Madison 14-piece

She treated herself to new shower curtains. It seemed like a luxury, but the old ones had gotten so skanky that her feet squished and slid around on slimy residue every time she took a shower. Today for once she’d have slime-free feet.

After breakfast she walked all the way up the big hill to the enormous hardware store perched on the side of the mountain. It was more like a small city than a store, with a complex of titanic buildings and a two-storey parking structure. Off in the industrial part of town where rents were cheap and sidewalks were empty. She knew nobody here.

The anonymity of the hardware store furnished unanticipated enjoyment. She felt small walking through vast aisles of hinges and screws and bolts stacked thirty or even forty feet in the air. Tall ladders that slid sideways on metallic runners had to be scaled by someone dressed in overalls and a bright orange smock in order to reach items up on the top shelves.

She wandered past rubber hoses and rolls of every type of tape; garbage bins and bathtubs chained diagonally to walls. She wandered past brooms and rakes and shovels, hammers—rubber and metallic—and through a maze of kitchen tableaux. Like TV sets, real-life scenarios inside a mammoth warehouse in the middle of nowhere. This is where she could make bacon and scrambled eggs for the kids. This is where she could load the dishes into a sleek and dead-quiet dishwasher. This is where she could kiss him goodbye as he stepped out onto the porch. This is where he would return sweaty and sore from having mown the lawn. This is where she would hand him a quenching glass of fizzy drink. This is the radiant-heated ceramic tile floor they could fuck on when the children had gone to the neighbours’.

Time passed. She looked around. Nobody. She put her face up against a hardwood countertop cutting board and inhaled deeply. It smelled of sawdust.

Shower curtains were in a green-coloured aisle denoting bath-ware. They were all tightly wrapped in plastic, like flags given to dead soldiers’ loved ones, and standing on display in neat rows. Boxes-full of every kind and colour of shower curtain. Some had metallic grommets; some were rough hewn, made to look antique, rustic. Heritage hipster shower curtains.

She chose the Madison 14-piece set, a simple white polyester lining with patterned white cotton exterior curtains. There was only a hint of design to them: long horizontal folds of parallel lines that would bend into flowing curves when hung. She also picked out a new rubber stopper for the bathtub. The old one was cracked and shrunken and leaked. She always had to rush through a bath that was supposed to be relaxing. Imagining slow baths without all the water escaping the tub, a legitimate thrill ran through her.

An elderly Chinese clerk in a red apron was manning the till. He had on glasses that seemed to sit very far away from his actual eyes. They were resting just on the edge of his nose, impossibly close to falling off. She wasn’t exactly sure how they were even hanging on, and her mind ached from thinking about it.

The clerk looked up at her from under his glasses while scanning barcodes into a cash register. He looked down again to inspect the copy on the package of curtains through distant lenses. “Vely good quarity,” he said approvingly, nodding and shaking the package at her. “Thank you,” she replied. They cooperated putting her things into a plastic bag, him holding it open while she arranged the curtains and plug into its wide belly. She thanked him again. He nodded solemnly, his kind eyes following her as she walked through both sets of sliding glass doors and back out into the world.