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The Shopper

Sarah Pazur


roll over and check the text: Steve C just started shopping—we’ll let you know if any item replacements need your approval.

Ugh, a male shopper. Now I’m going to have to be tied to this phone the whole time.

I am hungover. The sort of hangover that is the difference between two and three bottles of wine. Two, general malaise. Three, headache and cottonmouth. I check the time: 9:18. I immediately regret placing the order.

Steve C, your Instacart Shopper: The store does not have the requested product, Simple Truth Organic Basil

Btw my name is Steve if you need anything I’m here to help <smiley face emoji>

Hi Steve! Thanks

Hi No problem <smiley face emoji>

I’m already annoyed they don’t have basil. I had plans to make lasagna.

The store does not have the requested product, La Brea Bakery Take & Bake Rustic Ciabatta Loaf. Would you like a replacement?

Sure any Take and Bake bread . . .

Thank you <hands praying emoji>

Picture of Take and Bake Talera rolls

Ok great . . . I got you . . . eyes & ears in here lol <wink face emoji>

Eyes and ears in here? What does he mean? I yank the charger cord out of my phone and sit up in bed.

Steve C replaced: La Brea Bakery Take & Bake Rustic Ciabatta Loaf

I get up and head to the bathroom. I bare my teeth in the mirror to check if they’re stained from the wine. They look slightly grey through my mouth guard.

The store does not have the requested product, Private Selection Wild Caught Jumbo Lump Crab Meat. Would you like a replacement? Been out of stock for some time

How does he know it’s been out of stock? Who is he talking to? I was embarrassed I even added $29.99 lump crab meat to my cart in the first place. What kind of asshole orders that? I plead with Steve in my head, Just refund it and move on.

Picture of Alaska Delights Wild Alaska Pollock Surimi Seafood

No that’s ok. I can skip it

Only thing I see that’s not imitation

I finish brushing my teeth and swish with whitening mouthwash counting backwards from 60. I look in the mirror again and my teeth are still grey.

Ok no problem

Steve C refunded: Private Selection Wild Caught Jumbo Lump Crab Meat

It is the day before Christmas Eve and I have a lot of cooking to do this week. I head to the kitchen and remember I never wrapped up the leftover pizza and salad from last night. I smell the yellowing ranch cup before I catch sight of it on the stove. I am nauseated.

The store does not have the requested product, Kowalski Natural Casing Polish Kielbasa. Would you like a replacement?

Picture of Kowalski Smoked Sausage

The Kowalski is great!

I told my son Eli I would make him a Polish dinner—kielbasa, pierogi, sauerkraut, kluski. He’s probably on his way home now. I look at the clock on the stove and imagine him driving on the Ohio turnpike. I’m surprised he hasn’t texted me to say he’s on his way.

Ok great.

Steve C replaced: Kowalski Natural Casing Polish Kielbasa

Eli said he was going to make the trip from Pittsburgh in a single four-hour stretch, not stop to go to the bathroom or get gas. He planned to avoid all contact. I wonder if he changed his mind about traveling. I spot four empty red wine bottles near the side door that are meant for recycling and feel slight relief at the idea of him staying at school.

The store does not have the requested product, Donkey Chips Tortilla Chips, Authentic, Salted. Would you like a replacement?

Unsalted is available only one bag left

Ok I’ll take unsalted

Unless you have another preferred brand

Goddammit. I take the pizza box with two hardened slices inside and try to stuff it into a full wastebasket. Something leaks down the side of the trash can. If I bend down to wipe it up I will throw up, so I leave it alone.

Ok great

Steve C replaced: Donkey Chips Tortilla Chips, Authentic, Salted.

I start to feel bad for being so annoyed. He’s clearly trying. The store is probably packed with shoppers and their lists, barreling through the aisles trying to get the last ingredients they need for Christmas dinner.

No that’s good I can salt those boys myself <smiley face emoji>

<Laughing face emoji>

Picture of dried basil

I actually need fresh for a recipe so if they don’t have that I can skip it

But thanks

Ok no problem

What are you making ?

I always loved watching people in line at the grocery store unload their shopping carts. As they placed items on the belt I would invent scenarios for them in my head. I can’t recall the last time I was at the grocery store. I imagine the cart, my cart, with all of my items, the bread, cheese, sausage, tortilla chips, staring back at him while he rolls down the aisle checking his phone. Couldn’t he figure out what I’m making if he wanted to? Has he invented my story yet?


Sounds yummy <drooling face emoji>

The store does not have the requested product, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. Would you like a replacement?

Picture of Redi Wipes

Ok I’ll take those!

The store does not have the requested product, Glade Holiday Pine Wonderland Candle. Would you like a replacement?

Picture of shelves lined with blue, pink, cream, and red Glade candles.

I really don’t need another pine candle. Such a sad substitute for a Christmas tree.

