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Stanley Green couldn’t remember if he needed cheese. He looked down at the supermarket conveyor belt. His shopping splayed out on old black rubber: Two bunches of bananas wrapped in cellophane. A bottle of bleach. Yellow and white. He felt his stomach lurch, patted his pockets for his list, written that morning with an inky biro. In the crowded supermarket, 80’s music was playing, Don’t You Forget About Me? Stanley drummed stained fingers on his thigh, glanced impatiently at his watch. It had stopped. He shook his wrist, tapped the glass. It must be early evening. Home soon, Stanley thought, home soon. His thought was like the first sighting of land from a ship. Desperate, warm and glorious.
In the queue, in front of Stanley, was a woman. Long hair, a tight dress holding her body in curves. On the conveyor belt, a thin plastic bar separated Stanley’s shopping from the woman’s: one carrot, an onion, minced beef, a giant bar of Dairy Milk, a glossy magazine. Stanley suddenly pictured his wife, Helen, evenings spent in the hoovered lounge, flicking through magazines, turning pages sharply with her long, wine-colored nails. Looking up, she would ask, “Pass me a banana Stanley,” and then peel the skin off, bite into creamy flesh, saying, “Oh, I do love a banana.” But Helen was dead now, terrible business.
Stanley looked back at the black conveyor belt, the scuffs and scratches made him think of night skies, the lines between stars: the constellations of The Plough, the Big Dipper. He searched for a mark to be his North Star, but a voice interrupted him, “Move mate!” Stanley turned. Behind him was a scowling boy with earphones, an over-size tracksuit, clutching a large can of deodorant, a pack of extra-strong cider, and a single rose. “Move mate,” he repeated.
Stanley moved. The boy put on his shopping on the conveyor belt. Now, Stanley was hemmed in tight, between the woman and the tracksuit boy. The only way to go was forward, shuffling in his loafers that needed to be re-heeled. The conveyor belt buzzed. Stanley hated tracksuits. Once, in his job as a tailor, he had had to make velvet tracksuits for the whole family of an Arab millionaire.
Stanley stared at his fingers. He was convinced he had had five things to buy. One item for each finger. Bananas, bleach and- When he worked, he had put a thimble on his thumb, protecting his skin against sharp tailoring tools: scissors, needles and pins. Everyday, he had used brown paper patterns to record customers' measurements, shoulders, chest, inner and outer thigh. His two hands, Helen said, “made miracles.”
In front him, the woman put her shopping in a bag. The onion and the carrot disappeared. Stanley glanced at his bananas, recalled a song from his childhood, “Bananas in Pajamas”. In the song, bananas eat teddy bears, but now that seemed impossible, for a banana to eat a bear. In the queue, Stanley almost laughed out loud. He looked at his loafers, knew he couldn’t laugh here.
At home, he often talked to himself. Wiping surfaces, he’d say, “Come on Stanley. Clean the house. Pull yourself together. Helen I miss you. Oh why?” Inside his four walls, the heating on full blast, his words babbled, a soliloquy. The house was a blanket, beige and warm. Sometimes, in the blind comfort, his litany blended with tears and he would fall to his corduroy knees. The only place he could be.
Now, he heard a loud voice, the woman took her bag, said, “Goodbye. Goodbye” Stanley saw her curves go out the door, and longed to follow her. He’d been a dancer in his day; all Helen’s friends had wanted to dance with him, be twirled and turned. But, he was never a bastard, he told himself. Never.
The conveyor belt advanced again. In the queue, the boy behind him grunted, and straightened his cans, the single rose. It was Stanley’s turn. Supermarket lights bore down on his balding head. Forcing himself forward, Stanley smiled at the cashier, “Hello”. “Warm for June’ she said. Stanley wanted to answer, “Before you look round it will be Christmas.” The words turned like circles in his mind, familiar and comforting, but somehow wrong. Instead, he said, “Yes, soon they’ll all be complaining about a drought”.
The cashier smiled. Stanley wished he had more to say, that his shopping was piled higher. He wished he had more items to buy: cheese, spray cleaner, a cauliflower, socks, a Birthday card with sparkles for his grand-daughter. Helen had written all the birthdays in a special book, she would have said, “How time flies.”
The cashier smiled at Stanley, scanned the bananas and the bleach. Three beeps. “That will be three pound fifty-seven,” she said. “Of course” Stanley reached for his wallet, but when he opened it, there was no money inside. He went to get his card, but there was nothing there. Looking up at the cashier, Stanley’s eyes grew wider and wider. They opened, ineluctably, like flowers. His heart beat. His bladder loosened. Stanley opened his mouth and closed it. He grabbed the bananas, turned and ran. “Sir!” the cashier said. “Mate” the boy shouted. But Stanley wasn’t listening, he didn’t look back, he was galloping in his loafers through the automatic doors, heading for his house.
Ten minutes, later Stanley was home. Door bolted, locked. He turned the heating up, felt a cold draft, and put an old towel by the crack under the front door. Nothing could get out, and nothing could get in, Stanley thought. In the kitchen, on the counter, was a shopping list. Without looking, whistling, he crumpled it into a ball. “Better get to the shops later”, Stanley said to himself. He ripped open the cellophane packet of bananas, peeled back the yellow skin and bit into creamy flesh. “Oh, I do love a banana,” he said.