Chapter 1 – When the Trolley Picked Me

Getting out of my car, I grabbed my sweater from the backseat and jumped when something knocked against my driver's side door. It was a shopping cart. I stepped out and scanned the parking lot, fuming that someone had left it to roam free. I examined my driver's side door and was relieved that there wasn't a scratch. Swinging the metal basket around, I gripped the handle, but not before I'd glimpsed the name there. In bold black lettering it read,

Earth Trolley

I looked at the strip of small shops beside the grocery store, Huey's Market. I'd never heard of any shop called 'Earth Trolley'. It sounded treehugger-ish.

"Lyn!" The voice came from behind as I pushed the cart to the entrance of the market. I turned to see who was calling my name. There sat an old man on a powered wheelchair. He was bald with little wisps of white hair around his ears. I'd never seen him before.

He looked up at me, lifting his sleeved arm. "The other side is caught under the wheel. Can you untangle it?"

For a split second, I considered ignoring him. He couldn't be talking to me. There must be another Lyn around. Yet, I didn't see anyone. I turned the cart and approached the powerchair.

"I hope it doesn't have oil from the wheel on it," continued the old man. He seemed to expect that I was going to help him. "You didn't bring the other jacket, did you?"

It was at that point I began to question whether he was right in the head. Still, I could see half his knit coat was stuck under his little vehicle. I hesitated to put my hands near the wheel.

"My foot's nowhere near the pedal, Lyn. We'd better not turn it off, though. It's been giving fits all week. It might not start up again." His familiar way of speaking to me was startling.

"Excuse me, but – Do I know you?"

His eyes grew wide, and I watched the color drain from his wrinkled cheeks. "Lyn?" He reached over and touched my arm. I didn't pull away because the way he did it was so kindly. I felt his concern. This poor old man wasn't dangerous, just delusional. "It's me, sweetheart. Jim. Are you all right?"

"I'm all right," I told him, aware now that I ought to get this stranger's jacket out from under his tire and figure out who he belonged to. I shook my head, using the cart to balance myself as I squatted to settle onto my haunches. I heard the cart roll slightly as I let go, but not before I saw my head reflected in the shiny chrome piece covering the tire of the old man's chair. I saw short, white curls and a pair of hazel eyes, big as saucers, stare back at me. They were my eyes... with wrinkles.

I stood up again with a start to find myself alone in the parking lot. No old man, no powered wheelchair, no shopping cart. It was the weirdest experience, and my first thought was to grab something inside with caffeine because I was out of it.

I noticed my legs were shaking as I crossed to the doors of the store. A car slowed to a stop to let me pass; and I looked at the driver, wondering if she had seen the strange way I'd been acting just a few minutes before. She gave me a small smile, patiently waiting. I tried to give a friendly acknowledgment, but my heart was racing and my hands didn't seem to want to cooperate. It felt like I'd just missed being in a car wreck; the adrenaline from the impending hit was still flowing through me. But I was fine. Everything was fine. I shook my head and felt irritated with myself for overreacting to a funny daydream.

Inside the door, I noticed one of the carts was by itself, sitting against the wall and turned the wrong direction. So, I pleased my obsessive-compulsive side and aided in uniformity, grabbing the lone, misfit buggy. I placed my purse in the child seat, pushing it forward with my elbows while looking for my list. Once I found it, my hands clamped onto the handle. The lights flickered, and everything was turned around for a minute. I was certain the desk had been on the other side of the entrance, as I cut through an empty cash register aisle to look for a soda. Now I was passing the desk and heading toward produce. This was only my second time in Huey's, so I wasn't sure. I pretended not to be confused and kept going.

"Here, Mom," spoke someone behind me. "Mom, where are you going! Wait!" The tone was insistent; and I peeked around, curious to know what was happening behind me. The woman I saw looked to be in her late thirties. With one hand on her hip and, holding a toddler on her other side, she stared at me. Maybe I should say glared. Then, quicker than I could register the shock, she lifted the kid and plopped her in the seat of my buggy.

"I thought you were going to walk off and leave us," she added, as I almost pulled my fingers away from the handle of the cart, fully convinced I'd taken her buggy by mistake. "You push Jaelyn while I look over my list. I need to get some bananas; I hope they're not too green this time."

I was dumbstruck, looking down at the child leaning over my hands. She raised her big blue eyes to look up at me and smiled. "Nana get a cooo-key?"

I could hardly pull my eyes away from that face. She was cute. And she looked like all the pictures of my little sister, especially around the mouth and chin, when she smiled like that. Her bright blue eyes were the anomaly. Nobody in my family had blue eyes.

"If you wanna get her a cookie, Mom, I'm fine with..." The woman's voice was fading. I had let go of the cart, let go of the handle with the crisp lettering.

Earth Trolley