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Blue Light Special

Tom couldn't find his regular brand of laundry detergent anywhere in Kmart. Or rather, they had his brand (Tide) but not in liquid form, only in powder. He always bought liquid Tide. He liked the way it smelled, and plus it was what his mom used.

He was absolutely out of detergent, had been for a week, and needed to get laundry done that night. Either that or buy new underwear. Buying new underwear just to put off laundry seemed wasteful. Also, his mom would say you must wash new underwear before wearing it. So he would still need detergent.

Tom looked at the bottles and boxes of other brands. He looked at the boxes of powdered Tide, stacked one atop the other. He picked up a box of powdered Tide and walked to the front registers.

The next day, Tom ran into Jennifer in the office kitchen and tried again to strike up a conversation. A fresh pot of coffee had just begun brewing, dripping slowly, so he had a few minutes' advantage. After the brewing finished and she poured her cup, he expected her to make an excuse and dash back to her desk.

She kept talking.

Later, after they had dated a few months, he learned she had always been allergic to a particular chemical compound used in liquid detergents but not powdered detergents.

* * *

Katy stood in the Housewares area of Kmart, in an aisle of bedding. Stacked before her were sheets arrayed from white to butter yellow to loden green, colors selected by Martha Stewart as suitable for graceful living.

She could buy a set of queen-size sheets with 200 threads-per-inch on sale for $38, including pillowcases. Or, she could buy a set of 250 threads-per-inch sheets for $59. The yellow of the cheaper sheets would not exactly match the guest room, but would be OK. The yellow of the more expensive sheets was perfect. They might last longer also, because of the tighter threads. But were they really worth $21 more?

She held both packages in her hands. She looked at the weave of the fabric to see if she could spot any difference. Then she looked at the sale sign. Then at Martha's smiling face above the shelves. Then at her watch, which said it was already six o'clock.

Katy tossed the 250-count sheets and matching pillowcases into her cart.

That evening, Diane (Katy's mother-in-law) arrived at 9:50. She launched into an hour-long monologue about the traffic on the turnpike and how dangerously people drive, and Katy felt glad for the two precautionary glasses of merlot she had had with dinner. At last Diane retired to the guest room, complaining of a splitting headache.

The next morning, when Diane came downstairs for breakfast she gave Katy a hug good morning, completely out of the blue.

The three days of Diane's visit went by without arguments or further monologues. The two women hugged again as Diane was getting in her car, and Diane blurted out that Katy shouldn't be so formal; she should call her "Mom." Katy realized that she felt sorry she wouldn't see her mother-in-law again until Christmas.

* * *

Laura ran into Kmart to pick up light bulbs and deodorant; makeup was not on her list. But when she passed by the cosmetics aisle she remembered her tube of mascara was becoming dry and clumpy.

As always, she didn't know which color to buy. Brown mascara was too well, brown. It made her look washed-out and sickly. Black mascara looked stark and spidery, giving her eyes a Liza Minnelli quality. She was about to compromise on brown-black when she spotted a new color: auburn. Which must mean reddish brown, like her hair. She dropped the auburn mascara in the basket with the light bulbs and went to look for deodorant.

The next day, Laura opened the mascara and applied it to her eyelashes. Her eyes looked bright, and not made-up. She smiled at her reflection and went out to face the world.

She drove to work alone and didn't run into anyone she knew as she walked from the parking lot to the fourth floor. She spent the first hour answering email. By 10 o'clock, when she headed to the main conference room for her first meeting, Laura had forgotten the new mascara.

A half hour into the meeting, Laura described an idea she had for reducing waste of copy paper. No one interrupted. They listened, and there were murmurs of agreement. An entry was made in the minutes. An action plan was put in place.

Afterward, people stopped by Laura's cubicle on their way to lunch and asked her to join them. Later her boss called her to his office to talk about new plans for "work teams." He wanted her to head the first one. When she got back to her cubicle, she saw that her group's secretary had brought a fax for Laura right to her desk instead of dropping it in her mailbox.

All day, things went right. Everything fell into place.

It wasn't until she arrived home that evening that Laura had even a moment to reflect on the day. What had made this day so good? What was different?

It dawned on her.

Laura slept well that night. When she awoke, she would call in sick. She would spend the day at Kmart, selecting new colors. And then she would take over the world.

Copyright © 2001 Cynthia Closkey