A Thanksgiving Mystery Involving Jell-O (and possibly Pokémon)

We may never know what she wanted.

Last weekend Anna and I were invited to a Friendsgiving party. We forgot it was that day until the day of, so we rushed to the grocery store and stood for a long time in the aisles, arguing about what we would make.

“Let’s just bring a dessert,” I said.

“No!” Anna insisted. “Let’s make roasted vegetables. Desserts just seem so lazy.”

“Why don’t we make a pumpkin pie from scratch, then?” I said.

“Do you not remember what happened with that last year?”

“Oh… yeah,” I said.

”Let’s roast vegetables,” she said.

“Only if you promise not to just make asparagus,” I said. “Nobody likes asparagus as much as you do. You’re the only one that will eat it.”

“She’s right,” said a passing man. “Nobody actually loves asparagus.”

She frowned, but put back one of the three packages of pre-packed asparagus that she had picked up. (I’d surreptitiously put back one of the other two packages later.)

We were running out of time, so we decided to compromise: she could make her vegetables if I could make an easy dessert or two. We would make funfetti cupcakes, the only kind of cake Anna likes, and accommodate a friend’s wheat allergy and love for chocolate by making a basic chocolate pudding pie (in a gluten-free crust). We were standing in the baking and pudding aisle, arguing about how long it would take to set, when it happened.

A bored-looking woman, who clearly work for the store, though I didn’t see a name tag on her, came shuffling up and stood right by me. She stared at the gelatin and pudding section, but there was something vacant in her stare. It was the stare of somebody who seems to be more killing time than actively searching for something. Despite her working there and me not, I felt the desire to say “Can we help you?”

“I’m just looking for the…” she started, but when she said what she was looking for, it was like my brain tapped out. At first I thought I just hadn’t heard her. I could not make out the last word she said.

“You’re looking for the what, sorry?” I said.

“You know,” she said, and said it again. This time I heard it, but I’m not sure how to write what she said. I had never heard it before in my life. My mind it did not recognize it as a word. I could make out an s, an r, a t, and an l.

“Excuse me?” I said again, and she said it again. It sounded almost as if she were saying Squirtle, but without the q and the u.

“What… is that?” I said, and she shrugged.

“This lady asked for me to look for it,” she said. “She said it’s for making Jell-O.”

I’ve made Jell-O before. You add gelatin and flavoring and hot water together. As far as I know, it does not involve a mysterious third tool or ingredient in the pudding aisle that sounds like a lost Pokémon. I immediately knew not only did this woman have no idea what this “word” meant, but neither did I, and that it was going to bother me until I did.

“Could she have meant… a server?” I said. “A circle… shaped mold? Something to shape it?” I was Lyra at the alethiometer, going through all the possible meetings, trying to let my mind go blank, but the answers just did not want to come to me.

“I don’t know,” said the woman, shrugging again, and adding, “She was kind of old,” as if that explained it.

Now I had more questions than ever. Why didn’t she just bring the older woman with her to the aisle? Did the older woman not speak English? Does anybody other than white people who speak English even eat Jell-O? Was I having a stroke?

I looked to Anna, whose expression told me I was clearly not having a stroke.

“Well, I guess I can’t find it,” said the woman, with another shrug, and she shuffled off, out of our lives.

But not out of our minds. Anna and I have not been able to talk about much else in the past week.

“Do you think she just made it up?”

“Or maybe the old lady made it up?”

“Yeah maybe the old lady just likes to mess with stoned grocery store workers?”

“How do you think it’s spelled? Like turtle, but with an S?”

“S-E-R-T-L-E?”

“Was she maybe playing Pokémon Go?”

The roasted vegetables took a little too long to make, the pudding pie did not hold very well in the gluten-free crust, and really only Anna was excited about the funfetti cupcakes, but at least we had a great time at the Friendsgiving, and had a mystery to talk about.

Happy Thanksgiving, and if you have any idea what either of these women could have meant, please let me know. We would be endlessly thankful.

Fake BBC Show of the Week: Me Roast Is Ruined!