Old Fred Travers lived in the mobile home park across the roadway from the supermarket where I worked. He’d come in almost every day to either shop for groceries, or just drink coffee and read the newspapers.
I asked him once why he didn’t have coffee at home. He said, “When you get to be my age (he was around 75), you find that you don’t want to spend every waking moment with your wife, even if you do still love her.” Millie, his wife, was close to the same age.
I just smiled and nodded, and then left him to his reading.
On the day it ended for Fred, I was sitting at one of the tables next to the Starbucks’ kiosk in our store, sipping a coffee. Yeah, I know I should have been hanging out in the employee lounge, but I had planned to take only a five minute break. But that’s when I heard a woman shout from one of the aisles, “Oh, my God!”
I got up to see what was going on.
A crowd of both workers and customers had already gathered, forming an impenetrable wall of bodies, each looking down at something on the floor. Because I’m short, I couldn’t see what it was, but suddenly, a thought hit me. Oh, God! Has someone slipped and fallen? One of my jobs was to sweep the floors and clean up any spills. If a person slipped and fell, management might try to blame me!
Turning to Judy, one of the cashiers who was standing at the rear of the crowd, I asked, “What happened?”
“It’s Fred Traverse!” she exclaimed. “I think he’s having a heart attack!”
Oh, no, not Fred, I thought! I always kind of considered Fred as a sort of surrogate grandfather, even though I still had both of mine.
My stomach dropped as I thought about what might happen to Millie if he died.
It didn’t take long for the EMTs to arrive. After they did their thing, giving Fred oxygen and hooking him up to a couple of bags of clear liquid, they took him away on a gurney. I hope he’s going to be alright, I thought with a heavy heart, and went back to my duties. That day, I was a bagger and a stocker.
The next day when I arrived at work, I didn’t even have to ask any questions to know what must have happened; everyone’s face was colored with sadness. Fred Travers had died. For the rest of the day, I walked around with a heavy weight pressing on my shoulders. When I asked about a funeral, I was told that Millie was going to have him cremated, and that there would be no funeral.
Over the next two weeks, tears would sometimes gather in the back of my eyes whenever I’d pass the table where Fred usually sat. Then on Monday, I saw Millie enter the store, pushing a cart and looking as if she was talking to someone . . . except there was no someone! And that’s when it hit me. Millie must think she’s talking to Fred. I didn’t try interrupting her. Instead, I left her to her shopping, while I went back to my duties.
Ten minutes later, I saw her emerge from one of the aisles, her shopping cart half-full. She was once again talking to someone who wasn’t there. I just smiled, and thought to myself: I hope I go before I get to the point where I end up talking to people who aren’t there.
Then about a week later, I spotted one of our shopping carts moving slowly by itself down one the aisles. Oh, my God, I thought! I better stop it before it hits someone! But just as I’m about to grab the handle, it stopped. That’s when I watched in awe as a two-pack of deodorant toppled off the shelf and into the cart’s metal basket.
Shocked, I just stood there, watching as the cart started up again, and continue the rest of the way down the aisle, then turned left when it got to the end. It took me several seconds before I could move myself; at which point, I trotted to the end of the aisle, then turned left, as well. Immediately, I spotted the cart several yards away, still rolling by itself.
Amazed that no one had spotted it, I finally caught up to the cart, and grabbed its handle to stop it from going any further. Standing there feeling both foolish and slightly freaked, I looked around to see if anyone had noticed the cart or me. When I realized no one had, I turned the cart around, and went back down the same aisle, where I put the two-pack of deodorant back on the shelf. From there, I pushed the now empty cart back outside and left it with all the other carts.
But even before going back inside, I asked myself—could that have been Fred’s ghost making the cart move by itself? No, that was stupid, I thought, until three days later when I saw another one of our carts moving by itself.
Once again, I hurried to stop it, but this time, after bringing it outside, and putting it in with the rest of the carts, I whispered to the air around me, “Fred, you’ve got to stop this mischief. You’re going to scare the heck out of everyone.”
Obviously, he didn’t listen to me, because twice more after that, I found one of our carts moving by itself. So, one day after my shift ended, I went across the street and had a talk with Millie, explaining to her what was happening. She admitted that she had been talking to her dead husband’s spirit. I said to her almost the same thing I had said to Fred. “You’re going to have to stop him from going into the store and moving the carts. Otherwise, he’s going to scare the heck out of everyone.” She promise she would.
Then Millie did something I hadn’t expected. She started showing up in the store, just about every day. She’d sit in the same chair where Fred had sat, sipping on a cup of coffee, and with the daily newspaper open on the table in front of her. From the beginning, I saw her, wait a little bit before turning each page. It didn’t take me long to figure out what she was doing. She was letting Fred’s spirit read each page before going on to the next.
Now that’s what you call eternal love!