I should have known it was a bad omen when I dropped the pears.
The library was having a food drive, and if you donated a can of food it would waive $5 off your library fine. I needed that desperately, as I had checked out several DVDs and forgotten to return them on time. I had a fee of 4.75.
So, rifling through my pantry, I told my mom: “I’m off to the library, I’ll be back soon!” I selected a can of pears, (“Premium Quality, a Tradition of Quality Fruits!”) and stuffed it in my crocheted bag along with my books.
“How will you get there?” she called back from the sink. There was a marathon going on in my town, and it had completely blocked off my way to the library. I had forgotten this, and so my mom suggested: “Why not go to the Calvin Smith Library?” It was the library we went to before the new one was built, and not behind a line of marathon runners.
So off to Calvin Smith I went, rumbling along half-remembered streets in my little red sedan. I pulled into the parking lot and swung my bag over my shoulder. I fished out the can of pears as I got to the front doors, and reaching for the doorknob–
–I dropped it. Quickly, I picked it up, surveying the damage. A good sized dent had folded over the rim of the can. Sighing, I brushed off the concrete dust, wondering if I could still donate it, or if I should cut my losses and just return the books. Because it had a pop-lid top, I figured it was still okay. The label was intact, and the food was still edible. So I yanked on the door.
And then yanked again. Locked! I peered at the posted hours on the glass, awkwardly. The door opened, and an attractive lady with curly maroon hair peeked her head out.
“Hi! Sorry, is the library closed?” I blundered, loudly.
“The library is closed,” she said softly, apologetic. “We’re having a yoga class right now. You’re welcome to join us, but the library doesn’t open ’till ten.”
“Oh. Sorry,” I whispered. Yoga Lady smiled and closed the door. I bashfully walked back to my car, can of pears in hand. How embarrassing! I wondered where to go next. There was a garden nursery a few blocks down, so I motored my car out of the library parking lot and onto the gravel of the nursery. My father’s side of the family owned this nursery, and most of the employees were my aunts and uncles. I did not want to have the mandatory “Oh my goodness how you’ve grown what are you doing with your life” conversation, so I slunk around the flower beds, avoiding my relatives. Several customers looked at me inquiringly. I ducked behind the perennials, sheepishly contemplating plants as if I wanted to buy them, and not just bum around until the library opened.
I shot off a text to my mom. Library closed, @ the gardens until it opens. Did you want anything?
She replied: See if they have any purple sage. With a new purpose, I strode off to find an employee who I wasn’t related to.
The first one I came across was a tiny old lady, with thinning brown hair and cat-eyed glasses. She was crooning at the plants. “Such a good flower, yes you are,” as she set them in a rolling cart at her side. “And look at you! How big you’ve grown. Such soft petals, oh yes, oh yes.”
I wrinkled my nose. I did that with my cat, but with a plant? It seemed very odd. But, she wasn’t an aunt or uncle, so my criteria was met. I walked up to her, and she glowered at me from over her thick-rimmed glasses. “Yes, dear?”
“Hi. Do you have any…” I looked at the text again. “Purple sage?”
Her face lit up, and she stepped very close to me. “Well, do you mean edible? Or ornamental? ‘Cuz purple sage opens up a whole realm of possibilities. There’s this sage,” she pointed at a plant in her cart, “or the stuff in the greenhouse. That’s edible. You can eat that. Put it in spaghetti or whatever. There’s also tricolor sage, oh yes, oh yes. And… which did you want?” Her polka-dotted rainboots were touching my black champion sneakers. Each time I shuffled backwards, she shuffled forwards. Pinned between grow boxes and Plant Lady, I stuttered, “Edible? I guess? Thank you?” She lifted her walkie-talkie, spearing me with her gaze, and asked: “Greenhouse? You there?” a muffled reply buzzed back. She stared at me, the walkie crackling. I stared back. Finally, she turned aside. “Well,” she huffed, “I’m going that way anyway. Follow me!” and sped off. I jogged to keep up. Phew! At least she wasn’t staring at me anymore.
We reached the greenhouse and she got very close to me again. “Here it is, oh yes. And here is the sage, there’s two types, this one–”
“That’s exactly what I needed, thank you!” I interrupted. “It’s perfect!” I petted the sage plant, just hoping Plant Lady would go away. My mouth was stretched in a parody of a grin.
“No problem honey!” she sped off again, muttering “oh yes, oh yes,” all the way. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at the tag. Tricolor sage. Not what I wanted. I wandered into the giftshop, balefully watching garden gnomes fish, and checking the time at least once every minute.
Finally! 10:05. Off the library I went, spitting gravel from my spinning tires.
Yanking on the door (this time, it opened!), I walked in. There was no one at the information desk, so I wandered over to the check out station. Two women were manning the computers behind the counter. I set my can of dented Premium Quality Pears on the scratched Formica. “Hello! I have a fine, and would like to donate this food to reduce it, please!” I announced.
The older woman turned to me, slowly. “Well,” she said, “you’ll need to return everything that’s overdue for me to do that.”
I pointed at the return bin under the counter. “I just did,” I said. “”Wolverine and the Incredible X-men.”” She fished around the pile of unfinished books and pulled out the DVD. She opened it, verified the disc was there, and scanned the barcode. Then she turned to the young woman beside her. “Can you finish up here?” The young woman, whose tag read Jennifer, nodded and smiled at me.
