Each year, in a symbolic gesture, the president pardons two turkeys. Last year, President Obama granted two, Tater and Tot, the stay. This year, Donald J. Trump pardoned Drumstick and Wishbone. Together, the four will live the rest of their lives on the campus of Virginia Tech, to be able to gobble among the other lucky ones. Like many symbolic gestures, the meaning is cloudy.
In this grocery store, hundreds of headless turkeys shoulder each other in plastic bags, their innards stuffed down their throats into what chefs call “the cavity.” A woman lifts one bird after another in her both her hands, and her eyes narrow like all she knows is the heaviness of this bird, that this bird is here to cook every year for the holiday dinners.
Kroger’s too big, now. There’s a furniture section and racks of clothes, and the light is gray like a department store’s. If it weren’t for the train of other shoppers billowing along past me, it could be any time at all in the gloaming: 2 PM or 8:30 AM or midnight. The air is cold, smells like the inside of a refrigerator with its bulb burnt out.
Behind me, a lady picks a plastic can of Folgers from a big display wheelbarrow. I look for something sweet. I miss the Kroger I used to know, its harsh fluorescent lights, how time slowed there.
How different from each other, yet tied by hunger, at Kroger, so many people wait in one check-out line, the 15-or-Less, though a few have several items. Quiet, at last, and together in our weariness, we are kind and sympathetic to the cashier. It’s 1:00 in this line on its too-short conveyor belt, our bags straining our shoulders. We do this to make time for tomorrow. We know, in and outside our line, it is already tomorrow.
Each of the few people around—the checker and the white-headed woman behind me—says “It looks like it’s about to flurry outside,” to me, to each other, even though this has been true for hours.
“And it’s in cold,” I add. We say these to each other in almost a conspiring way, as if to confirm that the outside and inside are all things that are true.
Just earlier, I drove across town in the mist somewhere between rain and ice. I sat in the Kroger parking lot and read Facebook statuses, watched as people went in and out with their bags. I sat there and the radio changed to an hourly news update. I switched it off. The rain had quit, and I rolled my windows down and lit a cigarette. Birds dove into puddles. Cars kept sloshing by.
For the first time in weeks I didn’t feel like I was suffocating. It was like something saying, someday soon, you will wake up and make coffee without this worry. You will be able to go to the grocery store without this particular fear sitting on your heart. I’m relying on strangers—on us—to recognize each other, even if it’s small things first.
In the check-out, we made small talk and shivered together in the plush aisles, underlit like we were in JC Penney. A bird found its way in. It was uneasy there, in the sterile space we made. It hopped the grocery store rafters and tweeted. A young employee watched it go, his hand absent minded over heart, brushing for one moment his blue vest.