Part 3, Chapters 22 Summary
The supermarket in Blacksmith is full of elderly people looking lost and confused, like inmates walking aimlessly through institutional corridors. Gladney pushes Wilder in a cart, and the boy is captivated by the brightly colored items practically screaming at them from the shelves.
The addition of a butcher’s corner and a bakery is exciting for all of them, and the other exciting news is why the market is full of shoppers: heavy snow is on its way. Roads will soon be impassable, so everyone must stockpile their supplies before it is too late. He sees his friend Siskind with a Teflon skillet under his arm, talking to five shoppers and awkwardly taking notes.
Siskind tells Gladney that he is thankful for Gladney’s help in the “Elvis Presley power struggle,” but it turns out his efforts were unnecessary since Cotsakis (Suskind’s rival for the Elvis program) died in the ocean in Malibu. As soon as Siskind heard the news, he immediately came here to grocery store to take notes. Gladney is suddenly and acutely aware of the sights and sounds around him.
Siskind asks about the family; everyone is back in school and Steffie is no longer wearing her protective mask. He then asks Gladney how he is, a confusing question. He diverts the conversation to Cotsakis’ death, although Gladney did not really know him, remarking at how big (physically) the man was and now he is dead.
Gladney and Wilder continue shopping, and Gladney admires the boy’s ability to find pleasure in fleeting things and then immediately forget them. Gladney envies his son that gift. Although houses always begin to show signs of neglect, the supermarket, “well-stocked, musical, and bright,” only gets even better.
Gladney takes Babette to her posture class tonight and they both note that the sunset has “become unbearably beautiful.” They used to last five minutes; now they last for an hour. The only thing they know of that might account for this phenomenon is the Nyodene Derivative cloud. Vehicles routinely stop to watch the spectacular sunsets, as if the overpass were a scenic lookout.
After class, Babette announces that she has been asked to teach another class: “Eating and Drinking: Basic Parameters.” Gladney says eating and drinking seem too simplistic and basic to require a class, but Babette reminds him that the recommendations about living and food are constantly changing and that adults in particular get confused by them. People need to be reassured by some form of authority about the right and wrong ways of living with food.
In bed that night, Gladney finds silent comfort from lying next to his wife’s warm body. He is determined not to tell her about the death sentence that the computer pronounced over him; he does not want her to be devastated by the fact that he will almost certainly die before she does.