Going to the grocery store in the dead hours of the night can be an otherworldly experience. After stepping in from the pitch black, the lights seem fluorescent and off-kilter. The abandoned aisles seem set for a last stand zombie showdown. The employees are either mopping up floors or slumped over counters with a not-all-there half-lidded gaze.
That's why there was this weird dream-like feeling when I met her.
She sprawled in the middle of aisle number six with a black plastic shopping basket next to her. She was dressed in a huge overcoat and her skinny striped legging legs poked out from them like the Wicked Witch's under Dorothy's house. She had a cap of dark hair and ruler-straight bangs above eyes that scrunched down as she scrutinized a list.
She looked up right as I was passing and her eyes lit up.
"Ah! Can you help me?"
"Uh..." a quick glance around confirmed she was talking to me.
"I need some help finding this...." she trailed off as she frowned down at her list again.
I stepped closer. She had a thick black sharpie marker in one hand and the list in the other. I read the top line aloud.
She looked up at me with round eyes. "I'm going to the moon."
"Uh..." I stepped backwards. Took another step away. "I don't think you'll find that at Walmart."
She sighed. "I didn't think so."
You meet a lot of odd people at the grocery store late at night. It's best to give them a wide berth and concentrate on your cereal selection. Usually you can spot them right off....this one had thrown me a little. Plus, she was cute. That always distracts. And it was probably the reason why I kept talking to her, instead of beating the usual retreat.
"You might have a hard time finding that anywhere," I said.
She blinked at me. "It's the moon. You can't expect it to be easy." She sighed again. "I guess I'll have to skip to the next item."
I snuck another look at the list. Cereal. "You need cereal to get to the moon?"
"Of course not." She scowled at me like I was an imbecile. "But you need something to eat while you're there."
"What? Like Fruity Pebbles?" I tried to match her scathing tone, but even to my ears the attempt was feeble.
"No." She gave a thoughtful pause. "Once when I was a kid, I ate so many Fruity Pebbles that I got sick and threw it all up. I've never liked it since."
"Oh." There really didn't seem to be anything else I could say to that bit of sharing.
"My mom said that it was the prettiest vomit she'd ever seen. Rainbow colors, you know."
She had gotten up and was perusing the cereal boxes at this point. "What about Honey Nut Cheerios?" she mused aloud.
"Not something you'd want to eat constantly. You'd probably get sick of it."
"Very true." She glanced back at me and this time there was a grudging respect in her tone.
There was a long pause as she walked down the aisle. "So...Why the moon?" I said finally.
"I want to moon-walk."
"You mean....like Michael Jackson?"
"No. Like...." And she gave three bounding steps toward me as if she was jumping on a trampoline.
"You want...to moon-walk."
"Well, more accurately...I want to be weightless. I want to know what that feels like." She waved a hand. "To...not be bound down anymore."
"You know they have things like that here. Anti-gravity simulators or something. Probably a lot easier than going to the moon."
"But that wouldn't be real." She raised her eyebrows. "Plus, who said easier is better?"
Good point. I shook my head. "But...it takes a while to fly to the moon, doesn't it?"
"Not with a shortcut."
"I thought you just said easier doesn't mean better."
"Shortcut doesn't mean easier. Not necessarily. Just truncated." She shrugged. "I might as well get out there now before everyone's being shipped out there."
"Before...?" was there some sort of moon mandate announcement that had been issued that I was unaware of?
"You know it's going to happen. People are going to screw up earth and start looking to colonize the moon. Mars. Wherever. I want to get up there before that all happens." She picked up a box of kix and ran a finger down the nutritional facts on the side. "Before the snow is ruined."
She had lost me again. "The snow?"
She looked up at me. "You know when you wake up in the morning after a fresh fall of snow has fallen on the ground? It's perfect. Untouched. And then people go all over it, enjoying it, but messing it up at the same time. It's not perfect anymore. And when you're on the moon, every step you take is permanent there. There's nothing up there that will erase the steps you take. And I want to get up there before the moon snow is marred."
It was funny, but I think I kinda got what she was saying. Does that make me a little crazy too?
"I'll wave to you while I'm up there," she said suddenly.
"I won't see you."
"You will." She pursed her lips to the side. "Maybe I can bring you back a souvenir?" Her face was solemn. "But I can't promise you anything. I might find I like it up there too much to return."
"Don't worry about it." Maybe I should have kept on backing away after seeing Pixie Dust. Damn me and my weakness for girls with bangs. "You can send me a postcard if you really want."
"But where should I send it to? I don't know your address."
This was getting too weird. "Like I said, don't worry about it." My feet were moving away of their own accord. "Good luck with....finding those items."
I didn't see her again after that. Even when I made my occasional late night grocery runs and would peek into the cereal aisle whenever I passed it. And call me stupid, but whenever I drove home, I'd look up at the pale moon and picture a miniscule, tiny tiny figure waving at me from its surface.
And then a month after, I opened up my front door and found a carefully wrapped present waiting for me. A rock. White, granulated surface, porous, smelling oddly of ancient dust and....snow.
My souvenir. Go figure.