September 23, 2021 by The Citron Review
by Sophie Nau
I carry my weight in groceries. In a brown paper bag without handles I carry what I will try to consume for the next week. I walk the avenue back to my apartment from the neighborhood market, the one with the proprietor who smokes outside once her customers leave.
There’s heaviness in the Southern air, from centuries of history percolating in the rain water, recycling over and over again. Where I’ve just come from, Los Angeles, the sky sometimes catches the output of ten million people slogging through the city, but it dissipates by the next day. Instead, it’s the push of the people that is heavy, the mad log of so many trying to get somewhere. There’s never time for stagnancy, like there is here.
I carry my bag down Esplanade, the air officially first of October but feeling like somewhere else’s first of summer. I think of the folded receipt tucked somewhere between the yogurt and the broccoli crowns. “$55.65” is printed on the bottom like an accusation. How can I cost so much? With each step I question if the $55.65 spent was worth what I spent it on. If I am worth spending on.
I carry the wish that I didn’t like wine, had shown more restraint in the aisle with those beautiful labels and foreign grapes.
I carry the wish that I didn’t love coffee, the good kind, whole beans I break up in frenzied pitches and drip water over, waiting with heavy eyes, listening to the stir of morning outside the kitchen window.
Really, I carry the wish that I didn’t have to eat as much as I did. Who are these other women who spend most of their money on clothes and art and the remaining for cups of cheap ramen eaten once a day?
Could I have gotten cheaper items? Could I have saved more leftovers from the restaurant staff meals I subsist on for half the week? There, my coworkers and I eat pasta or casserole at empty dining room tables that will soon be set up for first dates and birthdays. We eat quickly, we eat to go back to work.
Could I have chosen healthier? Or let loose a little more? Did I pass that sale up? Did I pass myself up somewhere in the four aisles of the corner store, the ideal self, slighted by the purchase of canned beans over organic beef?
The mealtimes where I have succeeded in my lightness and my restraint, my bones are airy herbs, my blood is lemon water, my heart is a pulsing plum. The meals where I am fueled, I’m leathery muscle oiled to emphasize the strength of its tendons. My mind is Spartan barley and fish, ancient in its power, wisdom in the olive oil. When I stray, when I am not Good Enough, which is often, my stomach is a pool of toxic waste, the only power it grants allowing me to see every possibility of What I Could Have Chosen.
I carry the first ripe avocado I have found in Louisiana, but my hopes are already pickled by every small Haas I’ve opened in this state only to find brown veins running through its flesh, clouded like the Mississippi.
I carry two kinds of bananas, the freckled ones for soon, the alien green ones for later. Back in L.A., I used to go to Seven-Elevens only for their bananas because they always had ripe ones. I don’t know why or how every Seven-Eleven across Los Angeles, from North Hollywood to Koreatown, managed to do this. In my neighborhood store the small Bengali woman with the wet cough and tiny rough voice would take my money for my bananas and I wondered what she thought but unsurprisingly, she probably didn’t care. One day I saw her dressed in a sari walking down Alexandria Street. She walked next to her teenage daughter, who wore a graduation cap and gown. If she did happen to recognize me out of her thousands of customers, why was I so deeply embarrassed to be seen as the banana girl? She had her own life. Only a second of her day included swiping my debit card.
I near my block, my new home. Mostly I am better with my weight now. I like the muscle in my arm and I like the thickness of my thighs.
The summer I was forbidden to run, I walked two miles to the grocery store to get a salad, and walked home, even though I had a car, and when my cute neighbor asked me why I walked so far for so little, like I was crazy, I heard the cute boy on my eighth floor dormitory who played guitar in the stairwell asking why I always took the stairs, like I was crazy, and I felt crazy. People ask why you carry around what you carry around without knowing anything about it.
The day is hotter. The bag slips. I hoist it back into my arms. My legs carry me from the sidewalk to home. The trees are hushing the sun and there’s a breeze brushing the Spanish moss. My arms ache, pleasantly, with use.
I carry the weight of need of a human body. If I were needless, I’d be nothing. If I were wantless, I’d simply be. And if I didn’t weigh anything, I’d be air rising through smog or Southern thickness. I throw away the receipt.
Sophie Nau is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans whose fiction has appeared in Tilted House Review and West Trade Review. Most recently, she collaborated on an upcoming exhibit at the Southern Museum of Food and Beverage. She is a native Angeleno.