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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 3

"Shopping Hell"

written by

Judy Lunsford

We enter the store and I take a deep breath to keep myself from getting stressed out.

The flickering of the fluorescent lights overhead immediately starts throwing off my balance.

Charlie leans his furry body against me to show me that he knows that I need him already. He lets me know he’s there for me.

The sounds are overwhelming. Voices everywhere, the beeping of the registers, the loud rushing of air and hum from the AC units, there's beeping coming from an oven timer over in the bakery section. Music drones on overhead. I can’t tell what song it is because there is too much other noise. My ears can’t decipher one sound from the next anymore. In a rush, my hearing goes to a point of uselessness.

All of this affects my balance.

Charlie, my service dog, presses his side tight up against me. He looks back at me to check how I am. I pat his back to let him know I’m okay.

Just a few items and we’re out of here.

Just a few minutes.

Pretend to be invisible.

The door monitor stares at us as we enter, he gives Charlie a look of disapproval. Even though I have him clearly marked with a vest saying he’s a service dog.

I can do this.

I feel like crap today, but there are a few must-have items that I couldn’t go without any longer. I grab a shopping cart and point it in the direction I need to go.

I hear the shrill squeal of a child cutting through the droning jumble of noise.

“Can I pet your dog?” a child bounds towards us from the check-out line.

I sigh.

“Go ahead,” I say. “But he’s working, so we have to go.”

The child coos at Charlie and he patiently allows her to pet him and scratch him behind the ears.

“What kind of dog is he?” she asks.

“He’s a Giant Schnauzer mix,” I say.

“I’ve never heard of a Giant Schnauzer,” she says, still petting him.

Thankfully, her mother calls her away. She says goodbye and runs off.

“Come on, Charlie,” I say.

We head towards the back of the store.

People stare. People glare. People look at Charlie with interest or disapproval. People whisper to him and wave at him.

Charlie ignores them.

We’re not even halfway across the store before we encounter another one.

“Can I pet your dog?”

“Sure,” I sigh.

I check my watch. We’ve already been in the store for five minutes and I haven’t even gotten to the first item I need.

I rattle off answers to the barrage of questions.

“He’s a Giant Schnauzer mix.”

“He’s had thousands of hours of training.”

“Yes, we feed him dog food.”

“I’m sorry, but we really have to go.”

The woman stares at me like I’ve been totally rude and stalks off.

Just before we get to the back of the store, one more.

“Can I pet your dog?”

I just can’t do it. I have to get out of here. I’m going to vomit from the flickering lights.

“I’m sorry, but he’s working.”

“I saw you let someone else pet him,” the man glared at me angrily.

“We really need to go.”

“Bitch.” He stalks off.

“Whatever,” I mutter.

We manage to get a couple of items before Charlie alerts me.

“I know,” I say as I crouch down next to him, using the cart to shield us from the traffic on the aisle.

I wait for the feeling of vertigo and the wave of nausea to pass. Charlie signals me that it’s safe to stand.

But I need to get my things and get out of here. I’m never going to make it home if I can’t get out of here soon.

“Can I pet your dog?”

“No,” I say through the cart. “He’s working and I’m not feeling well.”

The child starts to pout.

“Mommy, she won’t let me pet the dog,” the child whines.

“Just let her pet your dog,” the woman commands me.

“No,” I say. “He’s working.”

Charlie helps me to my feet.

“If you don’t want people to pet your dog, maybe you shouldn’t bring him into a store,” she says as she grabs her child and walks away.

The crying child looks back at us and wipes the tears from her eyes.

Another woman walks past and stares at me with disapproval.

“Shame on you for making a child cry,” she scolds.

I ignore her, quietly get to my feet, and Charlie and I continue down the aisle.

It’s best not to engage.

Two more items and we can get out of here.

We make it to the pharmacy section.

“Can I pet your dog?” a voice asks from behind us.

“No, I’m sorry,” I say. “He’s working and we’re in a hurry.”



Charlie looks up at me and wedges himself between me and the cart.

“He doesn’t want to be pet right now,” I say, in the nicest voice I can muster. “He’s working.”


The person walks away.

I grab what I need and decide that the last item is not truly necessary. I feel too much like crap to deal with this place anymore. We head to the check-out area.

“Can I pet your dog?”

Oh. My. God. Just. Leave. Us. Alone.

“I’m sorry, we’re in a hurry,” I say.

“You’re mean,” the teenager says.

I sigh. I just need to get out of here.

I go over to the self-check and start to ring up my purchases.

Charlie starts to try to wedge himself between me and the check-out machine.

I turn to see two children reaching over his body and grabbing at his ears.

“Please, leave him alone,” I say. “He doesn’t want to be pet.”

“All dogs want to be petted,” the boy says.

“No, they don’t,” I say.

Charlie tries to get away from the children by wedging himself between me and the shopping cart.

“Leave him alone,” I say.

The cashier walks over and asks the children to go back to their mother.

“Thank you,” I say to him.

“My sister-in-law has a service dog,” he says. “I get it.”

I just smile warily and finish my transaction.

I take my bag and lead Charlie towards the door.

“Can I pet your dog?”

I just ignore the voice and keep walking.

Charlie and I make it out to the car. I let Charlie into his seat and then load up my things. I climb into the driver’s seat and sit there, waiting for the dizziness from the lights and noise to fade.

I cry for a few minutes, trying to decompress from the overwhelm.

Charlie whimpers in the back because he can’t get to me.

I wipe my eyes and start the engine.

It’s over. I can go home.

Born and raised in California, Judy now lives in Arizona with her husband and Giant Schnoodle, Amos. She is a former library clerk and struggles with a chronic illness and is a cancer survivor. Judy writes mostly fantasy, but occasionally delves into other genres. She has written books and short stories for all ages. She likes playing RPG’s and drinking lots of coffee.

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