Obviously, the baby was fussy.
“What do you think it is?” the man, apparently the father of the little person wiggling around in a blue, padded stroller in the middle of the electronics section of Target, asked. The woman, apparently the mother, glanced over from her perusal of cell phones to nod in his direction. “I’m not sure. Why don’t you check?”
The man squenched up his nose. Squench — an action that can denote a multitude of emotions, not the least of which are confusion, embarrassment, or the actual or anticipation of smelling something smelly. It’s a technical term.
“I don’t want to check. You check,” he said.
“What do you mean you don’t want to check? It’s not that hard,” she said.
“I’m afraid of what might be in there,” he said, adding a chuckle at the end like he was just kidding but I knew from experience that he probably wasn’t. Poopy, or the mere thought of it, has that effect on some people.
The woman sighed heavily, shifted her purse to the other shoulder, bent over and gingerly peered into the shadows of the toddler’s tiny britches.
“Clean as a whistle,” she said. “I think he’s just gassy again.”
The man squenched up his nose again. The woman turned back to the cell phones.
The baby fussed.
“Do you think he’s hungry?” the man asked, reaching for a green and yellow diaper bag draped over the back of the stroller and pulling out a bottle. He handed it to the little boy, who immediately threw it on the floor.
“He’s not hungry,” the woman said. The tot squealed a little louder as the man picked up the bottle and sighed.
“Do you think he wants to get out of the stroller?” the man asked. “I think he wants to get out of the stroller.”
“Yes, he probably wants to get out of the stroller,” she said.
The man looked around at the crowd mingling in the electronics section, briefly making eye contact with me where I stood, not two feet away looking at phones myself.
“Do you know anyone who has this one?” the woman asked me, pointing to a newfangled model. I told her I didn’t.
“He is such a beautiful little boy,” I said to her and she smiled, looking over her shoulder at the baby squirming in his seat. He was 14 months, she said, and just started walking. Running, actually, she said.
“I think he takes after my husband,” she said. “He hates to shop.” We laughed. A few seconds later an older woman came up behind us and tapped the mother on the shoulder. They hugged. Apparently they knew each other.
“I see you brought the family out,” her friend said, pointing to the man and baby, since retrieved from the confines of his stroller and settled quietly in his father’s arms. They were standing down the aisle in front of the wall of televisions, oblivious to all around them.
“He is so aggravated. He hates to shop,” the woman said.
“Maybe he’s hungry,” her friend said. “It is close to lunch.”
“No, he’s not hungry. He’s just irritable,” the woman said.
“Maybe he just wants to get out of here,” her friend suggested. “You know how they can be.”
“Actually, I think it’s just gas,” the woman said. “He’s very gassy.”
Silence. Her friend looked taken aback. “Oh,” she said. “Oh.”
The two said their good-byes and the woman walked over to the wall of televisions to retrieve her family. The friend lingered for a moment, then turned quietly to me.
“She really shouldn’t be telling people that her husband has gas,” she said. “That’s just not ... it’s not something you do.” Then she turned and left.
I laughed. Out loud. Standing there by myself at the cell phones. A man standing nearby took a few steps farther away from me, his eyes wide at the sight of me laughing at nothing, I suppose. I looked at him, squenched up my nose and smiled. He squenched back.
It’s a technical term.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.