I went out to get detergent, the brand my mother uses, the brand I use, too. You know, the orange one. Unscented. There was a brief time—some years ago—when I tried different scents like lavender, fresh breeze, tangy citrus. I was trying out different brands, eager to become my own person. I remember a candy corn-shaped blue one. A broad red one with a high-up angular handle, strange engineering. There was a cheap, green one that seemed never to work as well as the others. Now, I've settled. I've, as they say, come back around.
When I got to the store, they were out. I stared at the negative space above the shelf where the detergent ought to be. The tag below it gave the title of the product, the price ($7.49) and the corresponding bar code. But where the product should have been, there was nothing. A small gray ball of lint and, for some reason, a broken rubber band. I considered walking over to the accessory department to look at the displays of cheap jewelry, just something to have made the trip worthwhile. Instead I shook my head and hastily made my way to the sliding doors. It took a few pulls on my keys to get the chugging engine to remain on. I sat in my car. I could see my own breath.
I began driving unsure of where I was going, if I'm being honest with you. I reached the turn-off that would lead to my house but just kept driving, as if someone—a spirit—had possessed me and taken hold of the wheel. A few minutes ahead, I then made a sharp left, cutting two cars off abruptly. They both honked at me, which I resented because I hadn't meant to cut them off. I was not malicious, it was only that I hadn't been sure if I was going to stop and turn and had been overcome by a now-or-never kind of impulse—I was afraid that if I didn't turn into the drive I would just keep driving straight on the same road I was on until my gas ran out. They didn't know that though, those drivers, so I tried to relinquish my anger. I slammed the brakes in the parking space, my front tire bumping slightly into the cement block at the front (the one that disallows rolling through in order to pull out). I walked into the second superstore of the day.
As I walked, I found my pace becoming more and more brisk until I was just trying to keep from appearing like I was jogging; I didn't want to seem like a lunatic. A smile broke across my face when I saw the right aisle. I felt relieved. Better to get it over with now. Yes, yes—this was right. No, no. They were out of the detergent there, too. What's the word for how I felt then? Crestfallen. What happens after you go over the crestfall? My hands were shaking, ever so slightly, and I held them up to my face to be sure. I felt mildly faint at the idea of having to get back into my car and drive all the way home, probably 20 minutes it would take me. It occurred to me there was a third place to check, not a superstore but a tiny convenient store on Vine St. I had bought detergent there once. It was overpriced and dusty and probably stale, if detergent could be stale. The price, I remembered, had been listed not on a neat tag on the height of the shelving but on a small white rectangular sticker stuck directly to the bottle.
I felt torn between the satisfaction of tenacity, of try-try again, and the satisfaction of giving up. It wasn't that important anyway; it could wait. A day, a week. The errand had been invented already anyway. A better person would have stuck it out and gone. Finished the job. Wash, dry, fold. A better person would never have to think about it again, at least until the next empty bottle. But I had this feeling that started as a joke that all the detergent, unscented, orange brand, was out of stock in this entire county, or at least in all of central New York. All of New York, maybe, the entire state. Or maybe they still had it in the city, because the city had people who would pay. People who always got what they wanted. I say this without self-pity: I was not one of those people.
I got back in my car and drove home. I almost slipped on the ice in my driveway. Not slipping—something going in my favor—didn't seem to fit with how my day'd been going and I felt resentful again, I refused to feel grateful. I climbed the stairs, kicked my shoes off, got into bed, and pulled the airy comforter over me. My breath was hot, it fogged my glasses. I took them off and pushed them off of the bed. I reminded myself to not step on them later, when I would get up. Just move them now, I told myself. But the comforter was beginning to create at least a little bit of heat, working like an ineffective greenhouse and I was wont to give it up, this tiny bit of peace. Parts of my body felt extremely heavy then. Not my eyelids as you might expect but my arms, my legs, my skull. I drooled awake. In my sideways view, I saw an orange stain on my sheets, probably from hot sauce, from late-night snacking in bed. It was probably from the night before but it could have been older than that. A bad habit I know, or a lack of a good habit, rather, but it had been a long time since I'd washed my sheets.
Emma DeMilta is a recent graduate of the Syracuse University MFA program, where she served as fiction Editor-in-Chief of Salt Hill Journal. She lives in Chicago, IL.