 onions cauliflower
coconut milk pita
garlic? navy beans
mint fig bars
basil potato x2
chickpeas x2 bread
soy sauce (lg)
The new year rolls in uneventfully, promising little. I wear layers of tights beneath my dress and drink beer with M and friends in the back booth of a noisy bar. On the way home, we stop for burritos that take an hour to come out of the kitchen, where the staff are drinking champagne from plastic cups. My feet ache and I miss the magic this day used to bring.
We spend the following days lolling around the warm house. I’m not sad or content, just moving through days slowly. At the store, I wrestle cold shopping carts apart and scrape the back of my hand. It’s a small wound but it stings. I think about leaving.
I pass by kale thawing and lifeless in a box of ice, out of season strawberries smooshed into the sides of their containers, the last bunch of limp green onions waiting to be chosen. The onions are all shedding their skins, scraps nestling down in the waste-high cardboard bin. I lean over and dig for one without any browning. Straightening up, I catch a glimpse of a tall brunette man that I’m convinced must be my ex-boyfriend. He strides away, quick and purposeful. The way he holds his body is all too familiar, the rigid posture. My neck heats up and I begin to panic. Why is he in Wisconsin? Did he move here?
Too late, I try to follow, but he’s not in the bread aisle. I contemplate going straight to dairy but hang a quick right to refrigerated lunch meats. There he is, it’s definitely him. I follow down the aisle, my cart a barrier between us. What I would say to him has abandoned me. He turns to peruse the ham and from this angle it is clear I do not know this man. My throat eases.
Once I am home preparing dinner, I feel calm again, less small. I press rectangles of tofu in a kitchen towel, whisk a marinade together. These tasks give me back control as I create.
lemon tomatillos x6
onion x2 acorn squash
garlic chix thighs
thyme crushed toms
g. bell pepp couscous (pearled)
grape tomatoes eggs
salad greens chocolate
It’s dark when I wake and dark when I drive back home after work. The sky is devoid of color each day and this absence takes something from me too. Each winter I become flattened and brittle, though I try to fight it. I think of my jaw softly closing on a ripe raspberry in the sun, the long stretch of a June day. It feels like someone else’s memory.
In an effort to punctuate the days, I pick a few new recipes to make this week. The task will level me, I’m sure of it. On my social media feed, I click a link for roasted chicken and squash with tomatillo salsa and commit to cooking that.
I feel completely defeated when I discover the cilantro is all half-wilted, gritty and wet. A waste of money, but I buy it anyway. I still gather all the ingredients needed for three meals that week. I can make three meals.
I make two. All week, the children and I are at odds, unable to get through the week’s lesson. Each time I get out of my car, the cold singes my ears and cheeks. On Thursday, I get home from work exhausted and crawl onto the couch beneath a blanket. M asks if I’m sick. My body releases emotion I don’t recall feeling. For an hour, I lay inert, crying on and off. I tell him, I’m not making dinner. I can’t. Please.
He gently coerces me to come to the kitchen and we make a meal together. It takes the rest of my energy but I feel a little better after. It feels shameful that there’s no root to the sadness but it persists, joining me every few days like a tether.
green & red bell peppers
The Valentine’s Day candy is already discounted. At least the rows of bright pink chocolate is cheering for the moment. I buy a bag of peanut butter hearts to take to work on Friday. As I leave the store, a man leaning against the cart corral with a broad grin gives me finger guns and says, “alright alright alright!” I do not know what he is referring to, but I smile wanly.
Three days later, I’ve eaten too many candies to share the bag, savoring one chocolate heart between each home as I drive. There’s nothing to see but snow and slush, the occasional billboard for hospice care, maybe a farmhouse stoic in the distance. Absentmindedly, I fold the foil into smaller and smaller squares until they nearly disappear.
Later that week, we fight about rice. M tells me twice that I didn’t make enough and I feel chided like a forgetful child. My defense boils hot and quick from the belly, I scream at him to stop being so fucking mean. He tells me I’m being ridiculous. When he leaves the room, I lean against the counter and sob softly. He doesn’t come back in. The fight is not about rice.
celery spaghetti x2 cheese
carrots other pasta? fig bars
bell pepps diced toms cereal
kale beans – 1 each kind mac n cheese
spinach tuna x3 hand soap
r. onion bread beer
garlic crackers wine
potatoes frozen meals
sweet pots bone-in chix thigh
I’m concerned but not panicked. It seems like precautions should be taken but there’s no need to halt our lives. A friend had planned to visit for the weekend but decided it would be better to stay home. The choice seems to err quite far on the side of caution, but I do understand.
I disinfect my desk and wonder if I should avoid restaurants this weekend. I wanted to go out for burgers tonight. As I leave work for the day, I stop to talk with a coworker. We discuss the latest news on the virus, whether we should worry. We agree that maybe home visits should be canceled for a few weeks. I tell her toilet paper has been sold out in stores, people fighting over the last rolls. She says, “Okay, I’m feeling heightened. I’m going to finish up and go.”
M and I go to Woodman’s, not to stock up like the people on the news, but I add a few items to the list last minute. At first, it feels normal. Produce mostly stocked, a little busier than most days. As we get to the inner aisles, there’s a shift. Pasta and rice depleted. Canned beans mostly gone. No toilet paper. There seem to be more people crowding in, carts piled high with dry goods. I feel a palpable tension in the air.
