I checked the forecast that morning. The storm was not set to arrive until 7 pm. My shift ended at 6. I left the rain boots on the seat and locked the car.
The clouds began to gather in the distance around 3:30 pm. They were dark and menacing. The summer storm was upon us as the skies opened up at 4:06. I had asked if i could go to the car and grab my rain boots at 3:40. My supervisor said no. She took me off parking lot duty and sent me on a shopping run so i would stop fussing about going to the car even though i’d already had my 15 minute break an hour ago. I showed my colleagues who were still on parking lot duty the radar on my phone and exclaimed “there’s a big old ball of red headed right for us.” Now everyone wanted to go to the car and get their boots and jackets. My supervisor was not thrilled. She ordered everybody back to their posts. No one was going to the cars. It was just a little storm. It would come and go. Stop making such a big deal about it. I shrugged and embarked on my shopping run. As i pulled the cart around the store and raced down the aisles, thunder shook the floor. Lightening split the skies, visible through the windows and the sliding doors. I looked over and saw that it was raining cats and dogs. It looked like a hurricane blowing through the city. Sheets of rain were creeping sideways in the flooded parking lot, trees were thrashing about, the thunder continued to shake the floor, and the light just disappeared. It quickly resembled evening outside. The street lamps came on and people began to collect in a large crowd behind the sliding doors. Nobody wanted to leave with the storm outside ripping through the parking lot. Baskets dragged by the wind drifted through the water and crashed into parked cars. The lightening was not deemed close enough on the radar so the curbies had to continue running back and forth in the rain, delivering orders to the waiting cars. I thought i was lucky. I was given a shopping run instead of continued parking lot duty. I thought i just might make it to the end of the shift without getting soaked. I didn’t think it would be fair for them to make me go out in the rain and flood waters since they had forbid me to go to my car and get my boots when the storm was first approaching. I almost made it. 3 minutes before the end of my shift my supervisor asked me to get an order ready, saying she’d have someone else take it out once it was in the basket. When i had retrieved the order and the basket was full she told me to take it out. I should have seen that coming. I asked for a poncho. She made another curbie who was about to go on lunch break give me hers. The curbie removed her poncho and then her boots. The boots were meant to go on over one’s shoes but she had taken her shoes off. Now she stood in black ankle socks and took off running for her lunch break. They begin the timer the moment they tell you to leave. She was just trying to make the most of her break. I first donned the giant yellow poncho. They made them all XL or L and called that “one size fits all”. It really just fit the tall people but thats another argument for another day. I stepped into the boot with my shoe and realized immediately why she had taken her shoes off. They seemed to be going the opposite route of the ponchos with the shoes. The boot was too small. I wondered about the brains involved in hashing out this setup but there was no time. The clock was running on this order that had now been in the basket for some time. I yanked my tennis shoe off and plunged my foot into the boot. It was an immediately regrettable action. The boot was full of water. The XL ponchos reached to the ground on most of us and dragged in the water. Then as we walked and the poncho lifted momentarily out of the water it deposited all the water dripping off of it directly into any boots or shoes beneath it. I pulled the boot off my now soaked foot and plunged my foot back into my tennis shoe. I was unhappy about this development as it meant i would have wet shoes for the following day’s shift. As i headed out to deliver the order in the last minute of my shift the head boss arrived with fresh baked cookies from bakery. Apparently we all remembered the supervisor telling us we couldn’t go to the car for our rain boots ahead of time and moral was at an all time low while the possibility of mutiny was high. The head boss sought to fix things with warm cookies. It seemed to work for most.
As i ran through the parking lot pushing the basket with one hand i held the poncho bunched about my waist with the other, hoping it would not drag against the ground and deposit the drippings in my shoes. I confirmed the customer’s order, loaded the groceries, closed the trunk, and headed back to the building. I waited to be dismissed. My supervisor did finally dismiss me. I put up my smart phone, took off the poncho and split. The storm had gained its second wind. I figured i’d shop for a bit and let it tucker itself out before making my way through the parking lot. I was supposed to go to my friend’s house in a neighboring town on the way home to pick up a bag of chick feed and return a borrowed pet taxi i had in the car. My friend invited me to stay for supper. So, i realized at this point that i had to go. It was already 6:30 and it would be at least a 30 minute drive. They would be waiting on me to start dinner. I gathered my groceries quickly and headed to the check out. When i made it to the exit doors the rain was sideways again and all three parking lots were completely flooded; the customer one and both employee ones to the side of the store. I knew i couldn’t go swimming, so to speak, because i wasn’t headed straight home. I was headed to Cindy’s. I sighed. There was only one thing to do; conquer my lifelong fear of umbrellas. We sold them in the store.
