WESTBROOK, ME—Once, perhaps very many years ago, the enraged 42-year-old woman currently berating a Hannaford supermarket cashier over the price of a package of Kozy Shack rice pudding was a buoyant, free-spirited youth, bystanders imagined Thursday.
"No, no, that isn't the right price; the six-pack is $3.29, not $4.29," said the tired-looking woman, whom onlookers could almost picture as a fresh college graduate in the summer of 1992—spirited, fun-loving, and too easygoing to get all riled up over a difference of $1.00. "Run it through again. Something like this happens every time I shop here, and I'm sick of it. This is totally unacceptable."
"They said it was $3.29 in the circular," the woman hissed as those around her tried to visualize in her place the younger woman who no doubt would have just let the matter drop instead of upbraiding a minimum-wage-earning clerk. "That's the only reason I came."
Express-line sources speculated that the vicious dispute, which at press time had entered its second minute, would have been unthinkable to the woman during her freewheeling early 20s, when her main concerns were probably as simple as which friends to hang out with that night, and whether to meet them at a bar or a restaurant.
Onlookers guessed that in those blissful days, before two decades of adulthood stresses had beaten her into submission, she never would have become so emotionally invested in the price of a 4-ounce snack cup, especially if what she was saving amounted to little more than pocket change.
"Whatever it was that did this to her, I suspect it happened in the past 10 to 15 years," said local resident Erica Mayfield, noting the presence of a small child tugging at the woman's arm and pleading for a sleeve of green-apple Mentos. "To think that those angry, exhausted eyes probably once gleamed with the fire of youth, unencumbered by responsibility, or fear, or regret. And then something just doused the fire forever, I guess."
"I bet she used to laugh a lot," Mayfield added as the woman began pointing her finger angrily in the cashier's face. "Once, long ago."
As the confrontation dragged on, shoppers in the rapidly lengthening line continued their attempts to envision the former life of the woman, who had by then shifted gears toward trying to get the clerk to honor a recently expired buy-one-get-one-free coupon printed from the Internet.
"Right now I know it's hard to see, but somewhere buried deep beneath that world-weary exterior I bet there's a girl who once drove 100 miles in an open-back jeep and stood in line overnight for concert tickets," supermarket patron Keith Woodacre said. "And even though back in those days she probably didn't have much money to spend, the injustice of getting overcharged a few cents here or there likely wouldn't have ended with her completely losing it in front of a few dozen strangers."
"It really makes you stop and appreciate the precious youth you've been granted," he continued. "Because one day you could wake up and half your life is over and you've become this person who is stirred to passionate argument by rice pudding."
Despite her appeals falling on deaf ears, the woman reportedly attempted to state her case one last time, pausing first to adjust the drab, bulky sweater she presumably wouldn't have fathomed wearing in public 20 years ago.
"I don't care what your screen says, because the Kozy Shack is on sale for $3.29," the woman said. "This is why people go around the corner to Family Dollar, you know that? Nobody likes this place."
"A bunch of imbeciles they have working here," she added. "And it's been like this for years."
As the entire market pictured how her smiling, carefree 22-year-old self would have looked confidently walking away, the fuming woman then snatched the receipt from the cashier's hand, jerked her pocketbook over her shoulder, and stormed off toward the manager's office.