My mother-in-law turns ninety-six in October, so it’s almost not worth the effort to kill her. Nature will take its course in due time, and I won’t have risked my freedom or good standing in the family. On the other hand, she is spry as a spring chicken, and her sister lived to be one-hundred-and-seven. I don’t have that kind of patience.
I follow her into Ralph’s on Colorado Boulevard. Her gait is steady, and the cane is more of a prop than a necessary help. She likes having the little-old-lady card handy. I keep some distance, but I am not worried she’ll see me. She never has, and at this point, she can only see outlines and things right in front of her. Also, she can’t hear, but there’s a good chance she’s wearing her new hearing aid through which a flea coughing will sound like a four-story building being demolished. So when I get up close, I will have to be fast.
She steers into the pasta and rice aisle, and I trail after her while feeling the syringe with its cap on in my right pocket, ready to push off, pull out, and plunge in. I see how she whacks a mother and her child hard over the shins with her cane and then turns her lips into a slight smirk when the little girl breaks into a cry of pain. Then she proceeds to hit the mother, kneeling to attend to the daughter, over the head with her bag full of library books as she turns to study the jars of tomato sauce at the tip of her nose. She finds the one she wants, with chili and extra garlic, and slips it into her purse.
At the same time, a store clerk looking all of twelve years old and as if his name is Brian run-walks into the aisle to resolve the crying situation, so it doesn’t ruin the finely calibrated ambiance of the place here on a Wednesday morning. Like a child trying to see a street performance from behind a row of grown-ups, he hovers by the mother and child until he gives up and instead notices the jar sticking up from my mother-in-law’s purse.
“Ma’am, can I help you?” Brian says as he was taught on his first-day training.
He looks so spiffy in his too-big corporate polo shirt with the batch that says Ask me how I can help? which of course doesn’t make sense one way or another.
“No, thank you,” says my mother-in-law and walks past him while she takes down a whole shelf of neatly stacked Campbell soups with her left elbow.
Brian’s eyes dart from the jar to the cans and back again. I focus more on my mother-in-law coming right at me. I duck down behind a clearance bin of colorful plastic pails and shovels for 99c with membership as she stomps right by me for the deli counter.
Lingering in the bread section half a minute later, I can hear her sweet-talk a deli-lady by complimenting her delicious ribs, which results in an extra half-rack bypassing the scale. I know this is the last stop before the cashier, and I brace myself for our final encounter.