“Uh, excuse me?”
Amber flagged down the nearest worker in the store.
“Yes…how can I help?” he asked, scripted. He already knew the question. It was asked a thousand times today, and would be asked a thousand times tomorrow. He cringed before she got out a single syllable.
“I heard you were carrying Sparkling North?”
“Uh…yeah,” he had his speech ready to go. “We are sold out for now, unfortunately.”
“Oh my god…see I told you!” Amber looked back to her husband.
Mhm was the closest thing to a word she got back.
“Yeah.” the associate continued. “We are waiting for more from the vendor. Went way quicker than we expected. We will get it back though, at some point.”
“Wow,” she said. She stared at him with distant eyes. An insignificant let-down amongst far greater ones. Or it should have been.
He couldn’t help but feel a little bad for her, as strange as it was for something as mundane as sparkling water.
“I’m sorry.” he said.
“Oh, it’s not your fault. I just used to drink it as a little girl. Haven’t really seen it since. It just reminds…well, I’ll just check back.”
There was something in the way she turned. The fading yellows on her summer dress caught just enough in the twirl to dance in the rays of light coming through the windows at the front of the store. Then they went back to their muted, over-washed selves.
“Let me see something real quick,” he said and darted off into the back of the store.
“Oh, Jesus.” Amber’s husband said. “You’re makin’ him run around for fucking sparkling water?”
“Yes. Come on, we don’t have time for something we don’t need.”
He carried the twelve pack of pilsner up towards the register. She followed, not wanting to have this be another meaningless hill to die on.
“Ma’am!” the associate ran up to catch them before they checked out. There was one bottle in his hand, pear shaped, small blueberries on the front, just like it had always been.
She didn’t dare show any excitement now.
“Here,” he said. “I was saving one to try it out, but we will get more. I’ll keep one from whenever the next shipment comes.”
“Eh, it’s fine,” he said. “All yours.”
Then he walked back to where he was stocking boxes above the aisle before she could say any more. Her husband had been keeping an eye on him ever since he ran up. It was best to just get back to work.
Amber looked back at her husband who was already shaking his head.
“It’s just one bottle,” she said. “I’ll pay for it.”
“Get in line.” he said, waving his hand towards the register, balancing the beer in the other.
When they got home, she didn’t even wait to put it in the fridge.
She sat at their white fiberboard table in the kitchen and twisted the top off. The first sip. Still hints of cold from the store’s cooler. A tiny burst of blueberry, so small it was almost lost in the fizz gathering at the back of her nose. Her eyes watered as it tickled on the way down.
The plaster eggshell wall of the kitchen looked peach to her in the setting sun outside. It was just like the old house. Mom was in the kitchen, Dad somewhere in the living room. Amber could smell the garlic on the bread toasting in the oven. The ravioli her sister helped mom stuff was already in the pot, bubbling heat through the whole house. Amber. She could still hear her mother’s voice. Like Snow White telling a story to the songbirds. Amber. She never thought that before she passed, but now it’s how she remembered it. Like a stream curling around the outside of the kitchen over smooth pebbles.
“Amber!” her husband called her again from the other room. “You gonna sit there or make dinner?”
She looked down at the empty bottle, the little blueberries peeling from the sweat on the glass. The plaster wall returned, colorless in front of her.
He was right. It was just fucking sparkling water.