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SMILING IN THE SUPERMARKET
By Chris Dellapenda


...She says she doesn't believe in injustice, only unhappiness.


She wears bright yellow sneakers with bright yellow shoelaces that clash her shiny black pants- that blend into her shiny black hair - that clench her skinny, jumpy legs. She wishes for a Velcro rejuvenation: she wants Velcro to seal our jackets, our pants, our shirts. On her neck she wraps a pale pink scarf, flimsy as the gold sheet through which some scientist once jetted ions; and she swears that this pink barrier will salvage her jagged throat. "I'm sick. I'm losing my voice," she says, sniffling. She believes in orange juice, and so she walks to the supermarket for more. Each aisle brings to her more amusement. Soymilk! Greeting cards with babies kissing? Vegan ice-cream! She darts to the candy aisle and obsessively checks and compares each package for calorie content. She doesn't drink alcohol: "If I'm going to be in the company who I enjoy being in the company with when I'm sober, why add the extra calories by drinking?"

Her cell phone rings. She knows that it's her mother calling, worried about how living independently, in Boston, is treating her daughter. Her vowel sounds are ringing out-- she's speaking Vietnamese. She slips back into English. I smile. "Whatever's easier," she says.

It's 2:00 AM; we leave the supermarket. She does not sleep; she naps. Each morning, she sits by her seventeenth-story window and watches the sun rise over Fenway Park. "The colors are so pretty," she says. Each day, she wanders the streets of Boston, stopping and talking whenever she pleases, to whomever she pleases. She wanders and wishes she could wander forever. She's convinced that she possesses the secret knowledge that will allow her to shirk responsibilities and become a professional nomad; but she says she can't use this knowledge until her parents get over her switch to vegetarianism.

She's a film major. She hasn't seen "The Godfather" or "Star Wars." "Why should I? Because I'm supposed to?" One night, she's in the mood to watch "Casablanca." Some people in the room passively object to her suggestion, but watch it anyway. In fifteen minutes, her head is buried in my pillow, and she's quietly snoring. She jumps up out of her sleep, "wake me up if i start snoring. I probably will snore. I'm sick," she says. She says she's incapable of depression. She says she doesn't believe in injustice, only unhappiness. She needs everybody but she doesn't need anyone in particular. She likes to tilt her head backwards while walking down Boston's cold streets, to stare up at the stars as they're temporarily obstructed by her own breath. She sighs and smiles, "wow, look at the sky tonight." She gave her last cookie to the taxi-driver-- not as a tip-- just because she liked the cookies and thought he might too. She makes me smile.

© Chris Dellapenda 2001

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