When they had finished scouting the store, Beatrice had her children try on the clothes she would buy them for the year, so they wouldn’t have to wait for dressing rooms later on.
However, Beatrice wasn’t the only one with similar ideas. Even at that hour, the store was clustered with surveyors wandering the aisles and taking the same mental notes–Beatrice thought–on potential item placements, as well as the quickest routes from the door to their locations. By the time the store closed and Beatrice was ready to leave, she had to wait fifteen minutes just to navigate through the crowded parking lot to the street.
The things you do when you can’t afford the things you need to do, Beatrice remembered her grandfather saying, back when she was her own children’s age and he would tell her about bootlegging while growing up. The things you have to do, she thought, the sun setting behind the Wal-Mart and the temperature dropping. Her youngest cuddled up next to his sister, who cuddled up next to her big brother, who cuddled up next to her, their breaths fogging around them. More cars pulled into the lot, their headlights reflecting off the flurries that began to fall, like diamonds suspended in air. So many cars, Beatrice quickly couldn’t see hers across the lot anymore.
With her eldest’s head on her shoulder, she looked down the line of people behind her, their hands in their pockets and their arms tight against their bodies as they shifted from foot-to-foot and breathed foggy breaths. A few updated everyone on how the Lions were up two touchdowns at half, but were now trailing at the start of the fourth. Others talked about the video games they wanted to buy, or the jackets half-off. Others laughed over their hopes a television would still be available once the doors opened, and wouldn’t that be something?
Not if she had any say in it, Beatrice thought, as she listened to their conversations. She looked from the people behind her to people in front, only three of them separating her from the entrance and the four TV’s–only one allowed per customer–inside. Not if she had any say.
By the time they were ready for dinner, Beatrice gave her son a few more dollars and had him again run over to the Carl’s Jr. “Be careful,” she said as her son stepped into the lot. Cars caravaned through, some stopping with a jerk and honking at the people running to get a place in line. Headlight after headlight passed. “This time of year, the whole lot’s filled with nuts,” she said.
As her eldest disappeared into the traffic and thickness of flurries, Beatrice remembered how Christmas used to be when she still had two incomes to pull from. When she didn’t have to give up a whole day to stand in line and hope she got what she needed before someone else got what they did. When her husband still paid his family’s bills, and not those of the family he now supported. As it was, tonight was going to cost Beatrice most of this month’s check. As it was, her and her family were going to be doing more “Breakfast for Dinner” nights than usual. Eggs and toast were cheap.
Her youngest plopped beside her in his brother’s empty chair and buried his face under her arm. “Momma, I’m cold,” he said, and he tried to wrap his arms around her body and the poofiness of her coat. When her eldest came back, he gave everyone their food, even the youngest who said he wasn’t hungry. “Just as good as turkey and stuffing,” Beatrice said, biting into another tender.