When I open my car door, my sunglasses fog over. I swat my fingers at the lenses, a futile attempt at removing the condensation. I settle on pushing them back on top of my head like a makeshift headband. I dry my humidity stained hands on my shirt, last year’s drama club tee. In the already soul melting heat, I cross the quarter-filled Walmart parking lot.
The AC beyond the automatic doors hits me with welcome relief as I contemplate shopping carts. The first I grab has become one with the cart behind it. I move to the following row. Bloody tissue in the basket? No thank you. Discarded receipts in the next? I’ll pass. The next one I grab houses no detritus, and after a cursory once over, it passes initial inspection. A middle-aged woman with kinky curls, cigarette smoke lingering on her, is standing behind me hacking up what could be part of her lung, my cue to exit the cart corral area.
I push the buggy across the square, gray tile. I hit divots and indentations. The grouted recesses of the tiles’ gridded pattern. The cart slapping each valley and fissure as I cross the threshold from breezeway to Walmart proper. Because of the racket-inducing floor, I possess no way to tell if this cart will betray me.
The floor holding the cash registers, hair salon, Subway, eye doctor, and restrooms isn’t much better. The thwacking emitted by my cart slightly dissipates in the transition to floor number two: marbled, mottled pinky-gray rectangles. A pyramid design distinguished by troublesome trenches, the sneaky cause of the wheels’ noise.
The moment of truth arrives.
While muttering a prayer to the shopping cart gods, I squeeze my eyes shut and break the final barrier to floor number three: smooth, white faux tile laminate.
Upon contact, the front right wheel careens around backwards and discombobulates me with an irksome flap flap flappity badump babababump squeak.
Great. A wonky wheel. I lean over, pushing my hair out of my eyes, and correct it by first nudging it with sneakered toes and then resorting to force with my hands.
I grab hand sanitizer from my purse, imagining prior journeys my cart has taken over dropped eggs and dripped meat juice. While bathing my hands and forearms in Purell, I glance to my left and swear for a second the shelf of Ensure is judging me. I stare it down and judge it right back.
I continue on my way. The bothersome sound has extinguished.
Making it past the seasonal shelves, currently stocked with back to school supplies, the wheel goes rogue again. A triumphant screech its new choice battle cry.
I hang my head in defeat, cursing the people at corporate, the builders, the designers, whoever is to blame for the ill thought-out flooring. A bunch of suits around a boardroom table laughing with malice at us poor schmucks who don’t know they’re stuck with a noisy cart because of uneven floors until it’s too late to get a new one. Their idea of a joke.
Why can’t there just be one universal floor? Are all Walmarts like this? Or only in Louisiana?
I weigh the merits of repeating the lengthy process of choosing another cart; it takes a nanosecond to realize there aren’t any. Wading against the lazy current of sluggish Sunday shoppers and circumnavigating the people stopped mid-aisle mouth breathing at their phones isn’t worth chancing another game of shopping cart Russian roulette.
I breathe and tentatively advance deeper into my shopping excursion.
The incessant squeaking mocks my every step.
As I turn into the Barbie aisle, a mother with her infant says, “Heard you coming from a mile away. Scared the baby.” She fake laughs, a failed attempt at humor. The irritation stark on her face.
“Sorry! Seemed like a good one when I got it. Cute baby.”
I round the corner, my counterfeit smile fading into a frown.
I pass a store employee. With his eyes, he throws me enough shade to rival a full eclipse. I die a little bit and wither a little further into myself.
As a bifocal-clad grandpa plunks a 20 pound bag of Purina into his cart, he offers, “That noise could raise the dead.”
I blink once at the cliché and realize I no longer care about my cart’s ruckus.
“Yeah, but at least it makes a nice conversation piece,” I say.
I wheel on, standing a little taller and with defiance in my eyes.