Lucinda knew she was a dependent, unstable woman when she ate Rocky Road ice cream, replayed the same pathetic Dean Martin songs, or turned in front of her bathroom mirror staring at her (almost certainly) expanding thighs. Mark had called last night and offered everything she might have hoped for in a break up speech. She heard all of the key phrases: “it’s not you it’s me” and “just need space” and “best if we don’t see each other.” The truth might have been one of them or none of them, or the one Lucinda hated worst of all, maybe it was underneath them all and those phrases just blanketed it and made it less vivid and ugly. She had directly turned on Dean Martin and reported to her bathroom for thigh examination.
“You’re nobody till somebody loves you,” Dean sang.
Lucinda walked into the kitchen and patted her left thigh. “My ass, Dean. I’m still a pretty substantial somebody.”
She got to the freezer but instead of a carton she only found some frozen vegetables and one of those cold packs like for a sprain that she never needed because she hardly ever did anything athletic. Lucinda sank to the floor and sobbed into her pajama top. She hated the puddle of snot she saw forming on the loose cotton of the sleeve. Lucinda silently decided that the only thing worse than finding yourself unwanted by another person is feeling disgusted by your own body. However, it can only be fair to state that there is inevitably a certain jump in the latter given the former. At that moment, she was disgusted by an excess of snot, but after each breakup she pondered if her thighs had gotten bigger (had they touched before?) and checked for wrinkles and rogue hairs of sorts and then she gave up and went to the grocery store to buy some Rocky Road ice cream. The stark, honest lights, straight methodical designs on the rose and mint tiles, the soft predictable bings of the music that were usually instrumental covers of 90s pop songs made her feel safe and structured and quite unlike the mess she knew herself to be. The people that passed her in the aisles didn’t know she was a mess, and she prided herself that, because she had pulled her hair back with the part slicked on the side and put Passionfruit #37 on her lips with such precision that they couldn’t know and never would.
Though aisle three had the ice cream she needed, it was cold and uninviting and imprecise. You could hardly ever read the ice cream cartons through the glass to find what you were searching for because they were so obscured by some layer of frost or fog or she didn’t know what. She did know that it gave her chill bumps on top of the ones she had from the temperature and she knew that she hated that rude purr that the crept out from the bottom of the freezers that prevented her from hearing the elevator-version of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or whatever was binging over the intercoms that day. So because she knew all of these things, and because sometimes she pretended that she knew herself, she turned down aisle nine instead. The boxes of cereal stared, silent as stroke victims, with their inviting, ludicrous mascots and simple colorful faces as if to say: “This is what I am. If you don’t believe me, check, its all there on the side panel.” And what’s more she had once noticed on a box of Frosted Flakes (below that panel where the cereal had laid all of its cards on the table: calories, ingredients, serving size, just like that) a line that said “Questions? Comments?” with a number provided that she somehow knew would indulge either. She had never been able to bring herself to call but she knew that a person (and not one of those calculating computer machines) would answer her and that perhaps that person was a plump jovial woman who lived in Syracuse with her two Dauschunds and ate the same brand of Rocky Road that Lucinda ate after she’d been dumped. She knew someone would always answer that call because they just had to. She knew it because she couldn’t conceive why someone would have put the number there in the first place if they weren’t going to really pick up if somebody needed them. She had thought about calling before but all of a sudden she had felt like an idiot: what question or comment could she possibly have to make about her box of Honey Smacks?
When she could prolong her feigned debate over what cereal she wanted no longer she knew that she couldn’t avoid the ice cream aisle any longer but suddenly felt eyes on her and glanced left.
“Quite a racket, all this,” a woman said, motioning to the myriad of box faces that had frog faces and bulldog bandits printed on them. She sort of let out a puff of air that held a giggle within a sigh and shook her head making her earrings jangle underneath her shorn red hair. “Yeah, I guess,” Lucinda admitted (even though she knew that there was truth too and that all you had to do was turn them over). “I’m Angela,” the woman said extending her pale hand toward Lucinda, which she shook carefully, noticing the engagement ring that gleamed in the florescent yellow light. “Lucinda,” she said as she watched Angela shake her head again as she turned over box after box of cereal, dismissing them summarily because they were too high in trans fats or gluten or some other component that Lucinda would have never even know to look for. “Training for a marathon,” Angela explained, meeting Lucinda’s curious stare, “gotta watch what I put in the tank.” She then pulled off a box that Lucinda had never even looked at before, it being off white and cartoonless, which usually indicated to Lucinda that it must taste like some form of soggy cardboard.
