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“Meanwhile,” is what I would have captioned the photograph had I thought to snap one when I saw him there this morning. “Meanwhile,” and nothing more. Because the headline in the newspaper I was there, at Walgreens, to buy was bellowing, in shriek-sized font, the story of the two men (also young, as he was) who had carried a bomb onto a crowded commuter subway train at rush hour in London yesterday morning. And because the lead story in my local television news report last night had been about a gang of men (also Latino, as he was) who, in a retaliatory move against a rival gang, had carried assault rifles up to a parked car on Chicago’s southwest side and had left its four inhabitants – three men and a pregnant woman – dead. And because no one, as far as I could tell, was reporting that meanwhile, this morning, at just after daybreak, this man was carrying silence into a Walgreens on Chicago’s North Shore.
That meanwhile, while all those other men were doing all that they were doing, here was this man, carrying a cloak of silence with him into this store. Past the L’Oreal and Maybelline and Revlon models whose images pouted out at him from the gloss of their displays. Into the cleaning supplies aisle – past the Clorox, the Windex, the Tilex, 409 – and then out its other end and onward, past pain relief and allergy relief and constipation relief and eye care, all the time pushing a squeaky metal shopping cart with his left hand and holding tight, with his right, to the tiny sleeping daughter who was draped over his shoulder, her face hidden beneath the fountain of her silky black hair.
Gently, he moved, legato you might even say, as if he were playing a lullaby with his body. Gently, gently, no sudden moves, even as he reached way down to a low shelf and hoisted up the largest possible package of Pampers to lower into the basket of the cart. Even as he reached up to a high shelf and inched down a 24 pack of Enfamil and – balancing it, guiding it, cajoling it, murmuring to it – set it down in the basket as well. He kept it wrapped around her like a quilt, that silence he was carrying, even as Miley Cyrus’ voice was blaring over the store’s loudspeaker in an endless loop of “Wrecking Ball,” and a woman at the far end of the store was shrilling at the pharmacist about a prescription that she thought certainly could have been would have been should have been ready by now.
It was right there, near the pharmacy, that my path crossed with his as I was picking out the batteries I needed for my flashlight before I headed to the beach to watch the sunrise, and he was making his slow way toward a nearby aisle. I smiled at him and he grinned back, a shy grin out from behind that fountain of his daughter’s hair, and then he went on his way and I went on mine, and, as I watched him go, I found myself thinking about how he had to know how much noise there is in this world that he won’t be able to quilt his little girl from.
“Go back wherever the fuck you come from,” I found on a winter morning a couple of years ago when I logged onto facebook. A video that had gone viral, of a woman waiting in line to pay for her purchases at a JC Penney’s in Kentucky while doing her Christmas shopping, who had found that the line was too long and that the wait was too wearying and that the woman currently paying for her purchases was too Latina for her taste. No one else in the crowd and no one working at the store said a word to stop her, and so she railed on and on – about where that woman should go and what she should do when she got there, about how she was probably paying for whatever she was buying with Welfare money, which means that everyone in this line was really paying for her, about how she and her kind were ruining this country, so they should all just go back wherever the fuck they came from – and, as she did, that woman paying for her purchases never once turned around. Never flinched. Never moved. Never turned around. Her back was a billboard for loneliness.
Of course he knows, I thought as I made my way to the checkout counter, where I found myself in line just behind him. Of course he knows how much noise there is in this world that he won’t be able to quilt his little girl from, but meanwhile, he was paying for his purchases one- handed, never once jostling his daughter, whose hair had now shifted enough for me to be able to see the slope of her cheek, her lashes inked against them, her rosebud mouth moving as she murmured in her sleep. I watched him pay – one hand pulling his wallet from his pocket and flipping it open, one hand pulling out the bills, one hand accepting back the change, one hand returning the wallet to its place – and then, pushing that squeaky metal shopping cart in front of him, off they went, back out into the world, he a lullaby on feet, she patting his back with her tiny hand as she slept on, dreaming the dreams he was determined to delay, for as long as was humanly possible, her waking up from.
Laura S. Distelheim’s work has received awards from Arts & Letters, Briar Cliff Review, Florida Review, Folio, Harpur Palate, Hunger Mountain, Literal Latte and New Millennium Writings, as well as the William Faulkner William Wisdom Medal, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, the Press 53 Open Award, the Bruce P. Rossley Literary Award, the Richard J. Margolis Award, an Illinois Arts Council Artist’s Fellowship Award, the Gold Line Press Chapbook Fiction Award and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her essays and stories have been published in numerous journals and anthologies and have been noted for special mention in Best American Essays three times and The Pushcart Prize twice. Her chapbook, We, is available from Gold Line Press. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and is the creator and director of Neighbor to Neighbor, an organization dedicated to combating hunger among and creating scholarship opportunities for the children of low income families in her community.
Other works by Laura S. Distelheim »