to waking up
to getting out
of bed early.
What I love most
is the feeling
of being ahead
of the world.
The light slowly
At any random
in the week,
I would probably
complain that I
feel like I am
behind in something.
5 and 7,
2 hour span
streets are empty,
the gym is spacious,
my coffee never
my mind is suspended
now and then.
My phone chirps.
It’s 6:45 AM.
my order is ready,
so I check in.
A dude wanders
along the curb
on my left.
and an orange
His garbage bucket
sways and heaves
and pizza boxes
onto the asphalt.
piece of plastic
He looks around
with a shade
to picking it up
with his hand.
I vacuum like that.
When repeated passes
over stubborn strays
of lint fail,
an earnest shove
with a toe
that the fuzzy
bugger ends up
On my right,
Attah appears suddenly.
She is out of breath.
‘Sorry, sorry.’ She offers.
I check my watch.
It's 6:55 AM.
'Last night was
a late night with
Shaking her head,
she opens a crate.
'I am moving
a little slow
I want to
Instead I say,
'I get it.'
And in doing
that leads to
from my morning
‘Are you Cliff?’
Startled, my phone stumbled beneath my thumbs. The voice burst from my blindside.
I forgot that I had changed my usual pick up spot. A delivery could come from any direction.
In the jolt, a text got sent mid stride. Someone at home thinks that ‘I will b ho_’
His name tag said Hi my name is Cliff.
In moments like this, it’s hard to think of the universe as anything other than a poetic post-it note tucked into my daily lunch bag.
A mirror full of reminders, metaphor, simile, assonance, alliteration and definitely a dash of cheeky humour.
What is it called when a moment, threads across time and space, echoes over and over, so much so
that it simply and quietly shifts from coincidence to pattern to recurrence?
Nope, not my name.
Did he just introduce himself or address me?
But those are my groceries. So I stay quiet then get lost in my own fractional back story.
For years now, new acquaintances, at some point call me Cliff. Other prodigal peeps only know me as Cliff. Some I have corrected, others I have let slide for so long that I figure- Why bother?
It’s not my name by birth, but I gotta admit it appears often enough that I gotta vibe with the fact that some higher power beholds me in this way.
All of this wonderment crowded out my immediate task. I should be watching the dude unload my groceries.
I must have nodded when he asked my name because when I return to my senses he is closing the hatch on my car. Nice touch, I think to myself.
15 minutes later, I’m chilling on the couch, my kids are unpacking the haul.
5 minutes more, one of my kids is asking why half of our order is missing.
5 minutes after that I get a call from Walmart. They are apologizing for the error. It was Cliff’s first day. I smile and think about his and my connection.
The manager asks if I would like the missing items to be delivered.
‘Nah’ I say because I have already requested a refund on the app. ‘Thanks though’.
The first one sounds like an old timey doorbell.
The second is more of a ‘tink’.
Then the device actually rings. A tone warbles- a pulse, laser, then a metallic clang all in succession.
It is vexatious and designed to draw attention.
‘Sorry, sorry.’ Each apology frames a stop and then restart of work.
The ringing continues even after she tries to tap tap it away.
Head down, she mutters, then sighs. ‘Some people use the app. Some call it in.’
Just over her shoulder, two different people are nestled in their cars, on their phones.
One of them stares at us.
‘S’ok’ I offer. ‘I bet you wish you could just turn off those notifications!’
Her look up is sudden and stark.
I know this look.
It’s like that moment of glancing up and seeing someone staring at you.
Or staring out your car window and gaze locking with a passing driver.
Being observed by a stranger has a nervous effervescence to it.
The woman in the blue car is still eyeballing us.
How long have they been watching?
What did they notice?
What did I just do?
It blows open the landscape between fight, flight, and freeze.
Time slows then speeds as your consciousness handshakes with reality again.
Mika dead-eyes me. ‘We are not allowed to mess with the scanners.’