As she strolled away, Lucinda crept toward the ice cream aisle, wondering as she sometimes did at the faces that passed her. The faces were male and female and old and young but she knew she would never know anything about any of them, not even that they ate bland cereal and ran marathons and had found the loves of their lives. A man at the end of the ice cream aisle adjusted his suspenders as he peered in at the various percentages printed on the milk cartons then touched the very back of his head where some gray hair still lingered. A curvy woman swayed down the ice cream aisle past her, talking on her cell phone, but Lucinda couldn’t make out what she was saying because those damn obnoxious freezer bottoms. She always cared about other people, where they were going, what their secret was, even though she knew that only a handful of dependent, unstable people probably ever looked back at her and pondered the same. At least they were honest and, as expected, the old man didn’t turn around to introduce himself as she squeaked her buggy by and the voluptuous woman kept her eyes fixed on the ground as she chatted away. At least they didn’t say they wanted to know anything about her or get close to her or see her, really see her. Lucinda fixed her eyes on a man in a rust-colored apron as he trudged up the aisle but he, unlike the strangers, raised his hand in acknowledgement. Hank had been working at the grocery store down the street form her house for the three years that she had lived there and he knew certain things about her. Hank knew that Lucinda smoked Marlboro lights and that she never used coupons. Sometimes Lucinda fancied that he knew far more than he let on and as he approached her with a smiling, pimpled face she couldn’t help wonder if he knew that she bought Rocky Road ice cream because she was unstable and dependent and that she meandered around the cereal aisle for hours because she liked the truth. “Hi there Lucinda, how are you?” Hank asked. Lucinda felt like she would cry every time a casual acquaintance asked her this honest question and she had been dumped and she was unstable because she knew it was only acceptable for her to say “Fine”. But even though she had to do it, she lied and hated herself for lying. Hank made small talk about a watermelon sale while Lucinda stood there, listening and hating herself, but still keeping it together. But then Hank explained how they had started packaging meat in smaller portions, which was so much better because it was perfect for small families or couples to buy without all that waste. Lucinda felt that unstable cord twinge as he continued on about the values of not wasting in this economy and tears crept up in her eyes and then she was embarrassed and this made more tears force their way up until they pushed out the ones that owed themselves to instability and began to roll down her cheeks. “Sheesh, are you okay?” Hank asked, reaching for her shoulder and craning his neck to get a better view of Lucinda’s face which she had bowed to the floor. “Fine, just fine, just a hard week at work that’s all,” she heard herself say, and as she did she hated it because she knew that she had lied twice now in aisle three. As she looked up in an effort to compose herself, she saw that the fuzzy faces of the ice cream packages had become blurrier through the veil of tears that stood in her eyes that she had refused to let fall. She turned on her heel quickly and abandoned the buggy, which held a box of cereal that was six aisles away from honesty.
The doors folded up unnaturally and automatically onto a sunny parking lot as she saw a smiling Angela thrust her canvas-clad groceries into the trunk of her Honda. She hated Angela and even though she didn’t know her she did know that she had reasons to hate her. She hated that even if she took up running marathons or eating healthy cereal in response to getting dumped it wouldn’t make her consider herself independent. She would always know she was depending on the running because she didn’t want her thighs to almost touch anymore and that she was only eating bran because she wanted her diet to be stable even though she herself would never be. She knew independence was a word invented by people who could call themselves that because they had flattering, honest fiancés so they didn’t have to search for problems in the mirror at 3 o’clock in the morning or for truth in the cereal aisle. Lucinda methodically put up her groceries after she got into the kitchen of her one room duplex. She wiped away her Passionfruit #37 on the back of her hand and let down her hair as she opened up her pantry and got down a box of cereal. Setting it on the counter, she stared at the small honest statement “Questions? Comments?” and the number that would lead to someone who could be dependable and pick up when she called and be honest and do what it promised it would (or why else would they have gone to the trouble of printing it there?). Lucinda drank a couple glasses of wine and flipped open her cell phone. Somehow though, she just suddenly knew, and seconds before an automated voice said, “Press one for…” she hung up.
–Cara Vandergriff is a senior majoring in Literature at UTC.