End of September, 2020.
This disposable mask is making my face feel warm and drowsy. I’m walking up and down the aisles in a grocery store, trying to figure out which way to go. I can’t find a list in my pocket. I tap around my phone screen looking for clues as to what to buy.
I pause to gaze at cereal boxes and bright decorative faces on sugar packets. The fish counter goes by, an organized massacre, parts all over, gruesome.
Aimless going-around, roaming.
I stop, hold my hands in front of my face: both empty. Where’s the phone? I look around, pat my pockets: nothing. I retrace steps through the store, my nerves getting janglier with each step; I make an early decision to just ask staff for help.
At the front desk for customer service, I tell the woman behind the counter that I seem to have lost my phone in the store. She says, “Nothing’s been turned in. If you had it on, I could call it and we could listen for it?” She shrugs.
I tell her to go ahead. She lifts a desk phone’s receiver to her ear, begins dialing numbers I’d written on a piece of paper. She clicks the call into speaker mode.
A customer taps my shoulder, which bristles from the contact; it’s a tye-dyed random person that says, “Do you mind if I listen in, I’m honestly just curious to see what happens?”
I’m caught off guard, mumble, “All right.”
We listen. We hear ringing, but only on the phone…there’s no corresponding sound coming from anywhere else in the store.
Then we hear a click and a stranger’s gruff voice say’s, “Yeah?”
The clerk looks at me with an eyebrow raised. I shake my head signalling I don’t know this person. She holds up a finger and says, “Sir, did you find this phone?”
The voice says, “Yeah, it was in the ditch all busted up. I got it here next to the bait shop if you want it. Still works, it’s just the case part that’s broken into some bits and pieces.”
The clerk blurts out the phrase, “Bait shop?!”
I whisper, “I never left the store. Where is he?”
The random customer says, “I just had this feeling this was gonna be one thing or another, you know?”
The clerk glares the customer into silence, then gets the phone-stranger’s information. He’s miles aways; says he lives next door to a bait shop, saw the phone in a ditch as he was heading home after a night shift. He says if I drive to the shop, he’ll bring the phone out.
They conclude the call. I tell the clerk, embarrassed, “I can’t really process directions and how to get places and stuff, can you tell me how to get where this person is?”
She slowly repeats the directions a few times, but my head wood-chippers the details away. Random customer, now bored, offers, “Be careful, could just be a criminal luring you out for a mugging or whatever,” and wanders off.
The clerk says, “Ignore them. But honestly consider taking someone if you got someone. And sir, do you have any idea how your phone made it out of the store?”
“I’ve been thinking it through back and forth, it doesn’t make any sense. My phone was in my hand, it felt like moments ago, and then it’s like I lost it I guess and I can’t even imagine what really happened.”
“Got a friend you can take?” she asks.
“Only the one but they’re at work; I’ll think about it, though, thank you for the help.”
I rush out of the store, anxious, my hands shaking from all of the confusion. I tell myself to just drive to the bait shop, get the phone, keep it simple. But then I keep imagining dire scenarios where, I don’t know, things get weird. My anxiety spikes and I start driving a new direction.
At the house, I leave the car idling, run inside, barge into Sarah’s office; she’s on a conference call, her computer screen filled with rows of little squares that have hard-hat-wearing humans in the middle of them. A few of the humans on the screen wave at me, I wave back. Sarah, at her desk, minimizes the screen and asks, “What’s up?”
I take a deep breath and say, “I either lost my phone or it was stolen, but I think it’s at a bait shop- I have the address, though I did forget it- and so there’s a guy at this shop that might have my phone.”
She’s nodding as I’m talking, processing, then says, “I’ll drive.”
As she is driving, she calls the grocery store, gets the address from the clerk, then calls my phone to chat with the guy as we’re navigating toward the shop.
They converse briefly, Sarah hangs up and says to me, “Guy sounds legit; he found your phone in a ditch, it’ll be fine. Do we have theories as to how the phone managed to escape you and travel several miles away and wind up specifically in this location?”
“No,” I say miserably. “I misplaced it and someone grabbed it or there’s plot against me of some kind. It could be shenanigans, you know?”
She laughs and concludes, “Probably it’s Occam’s razor.”
“Probably. It’s probably that.”
She parks the car at the bait shop. A bearded man- ball cap pulled low over his eyes, blue work clothes, scuffy boots- walks over, waves.
I roll down a window, take the offered phone from him, thank him for the help. He nods, confusedly.
On the drive back, Sarah asks if I picked up what I needed at the grocery store. I say, “Oh, no, I got distracted by the phone situation.”
I don’t mention that I never really figured out what I doing at the store in the first place.
She returns to her office.
I look in the fridge, see a lot of basic items are missing. I turn around to write a new grocery list, but the mini-notebook thing for lists fell off the counter or something, I can’t find it anywhere.