What Goes Up

by Renuka Raghavan

I’m pushing the cart out of the grocery store, rolling through the automatic doors, when I decide I want a cigarette. No, I need a cigarette. I’ve been good for the past six months, ever since the OB-GYN said smoking and drinking could hurt my chances of conceiving. I didn’t believe her, but Vic insisted, promising he’d lay off too and join me in solidarity. So, we poured out all the wine, cleared the pantry of all processed, sugary snacks, and began a regimen of vitamins. It seemed like the right thing to do at that point, but suddenly, here in the Kroger parking lot, I’m thinking, Fuck that, it’s just one smoke.

The problem is no one smokes in the suburbs. I’m there ten minutes waiting for somebody to come out of the store and light up so I can bum one,

and I finally end up paying a homeless woman a dollar for a crappy off-brand. She strikes a match with her bony, grimy hands and we talk about spy satellites as I lean on my cart, desperately puffing away. Her name is Gladys, and she tells me she used to be a teacher, but she quit because of the new technology that allows people to look inside your house from way out in space, and I’m wondering, Should I pretend to care? Because I really don’t.

The cigarette gives me a headache making me slightly dizzy, the weather making things worse. The kind of heat we’re having sucks the sweat out of you even if you’re only going a short distance. Walk to the corner Starbucks, and you’re completely dehydrated by the time you get there.

Also, Vic’s parents are coming up for the long weekend. That’s why I’m here in the first place, to buy all sorts of expensive stuff that we never spring for when it’s just us. Lobster, fancy coffee, organic vegetables, ground lamb, saffron. I didn’t put up a fight when Vic proposed the weekend’s menu. I could see how nervous he was when he helped me spread clean sheets on the bed in the spare room this morning. Lately, he always looks anxious, like he’s shocked to find himself here at this stage in his life. Living in a rented two-bedroom apartment, instead of paying mortgage on our first house. Buried with work at all hours for a thankless mid-management job, struggling to keep himself in the running for that ever-elusive promotion.

I smoke the cigarette down to the filter, drop it to the pavement, and twist it out. Then, reaching into one of the grocery bags, I grab whatever comes to hand first.

“You like smoked Alaskan Sockeye salmon, Gladys?” I ask. She grimaces. “Smoked salmon?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” I say. “Here,” and I give her the pack. She shakes her head. “Don’t you have any cookies?”