Costco with Chadda – Michelle Spencer
Chadda told people her husband died raking leaves. This wasn’t true. He’d rolled his ankle while rushing around to bag up the leaves, but he hadn’t keeled over dead or anything. She thought this was a technicality.
After he came limping into the house, she’d wrapped an ice pack in a tea towel and propped his leg up on the coffee table. A short while later, she’d passed through the living room with a stack of laundry and scoffed at the sight of him, with his head thrown back and mouth gaping open. She’d supposed a nap was inevitable with the drone of the commentators and the late afternoon sun pounding on his chest, but it wasn’t doing his ankle any good that the ice pack had fallen to the floor. Not long after she’d folded the laundry, she’d seen him hobble down the hallway. He was returning the ice pack to the freezer when he collapsed on the kitchen floor.
When the doctors explained deep vein thrombosis, she’d imagined the renegade blood clot to be like a mouse, racing to her husband’s lungs, zipping and zagging, evading detection.
Since then, a lot of things had become difficult. Things that made her feel alone, which was pretty much everything. Eating. Sleeping. Even shitting made her lonely. It was deeply depressing to Chadda that even her own smell didn’t matter anymore, couldn’t offend.
And, as time went by, being a widow wore on her. Especially the asking part—asking grandsons to carry chairs, daughter-in-laws to open stubborn jars, sons to change lightbulbs. The times when she really needed help irked her the most—when she’d finally muster the courage to call one of the kids, but they wouldn’t drive across the city — couldn’t free themselves from their own slavish routines in the suburbs. On these days, she’d had to press upon the neighbors to join in on the humiliation.
But her attitude about all this changed one Friday in May, when Chadda bought a new microwave at Costco. It weighed a bomb, so she shouldn’t have been surprised when the box boy accompanied her back to the vehicle. Only holding up the hatch, she watched the tendons in the young man’s forearms pulse as he loaded the microwave and then, to her great delight, made a tidy job of placing all her groceries into an accessible row.
“That’s terrific of you,” she said.
“Anytime, Mam. Anytime.”
Suddenly, Chadda envisioned this Herculean specimen in a high-visibility vest chained to the end of her bed, happy and waiting for the next job to be done.
“Sorry. Could you say that again?”
“I said, anytime Mam.”
Over the course of the next year, Chadda bought and returned twenty-five microwaves. She never unloaded them at home. Instead, she drove her microwaves around the city, here and there, over to the kids’ houses, to her exercise class, to play cards with her friends. She found the deadweight in the trunk comforting. She even allowed herself the indulgence of imagining it was her late husband banging from one side of the trunk to another when she made a sharp turn.
It would stay there, her secret, until the next trip to Costco. And then, when the moment struck her, she’d feign dissatisfaction with her purchase at the return desk. That part was unnecessary. A bit of fun on her part. Even without an explanation, they would happily process her pristine box, no questions asked. So, this is how corporations and families differ, she’d think.
Then, an hour later, she’d pass through the till with a mountain of groceries.
“There’s a Whirlpool microwave in your appliance section,” she’d say innocently enough. “But it’s much too heavy to lift off the shelves. Would you mind sending someone to grab one for me?”
Without hesitation, the teller’s hand would reach for the intercom. “Absolutely. And they’ll take it to the car for you.”
The Costco scam, if you want to call it that, ended the next spring when the kids put the house up for sale, plunked her in a condo, sold the car. Simplified her life, they said.
That’s when the parade of microwaves ended, and the next thing started.
That’s when Chadda stopped flushing the toilet, found a way to offend.
Michelle Spencer’s short fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine and a personal essay was long listed for the 2021 CBC Non-Fiction Prize. Most recently, her short story, “The Cure,” was long listed for the 2021 Peter Hinchcliffe Short Fiction Award.