The Dairy Aisle

Chelsea Ruxer

He was running low on spaghetti. I had just finished my last carton of Stonyfield Farms. This is how we got here.

“You needed spaghetti,” I say, directing his attention to the pasta aisle. It was nothing indicative; he just said “spaghetti,” for whatever it is spaghetti is worth on the marketplace hierarchy. I consider this as he grabs a nondescript green box off the side of a display.

He asks what I eat when I’m not relying on Olive Garden for my pasta intake, and I tell him the green box seems familiar. At least it’s not Ramen noodles. So he must boil water when I’m not there.

The dairy aisle is inevitable now. I ask if he wants to split up and meet in the front of the store in five or ten minutes, and he says no, that he needs cereal. One day, I will look back on this and wonder why I thought having dinner near Kroger was an acceptable reason to come.

As we reach the butters, he asks if I’ve decided whether I’m going home for Thanksgiving. I tell him I’m not sure and reach for a Smart Balance. He pays no mind to the Smart Balance and avoids eye contact with the other butters. He reminds me his mother makes a special sweet potato casserole, and I elect to change the subject to professional football, remind myself the cream cheese section is no place for these kinds of conversations.

He confirms that I want to watch the Sunday lineup with him tomorrow, seems to think our relationship has reached this point, and tells me about his fantasy football team, which I mistakenly inquired about several weeks ago over coffee. He shows me his phone. His team is called Jamaal Washed Up, a reference to a football player on the white team with red letters. My mother tells me I’m not supposed to judge him for either his fantasy football or his linguistic prowess.

We reach the far left end of the semi-yogurt dairy products, on the other side of the string cheeses. The yogurt section is sharply divided, the far left holding the GoGurts and baby yogurts and some comfort yogurts and yogurt shots. I rush to the string cheeses. The Activia is suspended just underneath, and he picks up a box and studies it, indicates he’s seen a commercial on bowel regularity. I take note. It’s sure to come up later.

We pass the string cheeses and reach the primary yogurt section, which is more telling. The emotional stability continuum runs left to right, Yoplaits to Fages, with political affiliation determining altitude. Conservatives hit eye level big brands, with liberals reaching for lower-level organics and the occasionally stocked local suppliers. I have no idea who shops on the top shelves. I think there might be cottage cheese up there.

People tend to gravitate to one end or the other, the same shelf or two in the same general quadrant. My boyfriend is gravitating towards the bagels, and I have a sudden compulsion to know. So I face him towards the yogurts and hope for the best.

“Do you eat yogurt?”

“Yeah,” he says, like he told his cousin on the phone before dinner when she asked if he was seeing someone, before we even considered the matter of groceries. We should have met on eHarmony, and not in line at the BMV. The idea that these things can just happen makes me want to gorge on kefir.

I ask for clarification on “yeah.” I’m a far-to-mid-right, mid-to-lower-shelves grazer, organics, dye-frees, and originals. My weekly consumption is dominated by industrial-sized Stonyfield Farm and packable Kroger’s Simple Truth Organic, but the snobbery inherent to Noosa: World’s Finest Yogurt is my guilty pleasure.

“Yogurt,” he says. I should have had the guts to look in his fridge last weekend when I was over.

“What kind?” I ask again, deeply regretting my decision to eat the lava brownie at Olive Garden. He considers this for a moment as I reconsider the prospect of online dating. “Strawberry,” he says.

“Strawberry.” He nods. He’s serious. I had him settled in my head as a Fruit on the Bottom kind of guy but wasn’t ready to ask. He nods at a Noosa I realize I’m now holding.

“That looks good,” he says.

“This is raspberry.”

“That’s okay.” He says it like I might share. “I think I’d eat the blueberry, too,” he adds, in case I was considering the blueberry. I turn away and reach for a grouping of acai Fages, which he takes from me and deposits in the basket. I guess now we’re sharing the basket, too.

I didn’t tell him I came here for Stonyfield. There are Monday mornings I devote to digging to the back of the Stonyfield shelf for the last strawberry nestled amongst the plains, discarding it when I see its expiration date has passed, and starting the process over again.

“Do you mind if I get some cereal?” he asks.

“Go ahead.” I consider following him, but he probably eats Froot Loops. I can’t see any strawberries in the first two rows. He shifts the basket to the other hand.

“It’s okay.” I think this is part of his football mentality, that he thinks we’re in this together as some sort of a team. I kneel and consider the masses of plain cartons as he waits.

“I wanted to get some pizza, too,” he says. There’s a strawberry carton all the way at the back, on its side, and I’m hopeful. “Is that okay?”

I reach for it, because we’ve made it this far.

CHELSEA RUXER is a current MFA student at the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hermeneutic Chaos, 5×5, New Pop Lit, and others.