Shoosh. That’s the sound my large silver scoop makes as I plunge it into a fifty pound bag of organic long grain brown rice. I raise the scope horizontally and pour it into the bag on the scale. The second scoop is not so full, and I watch the grains slide in, watch the scale creep up. Every grain is different. The green lights on the scale register “2.00”. I tie off the bag, folding the extra bit over and lay it gently on the green counter. Then I do another. That’s what Mom and I used to call it: “doing up” the rice, or the apricots, or the yellow eye beans.
The store is quiet as I work away behind my cozy little spice counter down back. There’s a propane heater to my right, with a tan step stool pulled near, where I sometimes sit to have my afternoon coffee or jot a few notes. Behind me, large white wooden shelves are lined with old mayonnaise jars full of spices and herbs for sale by the ounce, each jar wearing a jaunty granny “hat” fashioned by my sister. There’s a stainless steel hand sink in the corner. Greg installed that.
The spice counter was the perfect container to raise the power, a place to work magic. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing, way back then.
The grains slide by, making a rhythmic shoosh, zinng, shoosh, zinng. The air begins to thicken with particles that spin and sparkle. The skin on my face develops a dense buzzing layer that feels like the outer edge is part of the air. My breathing slows to an almost snoozing pace, innn, ouuut, innn, ouuut. I have put myself into a trance. I have always enjoyed repetitive tasks. Knitting, kneading dough, stuffing envelopes; I get to feel useful, occupied and my mind is free to roam.
A silkiness slips over me from right to left, and I am very surely in a different place. It’s quiet, quieter than the store. Words aren’t spoken but there’s a lot of powerful feelings happening. When the trance is over, I’m left with very little to write down. Perhaps it isn’t a word thing. Sensations, a scarlet drape, a flash of brocade, a dominant other, stuff that is consuming in the moment, yet nothing I could call a “scene”. Rats, its gone before I could get a handle on it.
I used to fancy that these occurrences at the spice counter were stories coming over me, but my hand was always holding a scoop or a broom or a box knife. Never, ever was I holding a pen. I wanted so badly to share it, to find a way to capture it, fill my pockets with beauty and bring it back with me.
Struggling to communicate one of these occurrences to my friend McGin, I paused. She looked concerned. What was she going to say to me?
“Viv,” McGin said. “I think you have to consider the possibility” –
(Oh, God, she’s going to tell me I need therapy)
“- an artist.”
Whether they were artistic impulses or charged up wishes released to the elements, or a flash of a story waiting in the ether for a willing writer, the moments were dear to me. The space, the store, that time is dear to me. If a customer did happen in when I was weighing up this or that (I was not a stellar saleswoman and the store was seldom busy), they seemed to feel something too. They would slow their pace and hover nearby, and when they did speak, more often than not they would share something personal out of the blue, unrelated to their shopping list. Something that would seem jarring and odd to share with a shopkeeper, seemed, in those moments, just fine.
“I’ve seen too much of the inside of hospitals lately.”
“My daughter had a miscarriage.”
And my favorite: “ If I just had a psychiatric nurse, I know I could get through January.”
It was a safe, sacred spot where a person could set down their burden for a moment.
It is late at night. The store is dark. I can hear my own breathing. I walk the aisles, looking at the neatly stocked shelves. Everything seems right, and so real, as if the store has been going all along and I just got lost for seven years. And then I wake up and stare at the ceiling and drift to another dream.
Originally posted in January 2018.