My wife called our once-a-week outings, “Exposure Thursdays.”
Her role was to scout the massive Stop & Shop grocery store on behalf of her super-senior, homebound parents, while I searched the scant stock for holiday menu items. We set off in opposite directions. The pre-vaccination pandemic raged on while “Good King Wenceslas” wafted down from the speakers.
A woman in consumer distress came into view as I entered the canyon of bottles and cans. Her age presumably prompted her to take advantage of a store-provided motorized shopping vehicle. A pixie hairdo peeked out from under a plaid beret of black, red, and green. Silver hair framed her face in a soft gray. She wore a bedazzled holiday sweater, shiny brown high-water pants, and slip-on shoes crowned with frilly pink anklets. She hovered over the seat of her cart—half-standing, half-sitting, half-masked, and fully frustrated with her inability to pick up a case of bottled spring water. Helping our senior citizenry—while fending off AARP’s relentless campaign of induction—was the right thing to do, even more gratifying during the holidays.
“You’re a good Samaritan in search of trouble,” my wife often said. Called it my, “strange predilection.” She constantly reminded me, “No good deed goes unpunished.” With my spouse nowhere in sight, I approached the woman.
“Can I give you a hand?”
“Oh, yes. Please. Thank you so much.”
The coquettish voice and a whiff of sweet jasmine surprised me. Twinkling eyes suggested a once flirty young woman now encased by time and life lived. She eased down onto her seat, a thousand-megawatt smile beaming from behind a mask struggling to find its proper place on her face.
I confidently hoisted a shrink-wrapped case of Deer Park’s finest, but quickly realized the Go-Kart lacked an obvious spot to hold such a large and heavy item. The woman pushed herself as far back in the seat as possible. She glanced downward, directing me with her eyes to a tiny patch of floorboard beneath her feet. An impish grin spread across the woman’s face, her mask taking up residence below her chin. Our eyes locked, her eyebrows arched, and she tilted her head to the right in a playful manner. This Cheshire Cat with the gleaming white dentures knew exactly what she was asking of me.
The operation required positioning myself alongside her outer thigh, extending the weight of the case outward, then lowering it between her legs. I aborted my first attempt when the passageway proved too narrow. With a deep sigh, and the unexpected agility of a Simone Biles, the woman spread her knees impossibly far apart. A small group of socially distanced shoppers began to take notice, casually coalescing around us.
Summoning my courage, not my common sense, I placed my tenderloins as close to the side of her leg as I dared and fixated on the yawning maw before me. Recalculating the trajectory, I took a deep breath and steadied my nerves. Extending the case outward, I grunted from the weight, and fought to keep my balance. The heat from her inner thighs was palpable. My brow moistened with nervous perspiration as I passed perilously close to what I assumed was The Land That Time Forgot. The sound of the case thumping down onto the floorboard provided a great sense of relief. Pausing to admire my handiwork, I realized my head was squarely between this woman’s thighs.
Bolting upright, I said, “There you go. Happy Holidays!”
“Wait! It’s a BOGO, dear!” The woman smiled as wide as her knees, her mask nowhere to be found.
The gathered fellowship of masked shoppers murmured their muzzled approvals of this free holiday performance of The Nutcracker.
Some shopper guy said, “This beats the crap out of Netflix.” A ripple of low-key chuckles and masked snorts popped like corn, but no one stepped through the invisible six-foot social barrier to lend a hand.
Panic pounded on the door of my skull, demanding to be let in. My wife’s words, “No good deed…” danced across my psyche like sugarplum fairies. But running away never crossed my mind, for Good Sam I Am.
Dr. Seuss butted his way into my thoughts.
Good Sam assists you in the mart.
Good Sam assists you with your cart.
Shaking my head to scatter the nattering nabobs, I approached the port of entry with a fresh case. A thin line of cold sweat trickled down my back as I again assumed the position. That’s when her leg twitched, convulsed, spazzed—call it what you will—her knee delivering a direct shot to my onions. Bullseye! My legs bent. My spine stiffened. Only determination kept me erect.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said without looking the least bit so.
Composing myself, I continued the quest to deliver the goods. My arms, as well as my nerves, wobbled from fatigue. Caught up in the drama, she accidently—I’ll never know for sure—squeezed her throttle. The cart jerked forward, the back of my hand coming to rest dangerously close to the Okefenokee. The woman immediately released her grip, leaned back, and exhaled a breathy, “Oh!” The crowd audibly sucked air. I plunged downward. A resounding thud signaled mission accomplished. I withdrew immediately, half expecting her to offer me a cigarette.
Polite applause broke the pregnant pause between us. It was the kind of restrained clapping heard when someone sinks a challenging putt. The gathered bestowed holiday wishes upon each other from behind KN-95s and resumed their routines. Mr. Netflix threw me a hearty, “Alright dude!”
A hand gently, but firmly, gripped my shoulder from behind.
“How’s it going, friend?”
I turned to see my spouse, her head cocked and eyebrows arched, her mask unable to contain her all-knowing smile.
“How long have you been among the rabble?”
“Long enough,” she said.
“Oh—is he yours, hon?”
“Yes, this is my ever so thoughtful husband.”
The woman took my wife’s hand—a big pandemic no-no—and examined the wedding bling.
“Good for you, dear. He’s definitely a keeper.” She released my partner, and the cart rolled forward.
“Thank you, young man,” she said as the vehicle glided past. “I hope you get everything your heart desires this Christmas.” The woman winked and drove away. We watched until the cart reached the end of the aisle and she signaled a righthand turn in accordance with the pandemic inspired directional arrows on the store floor.
Smiling and slowly shaking her head, my wife turned to me and said, “Maybe it’s time to let a younger Sam step up. Just saying.”
I returned her smile and nodded in agreement. Bing Crosby’s World War II classic, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” drifted down from the ceiling speakers like fluffy snow. We again headed off in opposite directions to complete our appointed rounds. Entering the aisle of mass refrigeration, I spotted an older man wearing a bathrobe, house slippers, and one sock—he needed a shave. He was halfway inside the dairy case, but unfortunately, most of his robe remained outside. The last of the holiday eggnog perched tantalizingly close to his fingertips. I approached.
Dennis A. Blackledge has spent a lifetime immersed in storytelling as a working professional in the American Theatre. As a writer, he has authored articles for Blue Suede News Magazine, written the script for the annual yearend radio broadcast of Rock & Roll Heaven (2005-2009), plus the book for the musical Smokestack Lightning. He is currently creating a series of short fiction stories about coming of age in small town New England in the mid-twentieth century.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Good Sam I Am”:
We all enjoy reading stories about people helping other people. We liked this piece from author Dennis A. Blackledge not for its deep meaning but because it shows the good side of human nature and adds some good humor for the upcoming holiday season. Great opening descriptions immediately pull the reader into the story, and the wife’s line “You’re a good Samaritan in search of trouble” nicely foreshadows what’s to come.