He saw her from across the aisle, her familiar face now showing the effects of many years of hard work and worry. He panicked at first, wondering if he should turn rapidly in the opposite direction, park his shopping cart neatly in the corner, and walk directly out of the exit doors and climb into his car, never looking back.
He toyed with the idea of simply continuing his shopping and letting the chips fall where they may. Would she acknowledge him, or continue on her way without a flinch or a flicker of recognition?
With no warning, she raised her eyes directly toward him, an expression of indifference transforming what were once soft features into granite. Neither of them took a single step as they squared off there in the crowded WalMart store. They had not spoken to each other in well over a year, and it was inevitable that they would now be forced to acknowledge each other, regardless of the nature of the confrontation. He raised his arm slowly, waving his left hand in reluctant acknowledgement as he felt his throat tighten. She looked past him, pushing her cart straight ahead. She stopped beside him, her eyes searching his now as her heart desperately tried to remember how to beat.
“Robert,” she said. And then, “How have you been?”
He shook his head, realizing instantly that he had forgotten how to smile.
“I have been OK. I am renting a duplex. How are you doing?” She shrugged her shoulders and struggled to align her eyes with his. The last time they had been in each other’s company had resulted in nothing but razor sharp words and dry, stubborn tears.
“I miss you, Bobby. I thought I would hear from you at some point this weekend but I get the feeling you had no intention of letting me know you were here and you certainly had no intention of dropping in to see me. Am I right?”
He stared down at his feet, shaking his head. “You probably wonder why I came back.” She said nothing to him, but she moved from around the shopping cart handle to be closer to him. With obvious hesitation, she placed her hand on his. He placed his own hand on top of hers, his eyes moist.
“I would like to think that you are here to start over, Bobby.”
He nodded slowly. Though he had lost his business, and his credibility with his family, he was drawn back. “I was going to call you, Mom. I was going to ask you if I could visit with you and Dad on Sunday. Maybe do some explaining and ask forgiveness for tossing the blame on everyone but myself. I have some footing now, and some ideas and some…..”
His mother reached up and touched his face, her sharp-edged features now replaced with tenderness. He glanced down into his shopping cart, a bit embarrassed by the contents. A large box of Russell Stover decadent chocolates, a small black box that contained a sterling silver necklace, roses wrapped in pink cellophane, a bottle of sparkling fruit juice, and a card explaining everything waited there in the cart; all chosen just for his mother. Sunday was Mother’s Day, and he had planned on surprising her with a phone call and a visit. He had just never expected to see her so soon.
His mother glanced down at the gifts in the cart and said, quite unexpectedly, “The gifts are beautiful, my love. But this — you and me — this is what makes my Mother’s Day complete.”
And, in the blink of an eye, he was home — truly home. He left the store with his mother’s treasures buried in small, plastic bags and his heart right back where it belonged.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone. Let us honor mothers of every sort, everywhere. Please be kind to each other, stay safe and say “I love you” every chance you get.
Belinda Ouellette lives in Caribou with her Goldendoodle, Barney. You may email her at email@example.com.