By Jim Colella
It’s happening again. She can’t remember exactly when it happened before. Two or three weeks ago? But it’s exactly the same. That orchestra of violins all in her head all out of sync and getting louder and louder. Like this is the end. That this is it. That now you are going to die. Right here in the supermarket.
Chickens. She is staring at chickens. All headless and white and pimply and wrapped in plastic, waiting for ovens. Focus, she tells herself. Let’s go over this. It’s the simplest thing in the world. You’re only shopping. Choosing a chicken. For the Sunday roast. You have potatoes in the basket already.
She looks at all the tiny labels all full of words and numbers. The screechy violins drop a notch. It’s working. Look at the numbers. The prices. You need the cheapest. That one will do. It’s only for you and him. Think of his face when you serve it all up. Think of that.
She’s about to reach. But no, there’s the row of chickens above. Different shades, delicious colours, not white, not death. Ready-cooked heats in twenty, culinary sizzlers from all around the world. There’s Indian Delight. What about Italian Gourmet? Or Mexican Spice? He’ll love one of these. Think of that.
But wait, no, look. The price. He’ll ask. He’ll say fantastic, that was great, hun, but he’ll still want to know how much. Think of after.
Tears well. She puts the basket down, walks as fast as she can out of the store. Last time, she didn’t do this. Last time she rode it out, got the shopping in, mission accomplished. This time, though, those damn violins won’t quit. Her breathing goes deeper and faster. She reaches inside her bag for her cigarettes. There’s only one, and she wants to cry. Wants to go full bore right now out here on the busy Sunday high street and scream at the top of her lungs. Think of the money, his voice says high inside her head as her fingers reach into the pack.
She cranes her pale neck up and exhales long and hard on that last cigarette. Above, there’s some blue sky. Really blue, like in that old photo of her and her sister in their summer dresses, sat on the garden wall outside their family home of many lives ago. But right here, now above, it’s hard to see the blue. Clouds the size of Australia are in the way.
A bus pulls up at the stop outside the supermarket. It’s her bus. The doors are wide open and beckoning. She decides against dead white meat and steps inside, and it is warm. Somewhere along the long road home, she realises the violins have finally shut up.
Indoors, in the kitchen, she reaches up to the cupboard above the sink. Behind the upright breadboard, there’s the gravy boat. Her fingers stretch and reach inside, and between two fingers she clutches her rainy day stash. There’s eight in the box. Enough till he gets in and maybe one or two after. She opens the window above the sink and lights the cigarette.
It’s dark outside when he comes in. She’s slumped in the armchair lost in the glare and blare of the television and doesn’t hear the door. But then she hears, “Hi hun!” behind her and, startled, presses mute on the remote. She sits upright and looks over at him standing just inside the living room door.
“What’s for dinner?” he says. “I’m starving.”
“I thought we could order a takeaway,” she says. “There’s that new pizza place.”
There’s a pause, and he shakes his head, and she knows what’s coming.
“But think of the money, hun.”
There’s the whiff of beer from his direction. Probably he can smell her cigarette smoke. Both have ammunition.
“Didn’t you go shopping? I thought we were having Sunday roast?”
“I know. I was going to. But…but I didn’t feel too good. I left an’ all. I was going to. But at the supermarket… It happened again, Tom. I went in and everything, but then it was…it happened again. Like last time.”
There’s this long silence then, before he speaks.
“Sorry to hear that,” he says. “But you’re okay now, yeah?”
More silence passes as he stares at her, blankly, without moving.
“I’ll see what there is”, she says.
Slowly she gets up and passes him and goes down the hall and into the kitchen and opens the freezer door.
“There’s fish fingers,” she shouts. “I could make chips.”
“Great,” he shouts back.
“And peas, if you want.”
Later, in the bedroom in the empty night, he climbs on top of her and starts. Think of after, she thinks.