(This is part 2 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Part 1 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)
Once she reached the supermarket, Eleanor parked, retrieved her reusable bags from her trunk, and entered the store. Looking around, she noticed that everyone, including the checkers, were wearing masks. She didn’t recognize anyone, and she was confident no one would know who she was either. Perfect. Quick in, quick out, with no idle chit-chat.
She was pleasantly surprised to find the market to be relatively well-stocked, and she found what she needed in short order. She was also surprised at how much she enjoyed shopping wearing a mask. Not usually one to have a vivid imagination, Eleanor couldn’t help but pretend she was working undercover; that she was incognito and kind of daring. Even though she had everything on her list, she decided to stay a little longer and enjoy her fantasy. She surreptitiously watched what others were putting in their baskets and tried to imagine what meals they were planning. Was the young man who picked up a bottle of chutney making an Indian dish? Why did that woman possibly need three jars of hot sauce? In the produce section, Eleanor watched in wonderment as shoppers reached for fennel, bok choy, and something exotic-looking called dragon fruit.
Back in her car, Eleanor was exhilarated. As she looked around, she noticed other shoppers removing their masks before they drove away, but she decided to keep hers on. She didn’t want to lose the sense of freedom her face covering gave her.
Exiting the parking lot, she noticed that the usually busy street was almost deserted. “There must be a lot of people working from home, or not at all,” she thought. After looking to the right and left, then checking her rearview mirror for any sign of a police car, Eleanor put a little extra pressure on her gas pedal. As she accelerated five, then ten, then fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit, a smile started to spread under Eleanor’s mask. “This is why people love to go fast,” she thought.
Back home—in record time, she noticed—and her groceries cleaned and put away, Eleanor sat in her favorite chair and looked around her living room. The room that she had always been proud of because it was clean and ordered, suddenly looked lifeless and boring. There wasn’t a spot of dust on the shelves or a book out of place. Everything was neat and tidy. And dull. The daring, new Eleanor she discovered earlier that day felt oddly out of place among old Eleanor’s neutral decor.
Eager to recapture that energy, Eleanor changed out of her housedress, put on the jeans and top she normally wore gardening, slipped on her mask, and walked out her front door. Although she didn’t have an exact plan, she immediately headed for the wooded area just behind her house. She was confident that whatever she was looking for was there; she just had to open her eyes and look for it.
After about an hour of foraging, Eleanor’s arms were full of treasures. Her hands clutched bunches of wildflowers and she carried as many fallen twigs and pieces of moss as she could manage to hold in her arms. She even tucked bits of fern into the elastic on both sides of her mask.
When she returned home, Eleanor spread out her bounty on the kitchen counter. She retrieved vases from her cabinets, filled them with water, and distributed the wildflowers among them. Placing the vases around her living room, she added bits and pieces of the branches and moss to create little vignettes. When finished, she looked around with great satisfaction. The once dull and lifeless room now was filled with bright colors and interesting shapes. It also was a bit whimsical; just as she was starting to like it.
During the Zoom session the following week, Douglas Jr. noticed that his mom’s living room looked different. Almost messy. He also noticed that her hair was a bit disheveled. Always neat and tied back in a low chignon, it was starting to look unkempt. Because he knew that his mother was sensitive about her home and her appearance, he decided not to say anything. He did make a mental note, though, that he might need to arrange for a housekeeper and an in-home haircut appointment.
Eleanor had noticed her hair too. After the Zoom session, she went into her bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Reaching around to the back of her neck, she pulled out the elastic tie and, giving her hair a shake, she let it fall free. Gray roots were beginning to mix with her blond, and her straightened hair was starting to regain its wave. A look that once would have sent her running to her hairdresser was now a better fit for the new Eleanor beginning to emerge.
The following week, Eleanor sat down to make out her shopping list. Almost by rote, she started to write down her usual items:
… then she remembered seeing the groceries that other shoppers had been buying the previous week. Curious, she entered “hot sauce,” then “chutney,” then “bok choy” into Google and lost herself in delicious-sounding recipes and intriguing cooking methods. An hour later, she crossed out her original grocery list and started over.
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