The device chirps as if in agreement.
‘I didn’t mean…’ I blurt.
With a dismissive wave she turns and takes the call.
‘Nobody likes grape!’
I leaned out from behind my car,
a whirlwind approached.
‘Doesn’t matter!’ Another voice answered
from somewhere across the lot.
‘If it’s not in stock, then it’s not in stock!’
The rain had picked up.
‘…not my point.
Not disagreeing but...
not my problem to tell customers
about inventory issues.'
My person paused beside my driver side door
‘It's Mike’s job to make sure people know.’
He checked his device.
It blurped quizzically.
‘You Chris Cluff?’
I nodded and tried to find my opinion
about grape flavouring.
A fading voice continued-
‘NOT worth it. Why d’you have a beef
with Mike over this? It’s not worth it.’
He looked at me for a second then
got to unpacking the goods.
Items moved quickly
into the back of my vehicle.
He was deciding something, then offered-
‘Mike is our manager.’
His tablet pinged again.
'He ordered too much grape.'
The device's pleas were muffled. Distant.
'He doesn't want the head manager to know.'
Aidan had set it inside a red crate,
while he was emptying a green crate.
'So we are supposed to sub grape for lime
and tell the customer that we are out of stock.'
Now a blue crate sat on top of the red.
There was momentary panic,
I pointed to the bottom box.
‘You got one of the last lime Bubly.’
He pronounced it Bublé
and smiled to himself.
‘The next client that orders lime
will get a sub of grape instead.’
Non issue for me.
'Even though we got stock.'
I waited for more,
then filled the silence-
'Dude I am good with grape or lime.
It's all the same to me.'
It definitely wasn't the same for him.
He was dismayed.
With a sigh he advised-
'It ain't right.'
Was the first and last thing
he said to me.
And as I began to offer more,
he turned and got to work.
My schedule was out of order.
Stopping mid week to
pick up groceries
Time is never regained
Sunday I was distracted.
I missed items.
So, here I am;
at a new store,
a Wednesday interloper,
with a new person.
I guess, I am the
new person too.
Tamar stopped suddenly
and looked out over
an adjacent field.
The parking lot butted up against
a promised expansion
of some store
currently in the plaza.
It was puddled and
strewn with broken things;
fencing, floes of Styrofoam,
patches of grass,
In the distance,
a hypertensive highway
teemed with commuters.
The dull crashing of crates
snapped my attention back
Tamar was already in motion,
returning to the depot.
At the warehouse door
he threw one more
glance over his shoulder
at the chaotic field,
shook his head,
I could tell at ‘hello’ that the day was not going well.
My groceries barreled towards me.
The green, red, and blue crates bounced drunkenly as she approached.
She let go of the handle and the cart continued to roll and barely winced when the rusted corner smashed into her calf.
Without pause she launched.
‘Day was average until 30 minutes ago. Then it went to shit.’
I grimaced then sympathized.
‘It got hot out. Must make it tougher to hustle in and out of the store. Ya know, with the temperature change.’
I was struggling.
She knew it.
This moment has played out before.
I check in, I get engaged, I get chatty then realize I do not have enough story to navigate the waters.
It’s not that I misread the moment, more like a stumble.
The jolt of being brought directly into the center of the story at light speed was jarring and raw, without recovery time.
‘The kid that is suppose to come on at 4:00 called in, he’s not coming into work.’
I want to commiserate. That happened to me countless times when I was running restaurants.
There’s no chance to respond.
‘My manager will expect me to stay longer… without asking specifically. He can’t actually make me stay though.’
She stared at me, dead-eyed, nodding, willing me to take a side.
I remembered that moment too.
My boss would avoid a direct question.
He would say things like, ‘We gotta all pull together.’
And that he would, ‘Remember our commitment.’
‘I won’t stay this time.’ She promises over her shoulder.
I want to believe her.
I stayed every time.
And each time I swallowed a bait-less hook without hesitation.