I drove to the food bank to get my weekly ration. I am blessed to know someone with a car to trust me. I am trustworthy, so they are not wrong. If it makes a difference, I’m a white female over 40. I’m college educated, secondary certificate. I heal and council others. And I go to the food bank nowadays to eat, two days before Christmas in an ice storm. My gratitude is mountainous. It was my choice to risk moving here and begin to trust.
I notice the gray haired woman at the ministry is sharp eyed. Quickly gives me a poker chip with a number on it, in the first doorway. She says that there is also cocoa in the back room, where I hear the sounds of conversation. The festively decorated fake tree in front of me is distracting enough that I don’t indulge in cheer just then. I thank her and put on my blue leather gloves for standing in the line outside. I am thankful I hadn’t fallen on the sloping street here. Freezing rain. I’m nervous for the car.
I notice it’s not as drizzly as when I first tapped the the windshield and pushed the rafts of ice aside earlier. I hope the rain will stop so I don’t crash my friend’s car. I tell myself getting my food ration is important enough to risk it. She needs cat food too.
“What date is today?” a tall white man in striped cap asks me. He’s in his 50s and has the cagey energy of someone whose been to prison. A friend of mine had that. He switched foot to foot, hands in pockets. Gave me his place in line, because the newcomer was “a lady.” Gratitude again.
“It’s December…” a clean-shaven Russian-looking guy said, unsure.
“Twenty-Third,” I finished.
It was a long line, maybe 10 people, rolling carts, oil cloth bags adorned with cheerful colored fruit.
“Oh, good, I get to go in two days.” the cagey guy said evenly.
“Where are you goin?” the Russian guy asks. Seems very much a veteran of this line. Baggy clothing on his ample frame. Round light brown eyes behind dated glasses. No hat. Had said hi to several people.
“I’m going to heaven,” the first fellow says.
“Oh,” says the other guy.
“That’ll be nice,” I say. Completely meaning it. I look away to the wet wood siding of the building, divided into a chair rail at waist height. Two ice-coated salvage chairs sat beside. One with 70s naugahide split down the seat, the other wood pub chair. Both beautifully sheened with ice. I would have saved and refurbished them another time.
“What, -you’re going to heaven on Christmas?” guy with glasses asks. “How do you know?”
That’s it, just vision.
“How?” glasses guy says.
“Jesus is coming for his people.”
“Like, everybody? Like the actual apocalypse we’re talking about?”
“I don’t know…” cagey guy says. “I am going.”
I say, “I bet a lot of people on this sidewalk hope they go too.” I almost mentioned a streak of white steam, or jet stream, and a bright light or something in the sky over Los Angeles last night. My former boyfriend streamed it live. He liked the idea of being plucked up by aliens.
Russian guy comes back, “So how is Jesus doing it?”
“The same way he came,” cagey guy doesn’t skip a beat. “Through the clouds, he comes down from a cloud, and goes back on a cloud.”
“How can you be sure?” he asks.
“I’m not,” he said, and chuckled. “But I’m ready.” The line advances inside the door, and another lady gets to go in front of him behind me.
“Excuse me excuse me excuse me excuse me–!” a worker calls as she wades between the coats and bags and the wall of bread. She’s wearing an elf-ear hat, brown ears that match her complexion. “Stay to one side, please!” And the woman behind me grabs an empty cardboard fruit crate, keeps bumping me in the back of the legs with it. I am grateful for the opportunity to show my patience. I see fruit in the center of the main room—this is a good day. The sign-in lady has had her hair done, and looks very pretty in her red ornament earrings and holiday sweater. When I say so, she doesn’t hear me, or doesn’t respond. My name is on the list this week, which it hadn’t been several weeks in a row. All is well.
My assigned helper in rotation tells me how many cans I can get in from the first shelf. I take peas and mixed vegetables. I still haven’t eaten the ones from last week. I accept garbanzo beans on the next floor-to-ceiling metal rack. I’m glad I snagged an empty plastic sack in the doorway because my helper, an Armenian woman I’d seen in line before, now volunteering, chucks an enormous bunch of brown bananas in it. While her back was turned, I return them for one unblemished one.
She says, “Open your bag,” and plunders the grapefruit box. Six or seven grapefruit go right on top the banana. Another line of cans. “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you,” I say to the diced tomatoes, wheat pasta and khaki frosted cupcakes.
“No sweets?” she says, accusing me of being abnormal.
“No thank you.” I repeat. More for someone else.
“Merry Christmas,” I hear someone say. “Let me see your daughter.” I glance and see someone sharing a photo.
This week there are greens. Bag of brussel sprouts. Plastic bubble of salad. Cauliflower pellets, shredded zucchini. “Yes, please. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you so much!” A volunteer looks bored and tries to give me more cauliflower. “No thank you” I say, putting the one I already got back. I need room for avacado, I heard there was avocado. My Nicole Miller rolling suitcase from Marshall’s engulfs the veggies. It’s been a few weeks.
The veggie gal, pretty tall black woman with freckles and spiral hair reaches behind her and hands me a pineapple. It’s the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.
“A pineapple!” I squeal in delight. “I’m so excited!”
She smiles warmly. “Yes; Good, isn’t it?”
“I was just wishing for one yesterday.”
After “one protein,” a frozen pack of bacon, I say, “Thank you” again, to no one in particular. I find it important. I zip my lavender suitcase shut. I waddle out into the street, where a UPS van roars by on the slick streets and sends a spray of water at our feet. Glimpse my rubber wellies, black and white houndstooth pattern, eight dollars well spent. There are five more people on the sidewalk. I should say, “Merry Christmas,” but no one is expecting it in particular.
I stand in a pool of water to cross to the uphill street. A FedEx truck with right blinker, maybe going into the drive I’m standing at…then turns left and up. It parks behind my friend’s car and I tiptoe around it and load, feeling like I’m floating on a sheet of mercury. I’m glad I have not fallen.