I feel like a damn fool. I’m supposed to be a poet. But I let Rosalee dress me
up like a floozy. How does she talk me into crap like this? I’m a grown
woman. I should know better.
Even with the air conditioner blasting in her Corvette, it’s hotter than forty
hells. My feet are sweating. Nobody wears high heel pumps to the grocery
store. Mine are red. Rosalee wears dark purple. Mauve, she calls it.
We screech into the gravel parking lot of Jo-Jo’s Groceries. Rosalee’s
Corvette is a bright yellow 1978 classic, fully restored and clean as a whistle.
Some rich old sap she met at the beach last year gave it to her. He thought
she was going to marry him.
She also kept his ring. And diamond studded sunglasses. I can’t see her eyes
behind the dark lenses, but I know Rosalee’s not watching where she’s going.
She circles the Vette around the parking lot, flinging rocks and making people
hustle to keep from getting run over.
Rosalee is my beautiful first cousin. She’s a…well, I don’t know what she
does, other than con idiots out of their money. But she has a lot of time on
her hands. Maybe turning her hick cousin into a world renowned poet is
Rosalee’s way of giving back to society. So far, it’s not working.
Last month, Rosalee took me to the city where she lives. I was supposed to
read my poetry at an art gallery. Instead, I fainted before the readings
began. When I woke up, I begged Rosalee to take me home.
Today, she’s trying a new approach. Nothing poetic. Nothing literary.
Rosalee’s helping me build my confidence in public. Since there are no
other stores in my town, Jo-Jo’s Groceries is about as public as it gets.
“I still don’t see how dressing like a hoochie mama will make me confident,” I
say. I tug at the top of my Marilyn Monroe wannabe dress. I’m worried a
nipple will show.
Rosalee whips in front of the handicap parking sign and stops the car. “We
can’t park here!” I yelp. Rosalee takes off her sunglasses and looks at me.
Her eyes are green, with little flecks of gold. I smell lilacs. Lily of the Valley.
“Ever notice the people on the cover of poetry journals?” Rosalee asks.
“They either knew somebody or they blew somebody. Or…they look good.”
She hands me a tube of lip gloss.
“But more than anything, they’re not surprised to be on the cover. Get it?”
I toss the lip gloss in the cupholder. Rosalee slides out of the Corvette, her
purse dangling on her wrist. It’s one of those huge New York purses, and I
wouldn’t doubt if she had a little dog in it.
I struggle to get out of the Corvette without flashing somebody. My feet are
already killing me. I feel sweat between my toes. Even the three hookers in
this town have sense enough to wear shorts and flip-flops. It’s at least a
“If you want to be noticed, you gotta put yourself out there,” Rosalee says.
“Make sure the world never forgets. When you write your bio, make it sound
something like this.”
Rosalee struts through the parking lot. Have mercy. I don’t know whether to
applaud or cry. Suddenly, flutes begin to play. I hear lines from Sarojini
Naidu’s The Snake Charmer. I imagine a serpent rising from a wicker basket.
Rosalee’s legs are endless. Her feet glide across gravel in six inch pumps.
Shiny, black hair bounces around her bare shoulders. She hasn’t broken a
sweat. The purple orchids on her short dress are stretched across her ass. It
sways in perfect rhythm.
I stumble along behind Rosalee, trying to catch up. I nearly fall down when I
step up on the sidewalk. I feel like a freak. I can’t stop looking at my cousin’s
The electric doors open for Rosalee. We walk inside the store, and a puff of
cool air hits my face. The place is packed full of Saturday shoppers.
Flat-footed housewives. Good ole boys in their lightweight, summer plaid.
Snotty lip kids whining for candy.
A hush falls over the store.
I’ve got a serious wedgie coming on. No matter how much I yank at the hem
of my dress, it feels like my rear end is hanging out. Thankfully, nobody is
looking at me. Every face in the place is gazing at Rosalee.
Without missing a beat, she grabs a cart and floats over to the produce
section. Rosalee is poetry in motion, all fluid, all form. The lines of her body
are graceful, but exciting. She slides her cart forward.
The crowd parts.
People are smiling at Rosalee. Sure, she’s making the men horny, and their
wives are mad as hell. But there’s something else going on. A weird kind of
respect hangs like electricity in the air. She could be wearing a potato sack,
and it wouldn’t matter. She is giving them the gift of Rosalee.
I tug to get a cart unstuck from the others. At least I’ve got something to lean
on now. Of course, the stupid wheel wobbles, and my cart squeaks and pulls
to the left. I worm my way through the edges of the crowd. Rosalee waves,
and a couple of people move to let me through.
Rosalee looks at me, disgusted, and puts her hand on her hip. “Lesson
number one. Don’t let chumps butt in front. ” She moves her hips back and
forth in time with her words. “Nice girls don’t get jack. A little mouse gets
the pits that the rich girls spit.”