Any of these to your liking?

No thank you but if they have the Mrs Meyers Pine candles I’ll take two of those instead.

Steve C refunded: Glade Holiday Pine Wonderland Candle

I’m trying to wait until these fresh chickens come out so you can have one, I’m just looking around to see where other items could be for you! <Wink face emoji>

Thanks for trying, I really appreciate it!

I look around the kitchen for my purse to see if I have any cash for an extra tip. I mean, he’s waiting on fresh chickens, I tell myself. He doesn’t have to do that. I pull out a twenty from my wallet and dig around for a pen. I spot a box of holiday cards I ordered a month ago when I had good intentions of sending them out. Next year, I vow. I grab the cards off the top of the refrigerator. I struggle with peeling off the clear stickers that secure either side of the plastic box top, my hands trembling. Fuck it. I rip open the box and pluck out an envelope. I imagine myself writing out cards next December and coming up short one envelope.

I’m looking for the Murray’s Sharp White Cheddar Cheese. Only 1 was available, however they did have individual wrapped that they cut and wrap here.

Picture of a block of Murray’s Sharp White Cheddar

That’s great. I’m using it for mac and cheese so gotta have the good stuff!

Would you like two more of these ?

Yes please

Cool . . . making me hungry lol

<Smiley face emoji>

You’re seriously the best shopper!

Don’t make me smile <blush face emoji>


Steve C has checked out. We’ll send you an update when your order is on the way.

I stuff the twenty dollar bill in the envelope and scribble “Thanks, Steve!” on it then head to the front door. I realize I am braless, still wearing a ridiculous men’s oversized Red Wings T-shirt and soccer shorts. All told, I probably only owned one proper pair of pajamas in my adult life. When I see pajamas that I like online, I never pull the trigger and order them. I want to be a pajama person, but I somehow always end up with old t-shirts and shorts.

I’m barefoot but open the front door anyway and step out on the porch, working quickly. A blast of cold air hits me and stings. I put the envelope on top of the mailbox along with my ID for the alcohol. I hurry back in, shut and lock the door. I close the shade to the large bay window that overlooks the front porch.

Your Kroger order is on the way!

Delivery estimate is ~11:00am

Your Kroger order will arrive shortly! This order includes alcohol, so please have your ID ready for age verification. For safety, we also ask all shoppers and customers to wear masks at the time of delivery.

A car rumbles in the driveway. I hear a car door slam.

Hi I’m outside . . . Thank you for using Instacart! Please leave me a review. Have a great day!

—Steve C

I stand still in the living room facing the front door. Steve C’s on the other side of the door walking to and from his car, placing bag after bag on the porch. I hear the clink of wine bottles and lower-pitched thuds of canned goods, then nothing.

Will do! I left my ID and an xtra tip for you on the mailbox

Ok awesome thank you <blush face emoji>

He grabs the envelope off the mailbox.

If you can just come to the door so I can see your face to match with ID, I had an incident previously don’t want that to happen to me again

My heart quickens a little bit. An incident? I picture a group of high schoolers ordering a liter of cheap alcohol to be delivered to someone’s house one afternoon, maybe a half day of school. Maybe they stole someone’s mom’s ID from her purse, placing it outside on the mailbox, slipping it back into her purse before she noticed. I imagine Steve C approaching the porch with two bags of alcohol and mixers. Vodka, Mountain Dew. Did he know?

Maybe he invited himself in. Can I join you? <smiley face emoji?> When the girls puked it up on the basement floor, did the mom demand to know who bought it, calling all of her daughter’s friends until it came out: we got it on Instacart. No, they didn’t make us come to the door. The shopper’s name was Steve C.

I can’t possibly open the door looking like this and without my mask. It also occurs to me that I have been placing delivery orders of alcohol for months and haven’t been asked to come to the door.

I pull back the shade and see a man standing on the porch looking down at his phone, my driver’s license resting on top of it. I tap on the window and wave. He’s wearing a black jacket and brown ski hat. He nods and smiles and holds up my ID. I shout thanks through the window and close the shade again. I listen for footsteps back to his car, the door slamming.

My cell phone vibrates again. I pick it up from the coffee table where I left it.

You and your family have a happy holiday. You do have a great personality.

I hear his car still running. He hasn’t left the driveway yet. I imagine him staring down at his phone, waiting on my reply.

Great personality! I laugh to myself. That thing you say about someone who isn’t attractive. I think back to the time a high school boyfriend told my sister that he wished he could mash my personality with another girl’s looks, then he would have the perfect girlfriend. I never cared that he said that. It made me feel interesting, somehow proof I wasn’t shallow or vapid.

I hear the car still running. I start typing thank you but decide against it. I settle on You too!

I hear the faint rumble of the engine grow fainter as he reverses out of the driveway then drives down the street, out of sight.


Sarah Pazur