Julia Pearl in the Grocery Store

Julia Pearl tried not to be dying all of the time. She learned to ignore her legs when they suddenly itched as if a mosquito in the dead of winter had burrowed under her covers and then injected Dengue Fever, Malaria, or something that wouldn’t be identified when she finally had the courage to call an ambulance because she was positive she was dying. She thought about that often. How long should she wait to see if she was really dying? What if she was really dying and she couldn’t see the buttons on the phone or even crawl to the phone. Then she would have waited too long and her life would be over but not until she died of fright several times before exiting for real.

There was an entire list of sicknesses Julia Pearl tried not to think about. She might have stomach cancer or colon cancer or mouth cancer or brain cancer or a tumor growing like a tiny seedling somewhere in her body until the day it bloomed and the doctor on duty in the emergency room told her to go home and settle her affairs because it was fourth stage, no hope. Julia Pearl knew doctors didn’t take her seriously. She knew they thought she was a hypochondriac, which was why she tried not to think of all of the ways she might be dying. She thought doctors would treat her with some kindness if she had been young or pretty, not even pretty but just interesting. She wasn’t young or pretty. She was old and dull, her hair tied into a tight gray knot at the back of her head, clothes always in some shade of gray or black, without any particular style, just straight down to her sturdy shoes. She went to work, came home, walked her dog, went to bed with a bowl of ice cream, got up, and did it again until Saturday when she had to do her laundry, shop for yogurt, bananas, ice cream and a few frozen dinners. She didn’t eat much because her stomach always felt like there was something wrong with it, like there was a grapefruit sized tumor resting in her belly that no doctor had been interested in discovering. She bought a case of water at least twice a month because she knew when the earthquake hit, the big one, everyone would be thirsty after days of no help arriving, the stores cleaned out by looters. Then the looters would try to get her water so she kept her gun loaded. She imagined men banging on her door, knowing she had water and maybe some food and shooting the lock off to get in. She practiced sitting on her staircase pointing her gun at the door just in case.

Julia Pearl didn’t really know if she was going to die a long and painful death from some undiagnosed illness or if she would die a long and painful death after she shot the intruders and nailed her door shut, staying inside for days with crackers and water when no one showed up to check on her. She didn’t know anyone who would check on her. People left her alone because she didn’t know how to do the bright faced chatter thing she saw other women doing with each other when they pushed their grocery carts practically into each other before that moment of recognition, then exclaiming a greeting that reminded her of TV in the 1950s where everything was fake.

On Saturday, Julia Pearl saw it happen again, watched them, and didn’t believe they were happy to see each other. She believed the one with the big fat ass in spandex shorts that showed cellulite through the thin fabric was thinking how much she hated the other woman who had a skinny ass and tossed her hair from side to side while she talked just to show the fat assed woman that she was so sexy she got fucked at least twice a day. The cellulite-compromised woman obviously hadn’t been fucked for at least a year, which is why her grocery cart was full of cookies, chips, fried chicken and a big bottle of vodka. Julia Pearl tried not to be obvious while she watched. She was fascinated with how they smiled Cheshire cat smiles and talked to each other in loud, high-pitched voices like they knew they were so interesting they could just stand there and talk about nothing until one had to “get going” because her kids were at the soccer game and she was, after all, a loving soccer mom. Julia Pearl believed the women couldn’t wait to get away from each other, that they really didn’t want to be having that conversation at all. It was more than being polite. It was like some happy dance designed to prove they were more than satisfied with the lives they were living and certainly not dying of anything dreadful. Julia Pearl saw women acting the same way wherever she went but especially in the grocery store. Actually Julia Pearl had to admit to herself she never went anywhere besides the grocery store and work and to the doctor’s. She didn’t count doctor’s offices because everyone hid behind months old, well worn copies of People magazine or Trout and Stream so they could pretend they were the only ones sitting in the waiting room.

Julia Pearl looked for men in the grocery store, not so much because she wanted to fall in love but because she thought she should find a decent man, one who washed his hair at least often enough to keep it from looking greasy and pasted to his head, who wasn’t wearing sandals with brown socks pulled all the way up his calves, who didn’t have a belly that looked like he was smuggling a watermelon under his shirt. Julia Pearl needed someone to take care of her once her fatal illness manifested in such an obvious way even the doctors wouldn’t be able to deny it. If she had to have chemo she would need someone to drive her to her appointments and she would need someone to call the doctors and take care of the house while she laid on her bed waiting for hospice to show up with more morphine.

Sometimes Julia Pearl looked for a man for real romance. She thought maybe a man had noticed her if he did things like stand by her when he selected oranges while she was making sure she didn’t buy any bruised ones or if a man looking at the lunch meat stood right next to her when there was plenty of room for him to look without being that close. Those times Julia Pearl wondered what would happen if she started up a conversation or smiled at him. The problem was she could never think of what to say, and she felt stupid looking into the eyes of a total stranger and smiling. She read somewhere that the grocery store was the best place for single people to meet but she didn’t know how to do that. A truly decent man might ask her if she thought the blackberry yogurt was better than the lemon yogurt, give her an opening, something to work with.

