When you are a shut-in, the slightest insult can feel heightened upon entering the outside world. This is, in part, the whole reason you do not go into the outside world–so as to avoid the psychological perils of scrutiny and judgment. And since you yourself can judge whoever you want from the comfort of your own home now thanks to the phenomenon of social media, what is really the point? Well, because now and again, your not nearly in shape enough body needs a bit of sustenance to fortify the mental exhaustion that comes with being a shut-in.
Giselle needed said sustenance one day, after depleting every possible resource in her kitchen’s cabinet and refrigerator, gathering all her mental and physical strength to leave the house as she put forth the effort in her appearance that most people reserve for prom or getting their makeup done in death for their funeral. This is also, in part, why she rarely left the confines of the apartment: it meant having to render herself perfect in order to deem herself suitable for encountering others in the realm of the living. She, instead, inhabited the place somewhere in between. For could you call yourself truly alive if you interacted with no one? She pushed this thought aside as she embarked upon the gates that would topple her out into the main thoroughfare in front of her building, alive with the sound of rambling French people discussing problems that sounded more elegant and important in their language.
She decided to take baby steps to the Franprix, which tended to make her feel claustrophobic with its two narrow aisles offering only the bare minimum of selection. But it was the closest thing, involving the least amount of human interaction. To give herself a bit of a shot, she went into the Amorino a few doors over. Though she despised it on principle for its absurd price points, getting a coffee to go was not anathema there. Plus, it would build her up to the second impending hurdle of socialization that she was about to face.
“Large or small?”
“Sugar or black?”
“Cash or card?”
If only all exchanges could be so prosaic and direct. If they were, maybe Giselle wouldn’t have retired from the world. But as it stood, what had sent her in isolation was that last slight. That final K.O. from rejection that colored her incapable of bothering ever again with the risk of pain that was part and parcel with “opening one’s heart.” The excision Louis had made between him and her having occurred almost three years ago now. He being the very reason she had transferred to France in the first place, using the benefit of her coding skills to allow for effortless “remoteness” from her original starting point in San Francisco. Yet despite having been thrown over by him in favor of his own international move made for the sake of love (he had met her at work, but she was originally from Australia and had always planned to go back there, as no Australian can ever really leave–it must have something to do with the energy of being from an island originally intended as a prison), Giselle had remained. There was no risk of being reminded of him, she reasoned, if she simply stayed inside, therefore averted all potential visually or olfactorily-induced memories pertaining to their time together. This was how her life as a shut-in was solidified, but she supposed she had always been one on some level. Yet at least a high-functioning one who didn’t urinate in cups around the room or let dirt and decay pile up in her kitchen. No, she was a very well-mannered and organized psycho.
Thinking as much to herself without realizing she had finally drifted into the nearby Franprix with her coffee dans la main, she could feel spurts of the hot liquid spray onto her hand intermittently as she meandered through the first aisle. Then, all at once, out of the corner of her eye, she could feel his presence.
“What are you doing? You’re dripping coffee all over the store! Do you have any respect for the work we do here?”
Giselle was unclear what kind of “work” he could be talking about other than stocking zucchinis and getting in the way of everyone’s shopping experience while doing so as a result of the cramped layout of the store. So cramped, in fact, that he had noticed her spillage almost instantaneously. She, too, had noticed it but just wanted to gloss over it as she did with all of her problems. In America, she could have gotten away with such “uncouthness” effortlessly. The massive spaces of your average grocery story allowing for no such intimacy as this Franprix. She yearned for the apathy that came with these wide open spaces–these giant “food stables”–in this instant when she could feel the burn of this spotlight upon her and her actions. He had been following her from almost the second she walked in, at first thinking that maybe a food item in her basket had been compromised and was leaking before tracing the source to the coffee cup without its lid placed on tightly enough.
Rather than apologize, Giselle scuttled down the only other aisle, banking on the notion that he couldn’t completely berate her as she was still, at the very least, theoretically, going to be spending money in the store. She was livid that he had been monitoring her. To her, it was more offensive than spilling coffee. She wanted to get even, also somewhere inside knowing that he wouldn’t have demeaned her so if she were a man. Then again, he probably thought a man wouldn’t be capable of such doltery. Such were the sexist ways of the French. Then an idea came to her as she passed the coffee section. She had to move with rapidity, fully aware that he would be coming for her once again and that as soon as she made this move, there was no turning back–she could never return to the Franprix closest to her apartment. She would be sacrificing the clockwork-like system she had established for her short outings outside of the bâtiment that housed and accepted her idiosyncrasies. She took a deep breath and decided it was worth it, opening a package of coffee grounds and letting them slip to the floor in one Goliath of a pile. She then sprinkled it with the rest of her own liquid coffee, appraising the strange, almost artistic look of it there on the linoleum floor.
All at once, she was consumed with regret. Had being a shut-in made her totally lose touch with reality? Emboldened her to rebel in ways that were not in any way billable as “the social norm”? She pondered this as she scrawled “sorry” into the grounds and ran out of the store. Maybe eating, like human contact, was overrated.