She stood a long time a the computer, clicking and then frowning. I held my breath, hoping that there weren’t any books I had forgotten to return. Jennifer turned to the older woman. “I think I’ve made a mistake,” she said, “I waived the fee, but then this popped up…” Both women debated over the computer for a while. I shifted uncomfortably. Finally, Jennifer handed me a paper receipt. “I just need you to sign here.” I did.
“Thank you,” I said, grateful this ordeal was over. I pushed the can of pears toward her. The other woman looked suspiciously at it, then picked it up, inspecting it. I held my breath. I was about to explain that I had dropped it when she said, sneering and incredulous: “This is expired!”
I turned bright red. “Oh! Is it? How embarrassing!” I snatched up the pears. The date at the bottom read: BEST BY 01/26/14. I was mortified. “I just grabbed it from my pantry and didn’t even think!” I spluttered.”I mean, I still eat this stuff! I didn’t think there’d be a problem!” The older woman’s eyebrows shot up. “I mean, it’s just from my food storage! I didn’t even think to check!” A dented can of expired food! It looked as if I was just trying to get my fee waived! Some delinquent, pear-foisting, fee-avoiding criminal. My face was heating up. “Should I just pay my fine, so there’s no problem?? You can put the fee back on my tab, and I’ll just pay it here? With cash?” I fished out my wallet, wishing the carpet would swallow me up.
“Well, no, I’ve already waived the fee,” she said, frustrated. “You’ll just have to bring a can of food next time you come in.” She frowned at me.
“Oh okay! Yes! That’s fine! I’ll do that, I’ll go home and get a can and come back!” I backed away from the counter. Ugh! Of all the rotten luck! As I headed to the door, my can of pears felt like it was glowing, the word EXPIRED! running around and around my head.
Just as I made it to the door, Yoga Lady waved hello to me from the drinking fountain. “You should have joined us!” she said. “You know, we’re here every Saturday. Everyone is welcome.”
“Thank you!” I stuttered. “I’ll think about it!” And stumbled out the door, my Premium Quality Pears and crocheted bag in hand.
The entire ride home (only a few minutes from Calvin Smith to my place, but it felt much longer) I was giggling to myself at the mortification of it all. It felt like a bad sitcom. I pulled into my driveway and stomped my way up to the house, brandishing the pears as I walked through the door.
“So I totally embarrassed myself,” I told my mom by way of hello. She just raised an eyebrow. I told her the whole fiasco and she laughed. “You’d better take more than one can,” she said.
Down in the storage room, I looked on the bottom of every can. Everything had expired at least two years ago. I was shocked! We still ate this stuff. It was still fine. But each tin I flipped over had a past date stamped in black lettering.
“Great,” I thought. “I’m gonna have to buy a can of food to avoid paying my library fees. What a mess.”
Finally, I found four cans the library would accept. One can of kidney beans, a can of black beans, one cream of mushroom soup and a cream of chicken soup. All of them expired in late 2016. But it would do! I trundled back to my car, headed to the library for the third time.
So intent was I on my food cans, I brushed right past the information desk, manned by Yoga Lady, and straight to Jennifer. “Hi,” I said. “Here are some food cans to donate. These are NOT expired, I checked!” Jennifer smiled at me encouragingly. “Where should I put them?” I asked. “Do I give them to you?”
“No,” she said. “They go in a barrel. Let me check where that is,” and she came out from behind the counter. I grimaced. I hadn’t meant to interrupt any more than I already had, and I could find the barrel on my own. But, Jennifer had already led the way to the information desk. To Yoga Lady.
“Do you know where to put the food drive stuff?” Jennifer asked. Yoga Lady looked at me, a little confused, and then pointed to the door. I turned and saw the barrel. Right in front of the door. I had walked past it to get to the checkout stand!
“Oh,” I said. “Thank you.” I unloaded my cans of food into the barrel, glad this was over. Yoga Lady looked at my inquisitively.
“Did you go all the way home and come back with those?” she asked.
“Oh yes!” I said. “Apparently the first can I brought in was expired!” I laughed a little too loud, still embarrassed. Yoga Lady laughed too.
“Well, it was nice of you to come back,” she said. “You have no idea how close I was to never showing my face here again,” I thought. “Yeah, well,” I said, “It was just food storage. I didn’t even think to look at the expiration date!” Yoga Lady looked ready to respond, but I did NOT want to hear about those pears ever again. So I said, “So, yoga? I had no idea that was a thing here. Maybe I’ll come next week.”
Yoga Lady’s face lit up. “That would be great! It’s just for beginners. You know that Yoga Studio on 33rd?” I shook my head. “Well, an instructor from there is coming to teach us. I’m very excited.”
“Cool!” I said. “I’m not really one for yoga, but if you’re okay with amateurs, I’ll see if I can make it!”
Yoga Lady grinned. “Of course! I’m not that much of a yoga buff myself. Have a nice day!”
“Thanks!” I called. “See you Saturday, maybe!” Yoga Lady smiled and waved. I waved back, my hand on the door…
…And pulled on the door labeled PUSH. I sighed. It was just one of those days.