I somehow found myself in a big-box grocery over the weekend, one of those concrete bazaars where every item is sold by the gross—a term which applies equally to premises and patrons. I was talked into going by a relation who had need of a few sundries—nothing that couldn't wait, if you're asking me.
The crowd was tight, surly and pushy. It was the very worst day to be in such a place and perhaps the worst hour, with every shopper seeking what ought to have been sought earlier if at all. The mode of movement in such places is trampling: one tramples others or is himself trampled down. It is simply a riot of people pushing metal carts.
And so with the rest I trampled my way along through the store, displacing others in order to make a place for myself like a microbe in a great teeming pond. Eventually my friend found what she sought along one of the aisles—God knows how—and we more or less made progress toward the exit, pushing and being pushed all the way.
I decided to take a shortcut through the dairy section and found myself in a huge refrigerator piled high with boxes of milk. Exiting the way I came I realized I had lost my companion, but figured she would end up at our car and so decided to make way for the parking lot. And then I noticed the freezer.
It was a separate structure, big as a house, with sides of glass doors through which could be viewed all manner of frozen goods: everything from soups to ice cream and all of it solid as rock. At the narrow end was a doorway covered with transparent plastic strips to keep out the heat of the store. One could see perfectly through the plastic to the rear of the shelves. Above the entry was a sign:
Ten Below Zero
Outside the freezer I saw a little boy, perhaps three or four, seated in a shopping cart. His brother, maybe six, hung on the cart's handle wearing a bored expression. The parents were nowhere to be seen. At any rate, the smaller boy said to his brother, "I want down." He said this twice and, receiving no reply, reached down and gave his brother a slap on the head. The older boy shot the younger one a hard look and without hesitation pushed the cart backward through the plastic barrier of the freezer box. He then departed for warmer weather, leaving the other alone inside.
The difference in temperature had to be about 85 degrees. The boy sat upright, looked around himself and got a look that said 'I'm about to die.' Stuck there in his tee shirt and shorts, he absorbed the wash of frigid air for a few long moments before opening his mouth to shout at the plastic curtains. All I could hear was the whir of the compressors as they pumped more cold over the groceries. I let this go on for a few seconds and then retrieved the grocery cart from the arctic wastes. The little boy said nothing. His brother came over to claim his sibling and the event was done.
I imagine there was some interesting conversation on the ride home that day.