Last summer Julia Pearl had actually stopped at a bar she passed on her way home from work. She didn’t know what got into her but she was suddenly tired of being alone and not having anyone to hold her, ever, and she wasn’t even thinking about the chemo thing. She was just lonely. She even found some lipstick at the bottom of her purse, shook her hair out of its bun and rolled her skirt up so her legs would show when she walked into the bar. She sat on a barstool just like she knew what she was doing. An almost handsome man on the barstool next to her introduced himself, told her his name was Darryl. He asked her if he could buy her a drink. She didn’t remember what she actually said but the next thing she knew he had ordered three or four drinks for both of them. She didn’t have any problem talking with him because he did most of the talking, telling her she had gorgeous eyes and asking her why he hadn’t seen her before while he ignored his buddies sitting on barstools next to him on the other side. Julia Pearl made up her mind she wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. She was going to go home with him and have sex. Then his wife showed up. Julia Pearl could tell it was his wife by the way she glowered at him and the other guys moved down to make a seat for her next to him. Darryl turned away from Julia Pearl and acted like he didn’t even know her. That night Julia Pearl ate an entire pint of ice cream while she watched TV in bed and didn’t even care if she got chocolate on her sheets. Julia Pearl tried not to feel anything but she felt something squeezing her heart. She didn’t know if she was sad or having a heart attack. She would have to wait and see what happened, which is why she decided it wouldn’t feel as bad if she looked for men in the grocery store. It was less humiliating than obviously trying to catch a man and failing.

Julia Pearl’s doctor suggested she see someone for therapy because Julia Pearl always thought something was dreadfully wrong but her symptoms kept changing. She knew she had something that was going to cause her a slow and painful death that the doctor just wasn’t finding. If she had something wrong with her thinking or she was thinking unrealistically, Julia Pearl thought that was evidence she had a brain tumor not an emotional problem.

She wasn’t going to go to therapy just because she was more aware than people who suddenly dropped dead or got a diagnosis of something and were dead in three weeks. There was something wrong; she could feel it no matter what the doctor said. Julia Pearl decided to try harder to meet a man in the grocery store. She thought maybe she could kill two birds with one stone if she could find a decent looking, clean man, who would be kind enough to take care of her when the time came.


Saturday afternoon Julia Pearl went to the grocery store and didn’t wear her hair in a bun. She put on some pink lipstick and pink blush on her cheeks. She went up one aisle and down the next, not seeing anyone who looked like they were the one. She went to the ice cream section and felt annoyed that her favorite ice cream wasn’t on sale for $2.99 like it was many Saturdays. It was $5.99 and she wasn’t going to spend that kind of money for a quart of ice cream. She wanted to eat it not marry it. She opened the freezer door to get the other brand of ice cream that was $2.99 when a man stopped next to her, putting his hand and arm in front of her and into the freezer to grab some ice cream while she held the door for both of them. Julia Pearl saw him in her peripheral vision and decided he was decent looking. He excused himself when he reached past her and when she shut the freezer door she had no choice but to face him. When she did, she made herself look into his eyes and smile. If cellulite woman could do it so could Julia Pearl. He smiled back at her, pointed to her ice cream and asked her if she liked that flavor. She thought that was a dumb question since she was about to put it into her shopping cart but she’d gotten that far and wasn’t going to give up.

Julia Pearl had a friendly conversation about ice cream with him. They stood in the frozen food section and talked about ice cream for about five minutes and finally Julia Pearl couldn’t think of anything else to say about ice cream. She didn’t think she should tell him good-bye since they didn’t know each other to begin with so she tried to look natural as she slowly turned toward her cart while he was saying something else about ice cream or yogurt or something. Then he asked her if she’d like to meet him for coffee sometime. Julia Pearl almost threw herself at him and kissed him because she was so happy that she had been successful at meeting a man in the grocery store just like it said in the magazine. She said she would like to have coffee with him. He tore a piece of paper off of a bag in his cart and fished a pen out of his pocket and wrote his phone number down then handed it to Julia Pearl. He said he would give her his phone number since she might be

uncomfortable giving him hers and he asked her to call him to set up a time and a place to meet. Julia Pearl would have given him her phone number, address, next of kin, anything, if he wanted to buy her coffee. She agreed to call him and for a few minutes she forgot she was dying. She almost forgot to buy the rest of her groceries because her heart felt big in her chest and it didn’t feel like a heart attack. It felt unfamiliar and she wondered if this was happiness, if she would live long enough to kiss him, whether or not she would be able think of anything to say when they were having coffee, wondered how long she should wait before she called him. She didn’t want to look desperate. She didn’t know if she should wait one day or two days but she thought for sure a week was too long or maybe a week was just right, maybe he would think she had other boyfriends but she didn’t know if that was the right thing to do. She thought if she called him right away he might think she was desperate and if she waited too long that she wasn’t interested in him. She didn’t have anyone to ask so she decided to wait three days, midway between the next day and next week.

Julia Pearl hoped this man wasn’t married, hoped he had a job, hoped he had a decent car just in case he did like her and he did have to drive her to chemo. She hoped he didn’t have a big dog because she didn’t like dog hair in her house. She imagined him cooking dinner with her in her kitchen and working in her garden with her and the two of them choosing ice cream together. She didn’t know if she could wait three days. She decided to wait two days but to talk slowly and calmly so he wouldn’t know how desperate she really was and then she wondered if she knew how to kiss a man after being single for so long. She hoped he wouldn’t to to put his tongue all the way down her throat and that he didn’t slobber, slobbering was the worst, well someone’s tongue down her throat wasn’t so good either. Maybe she wouldn’t call him after all. What with the hairy dog thing and the slobbering on her and tongue down her throat and the question of a decent car maybe she should just wait and see if she ran into him again the next time she was in the grocery store.


Mary Julia Klimenko c.2015