DAVID BARRINGER


Saturday Rental

"Where are you going to be?"

"I don't know," Cindy said. "Maybe New Releases."

"I'm going to be in Health," said Kate, squeezing Cindy's hand and pointing. "Right over there by the big poster of the Grinch. Got that? Come to me when you're ready."

Cindy trotted off at a half-skip, her Little Mermaid dress swinging. She stopped at the video-game section but moved on when ten-year-old boys in black T-shirts swarmed in. Backing into the main aisle, she bumped into a grownup.

The man knelt and asked if she was okay.

Cindy was frightened by the man's mustache. She saw the cover of the video he held. The picture showed two stiff children who looked scared and were blaming her for it. She nodded quickly to the man and escaped to New Releases.

*

Kate was debating between an exercise video and a yoga video. She held one of each, weighing them.

"Kate, how are you?" a woman asked her.

"I'm . . . fine," Kate stammered.

"Shelley Wilson," the woman explained. "Christine's mom. Last weekend, the girls' soccer game. We brought the oranges."

"Oh, right," Kate said. "I'm sorry, I'm a little out of it. I've been hearing yoga everywhere." Kate appraised the video. "I don't think I can do it in a class. I should be looking for something for the sitter. I talked my husband into a play tonight."

"A play," said Mrs. Wilson. "Good for you."

"Going out for us is usually McDonald's," Kate said.

The two women laughed.

*

Cindy marched up and down the aisle. She stopped when she saw a girl and a boy, high-school kids. They were looking at the kinds of New Releases that she wasn't allowed to watch. Lizzie and Becky and Christine had told her about them.

She knew some were about love, and some were about killing and violence and love.

The girl had big blonde hair and leaned back against the boy's chest.

The girl was chewing gum. The boy hugged her and whispered in her ear. The girl stopped chewing and opened her mouth wide. Cindy waited to see the gum fall out.

It didn't.

"Okay," the boy said. "This is it."

"That one?" the blonde girl whined.

"It's supposed to be great," he said.

They stumbled away, but Cindy kept her eyes on that video. The covers repeated for three rows. She took one down and pretended to be interested in the words. She stared at the picture.

*

Kate and Mrs. Wilson were mocking exercise tapes, reassuring themselves that busts like that inflated with a bike pump.

"The theater," envied Mrs. Wilson.

"Actually," Kate confessed. "I had to bribe Tom to take me. I tried begging, I tried an ultimatum, but they didn't work. So I made him a deal."

"Oh, you didn't," said Mrs. Wilson. "I never thought of that. The garbage disposal hasn't worked for days."

"Try it," said Kate. "He'll be fixing every leaky faucet in the house."

Mrs. Wilson asked if Kate had seen that mysterious man in the Foreign section. Kate scanned the store. Disappointed, she returned to the tapes, but thought about the stranger.

In line were the blonde girl and the boy, exploring each other under their cheap leather jackets. Mrs. Wilson disapproved.

Kate replaced the tapes and set out after her daughter.

Cindy was trotting along with the video under her arm, clicking her jaw as if she were chewing gum.

*

The shelves of Mystery/Suspense blocked Kate's view of New Releases. Every now and then a head of hair popped up.

As she passed Foreign, she chanced a look. A man in a wool sport jacket, charcoal with the chocolate elbow patches, knelt with a copy of Fanny and Alexander in one hand and The French Lieutenant's Woman in the other. His shoes were wingtips, his socks mismatched, two slightly different dull argyles, and the dark curly hairs on his ankles were showing. She stared at the corner of his mustache and tried to imagine his eyes. She wrote him off as cavalier and moody.

At the end of the aisle, Mrs. Wilson gave her the thumbs-up. To have Mrs. Wilson give her the thumbs-up was definitely a mixed signal. How could Kate have gone to college, gotten married, had kids, and somehow still arrived at a period in her life when her deepest clumsiest desires were transparent to a soccer mom in a teddy-bear sweatshirt and stirrup pants?

Shaken, Kate checked for surveillance cameras. Instead, she found convex mirrors. She marked the time and how late it was and charged back to Health.

*

Rocking heels to toes, Cindy tried to appear interested in Cher, Jane Fonda, Victoria Principal, and Rodney Yee. Next to this section was Sports. Cindy saw a hairy leg and a soccer ball. Intrigued, she skipped toward it.

Suddenly, the shelves were eclipsed by the unbuttoned flaps of her mother's overcoat.

"Where've you been?"

"I've been here, Mommy. Waiting for you."

"We're late," Kate snapped, then regretted it. "Mommy's a little frantic, Honey. Let's see what you got."

Cindy held up the generic video case that revealed only the movie's title.

"Double Burning?" Kate asked. "I've never heard of this."

Back at New Releases, Cindy pointed proudly to the three rows of video cases each showing a nightgowned woman kissing a three-piece-suited man in front of a burning mansion, both hiding pistols behind their backs.

"My God, Cindy. I don't even know if I'm allowed to watch this."

"Yes, you are, Mom. This is only R. Christine says adults can even watch X."

"You are not watching this."

"Adults can watch XX. Adults can watch XXX."

"Pick something else."

"Lizzie and Becky and Christine got to watch it."

"I highly doubt that, young lady."

"They did, they did. They said—"

"If you don't pick another one, you'll get nothing."

"Fine," Cindy pouted. "Nothing."

"You've got two minutes," Kate said.

Cindy stomped up the aisle. She stomped over a gum wrapper, turned around and stomped back over it, turned around to stomp it again, but found it had disappeared. She plunked down and pulled her shoe close to her face. Her laces were threaded with colored beads, and a kinetic light in the heel flickered as she picked at the gum.

"You're going to get run over if you keep setting up camp out here," said the man with the mustache. He knelt down and, with one sweep of his hand, removed the gum. Cindy was impressed but kept her bottom lip sticking out in case her mom showed up.

"Thank you," Kate said, in a rush of breath.

"It's the movies," assured the man. "Too many choices."

"I hope she hasn't disturbed you."

"Not at all."

The man stroked Cindy's hair and smiled at Kate.

Kate smiled back. His eyes were blue. Dark hair and blue eyes. She touched her hair and felt a giggle forming. To her dread, she found herself saying, "We're going out. My husband. A play."

"Wonderful," the man said.

Kate was thinking, Stupid stupid stupid.

"Mama Mia?" he asked.

"Yes," Kate said, revived. "And this little one wants to come. So I told her she could get a video."

Since her pouting lip wasn't getting the attention it deserved, Cindy scrambled up and sprinted into Foreign. Kate and the man caught up to her as she located Fanny and Alexander.

"If I can't watch what I want, then I guess I'll have to watch this," Cindy said.

The man put his hands on Cindy's shoulders. He smiled at Kate.

Kate thought to check for a wedding band, but the placement of his hands distracted her. They were large and white and covered her daughter's shoulders. They seemed to be making a claim, striking a deal.

Kate saw the three of them monitored in the ceiling's convex mirror. He was probably divorced. Or holed up in a single apartment watching movies while the divorce was winding down. He might be treating himself to what he might later excuse as a "phase."

"Mommy?"

Kate closed her eyes, trying to conjure another version of herself, except she had no idea what she was looking for.

"Patience," said the man. "It's okay."

Here was a man, cavalier in a woolly sport coat, making a cinematic show of deferring to her authority. This wasn't supposed to be real. This little scenario of imagined flirtation. Something in this situation compromised her. She blamed him. He ruined it. Even if Mrs. Wilson had signaled her pre-approval.

"All right, Cindy," Kate said, reaching for her daughter's hand. "Let's leave this poor man alone and go get the movie Lizzie and Becky liked."