Rosalee drums her long, purple fingernails on a watermelon.
“Lesson number two. All these watermelon are your poetry magazines.
Don’t take the first one that winks at you. Go for quality. See? I want the one
that’s hard to get…waaaaaay in the back.”
She leans over the counter, stretching her legs. Rosalee’s ass rises up high,
and I imagine Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese taking flight, announcing their place
in the world.
A man hustles over. “Let me get that for you, miss,” he says. He hoists the
large watermelon and puts it gently in her cart.
Rosalee glances at him and rolls her eyes. Then she turns to me. “And
another thing.” She snaps her fingers in my face. “Don’t thank them. Please
and thank you for your time will land you in the servant’s quarters. They
should be thanking you!”
Rosalee slides her cart over to the strawberries. She plucks a fat one from the
pile and holds it under the water mister. She brings the strawberry to her
mouth, and slowly closes her thick, glossy lips around it. Juice drips on her
chest and trickles down between her cleavage. I can literally hear every man
in the store gulp.
An old lady humphs and walks away.
“Now, lesson number…whatever. To hell with the bitches. Don’t worry about
what they think. They’re bitches. So go ahead. Bite the big apple. It belongs
to you, not them.”
She points at a pyramid of deep red apples, shining under the lights. I stand
there, staring like a dunce, not knowing what she wants me to say. I pick up a
cucumber and some bananas and put them in my cart.
“Phhhhht! You’re a hopeless case!” Rosalee hisses. She grabs the largest
apple she can find and sinks her strong, white teeth into its flesh. She plops
the apple back on the stack.
Rosalee ignores me now and starts filling her cart with fruit and vegetables,
tossing aside the ones she doesn’t want. She flings radishes. She flicks
through grapes. She swats sweet potatoes out of her way.
Neatly arranged displays quickly turn into a huge slushpile of mixed up
pears, oranges, and lettuce. Kiwis and mangoes bounce from their stacks
and roll across the floor. She doesn’t bother to pick them up.
When Rosalee gets what she wants, we make our way to the register. She
pulls a wad of coupons out of her purse and shoves them at the cashier. The
girl looks puzzled. None of the coupons match what Rosalee has chosen.
The girl glances at the other cashiers, and they all bob their heads. Even
though I know better, I believe it, too. Yes, her coupons are good. Yes, yes,
Rosalee swipes her card to pay. She sashays out the door, her ass swaying
like a Wordsworth ballad. Three bag boys fall all over themselves to be the
one to push her cart.
I pay full price. My cucumber’s got a mark on it, as if somebody stuck it with
a fingernail. A couple of my bananas are starting to bruise. I thank the
cashier, who says nothing and thumps my stuff into a plastic bag.
At least I didn’t faint. I limp back to the Corvette, and Rosalee’s standing
there with the car doors open and the air condition blasting. She looks
bored. The boys carefully load her bags into the trunk.
I can’t wait to get home and forget this day. Never again will I let Rosalee
talk me into something. I’m mad at myself for being so gullible. This was just
one more way for Rosalee to show off and make me look like the fool that I
I take off my pumps. Large, white blisters have formed on the sides
of my toes. I crouch down to touch them. I wince and gently rub the skin
around the blisters. I glance up.
Rosalee’s standing there with her hands on her hips. I see the strangest
thing. Maybe it’s the light. Maybe it’s a weird angle. I can’t believe my eyes.
Rosalee has a thick wisp of coarse, black…hair.
Under her chin?
Another image flashes into my brain. Drunk Bukowski farting in the bathtub.
Bubbles rise to the surface of the puke gray water and pop.
Why didn’t I see Rosalee’s beard before? She’s my cousin! And I notice
everything else. I notice mold on the sidewalk. I notice pores on faces. I
notice tree bark, ants. Good Lord, I notice baby ants.
I study Rosalee some more. Even her profile sort of looks like Buk. She’s got
a little roll of pudge around the gut. I’ll be damned. I look a little closer.
There are varicose veins on her legs!
Rosalee sees me staring at her. She glares at me. Her eyes dare me to
question her beauty. I have no right. She doesn’t question herself. Ever.
She swings her hips and slides easily into the driver’s seat. Maybe I’m just
jealous. Maybe the heat is getting to me. I stand up and shake my head. I do
Bukowski fades away, and Rosalee returns. I must have been hallucinating.
Rosalee is a goddess. I feel like a toad when I plop down next to her.
Rosalee revs up the Corvette. Before I know it, we’re flinging rocks on our
way out of the parking lot. That woman’s got talent. And all the best peaches
in the store.
Note: A friend asked me to whip up a little response to Updike’s short story, A& P.
We love Updike’s story for many reasons, and in no way am I comparing my response to his story. After all, I’m not Rosalee. But I thought it would be fun to share.
Have a truly beautiful day!