“Mom,” the teenage girl whispered, tugging on her mother’s blouse as the older lady hovered over the honeydew melons, afraid to touch-test them for ripeness in the midst of a pandemic. “That lady’s not wearing a mask.”
My wife had just walked in to the supermarket, an unrepentant bare face, her statement to breathe freely, a recently benighted act that the prevailing Authority had insinuated as felonious intent. The store manager had approached her and my bare-faced daughter the moment they had entered through the sliding glass doors…
“May I offer you ladies a mask?”
“No thank you,” my wife smiled. “We’re all right.”
The manager (no doubt schooled on the fact the Governor’s order was only enforced through the herd function of peer pressure and public shaming, not by any force of law, therefore rife for legal remedy should he press the matter to a higher level of imposition) bowed out and said no more.
As per usual, the difficult part to overcome was psychological, walking into a place where you are surrounded by the universally masked crowd of normal shoppers and the glances and looks that invariably greet you, though not one public reprimand had yet been received.
Perhaps many of them knew the act of universal masking was little more than a psychological prophylactic that was more placebo than effective barrier to disease; and didn’t have the heart to protest something they knew was politically motivated rather than actually anything to do with Public Health.
My wife brushed away the official invitation to blend in with the herd and go among the masked zombie bare face, a legitimate form of peaceful protest we both are compelled to engage in. Then she heard the muffled voice of the girl whispering her dismay to her mother at the honeydew melon display and turned around.
The indiscreet girl’s mother striding toward my wife, reached up, unhooked the mask’s loop from one ear and greeted her with a tension-obliterating smile.
“I can’t tell you how good it is to see someone without one of these dumb ass masks on,” she stage whispered, encouraged by my wife’s example. “Everything has gotten so political.”
“Oh I know,” Pam shrugged as if to say “What can you do?” “It’s terrible.”
“I’m Valerie,” the smiling woman said, reaching out to shake, but pulling back her hand before it was halfway unfurled. “We moved her from Colorado a few weeks ago.”
“Pam,” nodded my wife.
As the two adults broke the ice and breathed freely, the girl who’d initiated the interchange slunk up and peeked around at my daughter Noe from behind her mother, her mask hanging like a dyed-blue forelock from around the vicinity of her ear. “Aren’t you afraid?”
“No,” Noe shrugged just as her mother had, and shook her head.
“Aren’t you afraid someone is going to be mean to you?”
Again she shrugged and replied nonchalantly, putting her hands on her hips, she said, “I’m used to it.”
The two mothers, having paused their conversation to eavesdrop on their daughters, burst out laughing as they glanced back up to catch the other’s smile.
Noe only laughed with them because laughter was contagious, unsure of what was so funny because her answer to the girl’s last question had been a no brainer, her brother was a miserable asshole, you see?