As I search in vain for unscented hand soap, the shelf sparse, register lines begin to creep into the aisle where I’m standing and for a moment I’m stuck. It overwhelms me completely.
We wait in line for twenty minutes, everyone slightly wary. I notice no one has looked at or spoken to me. A man in a N95 mask strides by with purpose. An elderly couple ahead of us buys a cart full of the last toilet paper and gallons of water. The energy feels slightly unhinged, ready to turn. It scares me, honestly. I don’t trust us to be civil and good in a crisis. How easily we panic. How quickly we abandon logic. My friend who cancelled her visit sends me a forwarded text cautioning everyone to stock up on water, gas, and cash for a mandatory quarantine. I text back, “why would we need any of it if we’re staying inside? seems fake.”
By the next morning, the governor has closed schools for three weeks. I’m surprised to notice how level-headed I feel, prepared to weather this unknown.
garlic red onion bagels
6 oz crimini (or baby bella) green & red bell pepp cream cheese
grape toms tortilla chips yogurt
cilantro corn tortillas parmesan
6-8 limes flank steak navy beans
avocado x2 feta orecchiette
tomato buns rubbing alcohol
jalapeno fr veg burgers tequila
carrots soba noodles triple sec
red cabbage peanuts cheap beer
After several weeks quarantined at home, the alternating panic and calm has been replaced with a quiet anxiety that spikes every few days. I work an hour at a time, then roam from room to room without purpose. I watch for red cardinals out the window. The pandemic has given me somewhere to put my sadness, given it shape.
I decide we need to have a party so we can look forward to something. Anticipation hints at joy. I plan tacos with grilled steak and pico de gallo, chips and guacamole, margaritas with salted rims. It feels like our yearly spring welcoming, an excuse to use the patio, except that we are having a party and no one is invited.
I wipe down the handle of the cart with a sanitizing cloth, throw it out, and clean my hands with foam. When a man in a face mask peruses the mushrooms, I stand back until he has chosen and moved away. I buy more than usual, stretching ingredients for a week to ten days. The produce section remains full and lackluster as usual but an entire shelf of rubbing alcohol, gone. Why?
As I shop, I avoid aisles with more than two other carts, circle back. While looking at yogurt, a pop song I love comes on and I sing aloud, not all that quietly. Inhibitions feel meaningless, a relic of invented anxieties. Any person here could cough and maybe kill me.
Each aisle has a number of large orange signs denoting the product limit per household. 4 boxes of pasta or frozen pizzas. Only 1 bag of flour per family per day. The workers at check-out wearing required face masks study our purchases, perhaps looking for these violations, perhaps wondering why they’re paid $12/hr. I stand at a red X taped to the floor, waiting my turn.
On the way home, I realize I haven’t bought enough limes. I’m thrown into a state of irritation and tension. Unloading the groceries with M, I find myself in such a dour mood, I almost cannot speak. I go lie down. When M comes to rub my back, I weep. It is not about the limes, truly, it is about something I can’t quite name until later. The party forgotten, I’m grieving the loss of my daily life that was so recently cumbersome. The grocery store is now a hazard, a place to feel distrustful of the bodies that pass.
mushrooms sweet potato penne or rotini beer
asparagus cauliflower arborio rice wine
shallot red cabbage black beans tampons
garlic red pepp refried beans
leeks pickles corn torts
sugar snap peas buns fig bars
basil pancetta peanut butter
cherry toms pecorino bread flour or AP
lime goat cheese pita chips
lemon bagels sparkling water
On the way in, I put on my golden yellow fabric mask made by a friend. Wipe down the cart handle and sanitize my hands with routine precision. I wish I could be at the co-op in linen pants, but ten days of pandemic groceries there would be a big expense. Wistfully, I think of the natural hair products in recycled packaging. Instead, I’m bathed in the bright light of Woodman’s.
I’m pleased asparagus is back in season, though the stalks are woody. I pick out plums to be a treat on a warm day. Every avocado in the tall bin is much too green. With dismay, I lightly pinch several that are hard as stone before turning away. A man waiting to pass glowers at me above his mask and I realize I’ve broken etiquette by touching so liberally. I’d forgotten our new rules.
At the self-checkout, an older man bypasses the line and begins ringing himself up. “Excuse me,” I say, but when he looks at me, confused, I tell him to go ahead. I’ve got time to wait. He shuffles off, already removing the blue checkered mask from his face. I imagine his child or wife sitting down to sew it for him.
In my blue kitchen on a Saturday, I add broth a ladleful at a time and stir the rice often until the liquid is absorbed. When the risotto is almost ready, M opens a bottle of wine. We have no plans and no idea when it will be safe to make plans. Many mornings, I wake crying with no desire to join the day. I hear others do too. But for now, the risotto is perfect, creamy and al dente, so I give in to our party of sorts.
Ashley Wilkinson is a writer and artist living in Madison, WI. She holds a BA in English from the University of Iowa. Her work has been published in Green Briar Review and Spires Magazine. She is currently working on a project about dreams.