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maybe a love story :: mindy hung

But then, her husband wasn’t there. He was in Andalusia (or somewhere equally improbable) being kind to other people. Even now, he was touching a pair of wrists, asking in low tones questions about the intimate functions of stomach, bowel and guts. His forehead crinkled with worry each time he considered the ailments that his skills might cure. People told her that he really was a very good doctor. But while he was in Andalusia, what use was he to her?

Alice had a summer cold. This gave her the right to be unkind.

For two days, she had been sitting in front of the television set, dozing. She heated up cans of soup and let the dog run around in the yard as she watched from the porch wrapped in a blanket. Her thoughts trailed limply after her, like the belt of her bathrobe as she shuffled through the house.

At first she had looked forward to this proposed trip. Helping him fill his suitcase had been like packing for herself, except that she was stowing in it things that she would not have to think about for twelve days: his blazers and hard-to-clean black socks, the baseball cap that she never liked but tucked in anyway, hoping he’d wear it under the hot Spanish sun—and possibly lose it.

But while her husband was here with her and still fussing with the locks and zippers of his suitcase, the twelve days he would be gone stretched out with possibility. They had been married for twenty-seven years. He had certainly always liked her. She could not be so charitable towards him, especially on Sunday afternoons when he stood empty-handed at her side watching her wash the glasses; if she tried to get him to store them in the cupboards, he would inspect each tumbler, pointing out the spots that he thought weren’t clean, then hand them back to her to rinse and rub again. She dreaded his retirement.

Her husband called every morning at ten o’clock. He told her with gentle, fretting joy, he had already been able to help so many people. Obviously, he was happy, but he missed her. He worried that she was not getting enough sleep. When she caught cold only two nights after he left, he saw it as a sign that he had gone too far away. Next time, he would fly no further than Cleveland so that the healing aura that he was sure extended around him could still envelope her.

She assured him she would survive.

But that was yesterday. On this the fourth day of Alice’s illness, the orange juice and chicken broth finally ran low. After counting the last tins, she spent a moment leaning on the open pantry door. From where she stood, she could see out the kitchen window. Wilting leaves shivered in the wind.

If her husband had been here, she thought, he might have gone to the store for her.

She put herself into the car to drive the supermarket, thinking ahead of the things she hated, squinting at the sun in the parking lot, feeling that first blast of the air conditioner as she entered the store, all part of the shocks and frictions of contact with people that would unwrap the moist layers of sickness that surrounded her.

She sat in the car for five minutes before opening the door.

The store was almost empty except for three girls lingering in front of the shelf of low-sodium broth. Alice ignored their slouches and the belligerent motions of their hands. Huddling under her own clothing, she attempted to focus her half-open eyes on the row of Campbell’s cans.

But it was as she blinked at the letters in front of her that she heard the singing. At first it whispered then halted, and as it gained confidence, the falsetto floated crazily into Alice’s muffled hearing. “Some. . . en-CHANT-ed evening. . .”

She opened her eyes. One of the three girls ahead draped herself on the shelf, crooning with the Muzak. She wielded a can of reduced-fat cream of broccoli as a microphone. “You may see a stran-GERRRR…”
The other two girls with her watched, at first rolling their eyes at each other, then grinning as they realized that such things might be possible. “May I?” the shorter one said.

“Of course.”

“You may see a stranger a-CROSS a CROWD-ED room. . .”

They clasped each other and swung to the music, to the quickening rhythm of their laughter, their thick-soled shoes scrabbling as they shuffled across the floor, the girl’s voice rising insistently above her companions giggles and shouts and the clangs of the basket that had been abandoned in the aisle. Alice watched as the dancers edged past the jutting sale signs and stacked displays and finally leapt in front of her, the rough strokes of their feet tangling and weaving with fluid motion.

And the music ceased, and they slipped out of the dance.

For a moment the girls looked at each other, then one of the dancers, seeing Alice watching them, curled her lip into a sneer.

The singer only curtsied.

Alice ducked her head and smiled. She pretended she hadn’t been looking and studied the label on a can of soup. When she glanced up again the singer was checking her watch. They quickly skidded a few jars in their basket peering at everything as they slid the items in, glanced around one last time, and. . . were gone.

Alice was tired again when she reached the cashier. She stood searching her pockets for tissues until two women appeared behind her, the cart they shared loaded with bulk packages of ground beef, paper towels, celery and Kool-aid. They leaned together, counting the items. “Fifteen,” one announced.

The other nodded and picked up a magazine. “This looks interesting: ‘What Kind of Lover Are You?'”

They looked at each other and grinned.

She read, “‘It’s your anniversary, and you come home tired. Do you settle for pizza and a few lighted candles, or do you make the effort to dress up and go out for a romantic dinner?'”


“‘Do you set aside afternoons to go to the country and pick wildflowers with your mate, or do you smile indulgently at this suggestion and remember that you have to mend his socks? Do you recite love poems to him every night before bed—'”

“Oh, Janet, my darling, shall I compare thee to a summer day?”

“—or do you just go to sleep?”

They flipped through the rest of the magazine, their shoulder-blades brushed as they pointed at the pictures of lives intimate and sweet.

And Alice unloading her cart continued the poem, murmuring, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. . .”

The boy behind the counter leaned forward. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,” he said, “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

He was also young, the same age as the dancing girls. His fingers were brown and thick, cupped awkwardly over the cash register, as if afraid it might melt and flow away.

She thought that maybe she could have fallen in love with him, too, if given world enough and time to gaze at the numbers of the bar codes, or murmur over the price of eggs. They touched hands as he counted out her change.

“Have a nice evening,” he said.

She smiled, gently. “You too.”

And she made her way to the car.


Mindy Hung is a Canadian writer living in New York City. Her fiction and personal essays have appeared in Grain, The New York Times, and Salon.