It was that time; the time when a routine day is replaced with patience. It was time to take Aunt Nell shopping.
“God, I dread these days.” Dot spoke to the air, the wind, the mirror; anything that might listen. The air stayed silent, the wind kept howling and the mirror didn’t care.
Aunt Nell, anxious to get out and about, fixed her hair into little purple ringlets and put on her best cotton flowered dress. She sat on the front porch, clutching her little black handbag as she watched down the street, anxiously awaiting the sight of Dot’s beige 1963 Pontiac station wagon.
“You’re late,” said Nellie as Dot turned into the driveway. The car windows were closed. Dot couldn’t hear her aunt’s criticism, and pretended not to notice as Nellie raised her wrist and pointed at her heirloom diamond-faced watch.
As Dot opened the car door, Nellie asked, “Did you forget to set your clock? It’s almost eight thirty. You told me you’d be here at eight. I was ready by seven thirty. I’ve been waiting here on the porch for almost an hour. Good thing it’s not raining.”
Dot smiled as she helped Aunt Nell into the front seat. “Where would you like to go first?”
“I need to go to the pharmacy, the bank and the post office before we go to the market. I know the post office is the closest, but I need to go to the bank first. Then you can take me to the post office and the pharmacy. Just make sure we get to the market before all the good stuff is gone. We’d better hurry . . . since you were so late.” Aunt Nell never had a simple answer and never gave anyone a second thought.
Dot pulled up to the drive-thru teller.
“Oh no. This won’t do. I have to go inside,” Nellie directed. “I want to say ‘Hello’ to Agnes. She’s so nice. You know she lost her husband last year.” Nellie wasn’t done. “I know how hard that is. Since my Fred died I haven’t got anyone to take care of me.”
Dot smiled and drove around the bank to the front door.
Nellie chose to go into the bank alone. When she returned to the car, Dot opened the door for her.
“Poor Agnes. She’s so lonely. All she has is this silly job at the bank. Her daughter doesn’t even call her,” Nellie sighed.
“You know, her daughter has all those kids. Maybe she’s busy,” Dot offered.
Aunt Nell just pointed forward.
“Is it OK if I put your letter in the drop box?” Dot asked as she approached the post office.
“Well, of course,” Nellie seemed surprised at the question. “And we better skip the drug store for now. I want to get to the market before everything is gone. You know how greedy some people are.”
Dot nodded and smiled. “OK then, it’s onto the market.” She dropped off Aunt Nell at the front door. “Let me park the car and I’ll be here in just a moment. Please wait for me.”
Even though this excursion was a weekly trip, Dot never knew what to expect. Nellie could be independent and unpredictable.
“I wish strawberries were in season. I suppose I’ll have to settle for some apples and plums.” Nellie had a way of convincing anyone in ear-shot that she suffered through compromise. Seasonal fruits caused her such hardship.
Dot smiled and led Nellie toward the apples.
“No McIntosh?” Nellie overwhelmed the man attending the table. “It’s October. Macs are ripe. You should have Macs, not just these silly Delicious. They don’t make a good pie. I need McIntosh.” Nellie turned her back and ignored the vendor’s attempt at an apology. Then she continued down the aisle of fruit stands.
Dot followed, afraid Aunt Nell might get lost. “Shall we find some plums?”
“I suppose,” said Nellie. “I can’t believe that fool didn’t have Macs.”
Locating some plums, Dot said, “These look fine.” She was growing tired of the day.
“They might look good, but they’re way too expensive. Let’s go to that other booth.” Nellie turned in a different direction.
“Only three plums for five cents? That’s the best you can do?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The vendor spoke in a condescending tone.
“I suppose they’ll do,” Nellie said as she handed the man a nickel.
He took the nickel, said “Thank you,” and handed her a paper bag with three plums.
As Dot and Nellie stepped away the bag broke and the plums fell to the floor. Dot scooped them up and handed the plums back to her aunt who immediately returned to the booth.
“You gave me a defective bag,” Nellie accosted the vendor.
“Sorry,” said the man and handed Nellie another bag.
“I’m not keeping these plums. They’re ruined,” she scolded.
The vendor took back the empty bag and put three fresh plums in it, then handed it back to Nellie.
“What are you going to do with the three that dropped on the floor?”
“I’ll have to throw them out since they’re bruised,” the vendor was annoyed.
“If the plums aren’t any good, why don’t you give them to me?” Nellie pushed.
Dot stood back and smiled.
“Fine,” shouted the aggravated man as he shoved the damaged plums toward Nellie. He was tired of her nasty ways, but didn’t want to cross an old lady.
Nellie walked away happy. “I think I want to make a lemon meringue pie,” she announced. “Let’s go find some lemons.”
“They’re over this way,” Dot said as she guided Nellie through the crowd.
Nellie inspected the lemons with entitled intentions.
Dot knew what was about to happen and felt sorry for the lemon lady, but there was nothing she could do to prevent a scene.
Coming off the plum coup-de-grace, Nellie prepared for battle. She checked her purple tinted curls and smoothed her homemade cotton dress.
She picked up a lemon and looked the lady straight in the eyes. “Three for five cents? Isn’t that a bit much?” Nellie threw the first punch.
“No. That’s a good price,” said the lady. “You’re welcome to check other vendors.”
“But I’m right here. And I think you could do a little better on the price.”
“Look lady. Do you want these lemons or not?”
“Well of course I want some lemons. I’m going to make some pie. My friends are coming over for lunch this week,” Nellie said with head held high.
“You have friends?”
Dot tried to step in, but in vain.
“My recipe calls for six lemons,” Nellie explained.
“Either pay ten cents or find another recipe,” said the impatient lady.
“I don’t want to pay that much. Why can’t you give me six lemons for a nickel?” Nellie shot back.
The lemon lady turned red as a fire engine. Her eyes glared like the engine’s flashing lights and the roar of the siren shot out of her mouth as she grabbed three lemons in each hand and shoved them into Nellie’s face.
A crowd, attracted by the commotion, had gathered near the booth.
“You want six for a nickel? You really want six for a nickel?”
The lemon lady slammed the lemons onto the table.
“Shit! You get six for a nickel!”
Technical knock out.
Dot chuckled, but only under her breath.
The crowd snickered.
The lemon lady turned her back to Nellie, who, herself turned away in a huff.
Hopefully, Dot thought, the old bag will be sufficiently pissed off. Then we can get the hell out of here.
On the way home with only some plums, half of which were bruised, it began to rain.
“Oh dear. We still have to stop at the drug store. You need to go in for me. It’s raining.” Nellie stated, indignant as ever.
“While you’re in there get me a rain bonnet.”
“I have an umbrella here in the car.” Dot pointed to the back seat.
“Oh, that’s not good enough.”
“Fine.” Dot said, drained to her last trace of energy.
The rest of their ride home was quiet. Nellie had run out of criticism. Dot helped her into the house; with rain bonnet and umbrella.
Then Dot drove home in peace. Once inside, she poured herself a glass of wine.
The phone rang. Dot ignored it.