Genevieve waved her hands back and forth twice under the hand-sanitizer machine and then went and looked around the back of it to see if something was broken.
“I think it’s broken,” she said, “or they ran out or something — in which case, they’re doing a pretty bad job at helping out right now.” She waved one more time for good measure.
“Uh-huh?” I said. I was thumbing around on my phone and sort of listening, swiping through text messages from my family and reminding myself to get back to them later. “What do you need again?
“Turmeric pills.” Genevieve walked through the automatic doors and into the front part of the Jean Coutu. I followed her. “Like, capsules, I guess. I need them for my knees.” She spun around and then pointed over to her right. “They’d be at the back?” I leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
“Yeah,” I said, “Go grab ’em, and I’ll just wait around here, alright?”
When Genevieve left, I sat back against a metal guard rail and looked out at the inside of the store. For the most part, it really didn’t look like anything had changed at all over the past week. Everything was still wide open and brightly lit. Employees were still standing at the tills. People were still walking around with shampoo and bags of candy they could get for two dollars cheaper at the dep down the street. It all seemed almost irresponsible, given the state of things. Not my problem, though, ultimately.
After a minute I did notice something that was actually different. There were no security guards around. Usually, the store had an average of two big Haitian guys in tight uniforms walking around to discourage teenagers from stealing stuff, but I couldn’t see them anywhere I looked. The company must not have been considering them ‘essential employees.’
The luxury cosmetics area was right by the front of the store, so I wandered over into it when I started to get bored of people-watching. None of the employees from there must have been considered super important either because it was basically deserted. I even checked down all the aisles and behind the cash. Nobody.
Eventually, I made it to over to a rack where the store was carrying a bunch of discounted bottles of cologne. There were about fifty of them, and they all had weird names like “Taxi,” or “GENDER ONE.” I picked one just called “Barbershop” up and examined it for a second before I remembered that I actually needed to buy more shaving cream.
I rushed over to the toiletries aisle and grabbed a can, and only there realized that I was still carrying the Barbershop. I stopped and turned the thing over in my hands. I’d never been a cologne kind of guy, but I wasn’t totally opposed to it. And the bottle was only fifteen dollars. I looked back and forth down the aisle and noticed that nobody was there. Or it was free.
Or it was free? Like, if I stole it? I tried to make sense of what my id was telling me. I’d never stolen anything before. The closest I’d ever come was accidentally walking out of a Dollarama with a pack of gum in my pocket, and even then, I’d gone back to return it after. This felt different, though. The situation going on outside in the world made any rules that applied inside the store feel fake and arbitrary, like I could break them as much as I wanted, and everyone would be too preoccupied with their own situation to care. I felt like a rioter in a big crowd of people almost, just in my own sneaky, uncomfortable kind of way.
I picked the tracking tag off the box with my thumbnail and then stuffed it in my pocket and jogged off to find Genevieve.
She was at the back off the store, where she said she’d be, squatting down in front of a shelf full of natural supplements and scanning along them with her finger. When I ran up she stopped and turned to me with a concerned look on her face.
“I don’t see it anywhere,” she said.
“Shit, that sucks.” I squatted beside her and kissed her forehead again. “Hey, you wanna get going? I think we should get going.”
“What?” She stood up. “But we just got here. Can I look for another second?”
I didn’t have another second, though. No one had seen me stash the bottle of cologne away, and there were no cameras and still no guards around as far as I could tell, but for some reason I felt like a clock had started ticking the second I took the tag off the thing.
So, I made a split-second decision and started making my way to the exit of the store. I grabbed a bag of skittles to make myself look less shifty; paid for them awkwardly with one hand while I used the other to stuff my pocket and hide the cologne; and then breathed a long, hard sigh of relief once I made it out the door. Genevieve ran out after me and then bent over with her hands on her knees, panting.
“What the fuck?” She said. “What was that? Are you all good?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” I took the Barbershop out of my pocket and held it up in the light. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to hide this thing in my pocket, and the store was making me nervous, I guess, so I wanted to leave.”
“What?” Genevieve came over a bit closer and squinted. “What is that?”
“Cologne!” I said. I took the bottle out of the box and sprayed my neck a couple of times with it, trying to remember how I’d applied Axe Body Spray in middle school. “You like it?” Genevieve leaned in and sniffed.
“Ugh. God, no.” She covered her nose. “You stole that? It smells like my uncle.”
And just that second, a guy who must have been six foot seven and whose hair must have been, like, half that length shoved open the door of the SAQ next to us and walked out. He stopped right beside me.
“Hey, check this out, motherfucker,” he said, and then pulled open the waistband on the huge sweatpants he was wearing and produced a two-six of Smirnoff vodka.
“Oh,” I said.
“Hahaa, yeah,” he laughed. “You know what’s up.” He unscrewed the cap, took a sip, and then dapped up another guy at the corner of St. Marc and St. Catherine and walked down into an alley with him.
Genevieve and I stood still, not really knowing what to say for a second. I coughed.
“Do you wanna go to Pharmaprix?”