For anyone who hasnt heard the story, my fifth grade teacher was struck by lightening while walking from the school to the separate gym building holding an umbrella during a storm. The principle found her when she never came to get her class and insisted she go in the ambulance to the hospital to get checked out. They said she had been struck by lightening that was attracted to the metal umbrella and the only thing that saved her was that her arm was held at a perfect ninety degree angle at the moment she was struck. The electricity traveled from her elbow into the concrete sidewalk instead of continuing on to her heart. I literally never touched an umbrella again.
I returned to the store and grabbed a small black umbrella with polka dots. I tried to pick the smallest simplest one there was. I hoped against all odds that it would be entirely made of plastic. I went to the checkout and paid for it. I asked the cashier if he had scissors to cut the tag off and then remembered, silly me, i had a box cutter on my key chain. But at this point the teenage boy had decided his manhood was at stake and was going to hulk-style snap the plastic loop by pulling at it with his fingers. I kept telling him i had a box cutter but he just moved the umbrella further and further out of my reach as his face turned pink with effort. Finally the little plastic ring snapped. Social crisis averted i guess. I thanked him and made my way to the door as he flexed his muscles for the bagger that was decidedly unimpressed with his performance. A little tip; most girls value practicality and intelligence over brute shows of force. She did seem to pick up on the stupidity of holding up a whole line of customers so he could make a point that his biceps worked.
I zipped my phone and keys into my lunch box. I tied my wallet into a plastic grocery bag. I got ready to go out into the weather and then realized…i had never owned an umbrella. I wished they came with instructions. I wasn’t sure how to open one. I pushed, then pried and then tried pushing again, then searched for a button. None was found. Ultimately i had to approach a customer and ask her if she knew how to open an umbrella. She opened it right up for me. Apparently pulling was the motion required. She showed me how to anchor it open. I thanked her and departed. I drove the basket up on the sidewalk and made it as far as around the corner of the building. There i was met with a dismal scene. The rest of the sidewalk disappeared into murky rushing water. The street was flooded and the parking lots on either side of the street were flooded too. There was ankle deep water everywhere. There was nothing to do but wade through it. I took off my shoes and placed them in the baby seat of the grocery basket. I carefully plunged the front wheels of the basket off the sidewalk and into the water. Then the back wheels. I walked through the water pushing the basket in front of me in just my socks. About half way across the flooded street an suv sped past me at nearly 40 mph, kicking the water up so that it drenched myself and all of the groceries in the basket. The car very narrowly missed hitting the basket. I stood there dripping and blinking, holding my umbrella, “great. Just great. Thank you. Thank you very much *** ****.” I made it to the other side of the street and then pushed the basket through the parking lot to my car. I managed to get all the wet bags loaded inside and then i returned the basket to the basket dock. I trudged back to the car and folded up the umbrella. I made it and was only partially wet. The important thing was that the shoes were dry. I drove barefoot in the blinding rain all the way to Cindy’s. I couldn’t see anything and was beginning to worry i missed the exit, and then there it was. I made it to Cindy’s in time to eat supper with them. Cindy’s son Caleb said Grace and then we ate fish, squash, green beans, spinach and mushrooms, and cucumber salad. Cindy told me Caleb had walked in, took a look around, and asked if i was coming.” He said, “Yeah i’m a regular sherlock in that way. I see fish, squash, and vegetables. It’s not that hard to piece together.” Cindy and Caleb were the closest thing i had to family in the hill country. Cindy always fed me and gave me extra to take home and eat the following day. I was invited to all the family holidays, and Caleb never tired of beating us at puzzle or card games with his insane ability to keep track of how many of each piece had already been played. After supper Caleb would pick his teeth with a toothpick and Cindy would make tea and start mixing up the little wooden tiles of the qwirkle game. Caleb always drank whole milk with his supper and Cindy always made the vegetables in the same way. They were my little bit of normalcy. They were family and i loved them both immensely. After supper we watched a few episodes of pinky and the brain, a show i hadn’t seen since childhood. Then i had to go, as i had to study for an exam. I reluctantly said goodbye and headed on my way. Cindy of course made me a to-go pouch out of foil, which i much appreciated. She was an excellent cook. I saw a newborn fawn and a rainbow on the drive home. I hung my socks up to dry and salvaged what i could of the groceries.
Being around Cindy and Caleb had recharged my soul a bit. I felt human again. I wished i could have spent more time with them. I missed our nights of playing games on the kitchen table long into the night while nursing cups of peppermint or berry tea and chatting. I missed watching Caleb’s brilliant mind work effortlessly to build the word worth the most points or place each tile in the right spot to both prevent Cindy and i from making any headway and further his progress, reading his chapter book between turns while he waited for Cindy and i to finish strategizing. I missed Cindy telling me about work and what was going on in the world of healthcare i had left behind. I missed the feeling of peace within those walls. Going back to school in my thirties meant less time for everything. That was how it would have to be for a while. I decided the umbrella would be for low altitude use only…never on the property…too much risk of lightening.