This story was submitted to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019
You push your trolley past the annoying man offering eye tests and the guy collecting for guide dogs. You weave around the elderly couple in a confused conversation. You stop at the flowers. Your hand grasps a tulip bouquet. They are a good deal, for a fiver. You place them on the trolley’s baby seat. You toss in lemons, limes and bananas and head toward the meat aisle. While you weigh the pros and cons of chicken versus beef, a woman in a black business suit pushes her trolley behind you. Focussed on the end of the aisle, she strides at a pace, determined to reach lamb chops on special offer. Her trolley clips your ankle. The sharp pain takes you by surprise.
“What the hell?” you snap, turning away from the beef silverside.
“Sorry, but you walked into my trolley,” she says.
This is complete bullshit. You were standing still, feet firmly planted on the tile floor. You scowl.
She takes the packet of bargain lamb chops, places them in her trolley and stops to peruse the fish.
Forgoing the beef, you place the chicken in the trolley. You should’ve been more forceful. You should’ve put her in her place and set the record straight. The woman disappears around the corner and you follow, grabbing some salmon and smoked bacon.
In the neighbouring aisle, she is standing before a baffling array of fresh tortellini. You have no business down that aisle, so you carry on, heading toward butter and yogurt. You try to put her behind you, both physically and mentally. Your pace quickens as you take your usual items: butter, soured cream, yogurt, milk, eggs. You move into the non-perishables, but of course you haven’t made a list and you are distracted by the incident with the woman. You can’t remember if you need coconut milk. You don’t know if you have a sufficient supply or tortillas and curry powder. You place tins and cartons randomly in the trolley, but your mind is on the woman. You decide to confront her if opportunity arises. No need to go out of your way to find her, but if your paths should cross, you’ll have a stern word.
You grab several boxes of cereal and make your way to the aisles of sin. You place Lightly Salted Kettle Chips, a South African Chenin Blanc and an eight pack of Guinness in the trolley. You don’t see the woman in these aisles, with her slender physique she wouldn’t be here. These aisles are for the pudgy and less disciplined shoppers. You press on, into the freezer department picking up some Ben & Jerrys, peas, and shelled king prawns.
You think you’re done, but your mind is racing, wondering which key ingredient you have forgotten. Suddenly, you see her manicured fingers cradling a can of Felix cat food in the pet aisle. This is your chance. Your eyes meet. Your stomach flutters. Your throat tightens. You completely chicken out and scuttle toward the tills.
Evaluating quantities of purchases versus bagging speed of shopper, you choose lucky lane seven. You’re behind a short man purchasing a lot of Pepsi. You cringe, thinking of the sugary chemicals filtering through his body. You place your items on the conveyor and scan the celebrity magazines. The woman in the black suit pulls her trolley into the check-out lane eight and places a large bag of curly kale on the conveyor. You lock eyes. Your brow laces. What a bitch. You aren’t sure if you said these words aloud. The short man is dithering, going through his nectar coupons. You hate this kind of dithering but then you panic, realising you haven’t gone through your coupons. You search your purse for the creased and crinkled orange slips of paper. Now, looking at them, you remember all the items you should have purchased: black olives and salt reduced soy sauce. How could you have forgotten Heinz beans?
The woman has chosen a more efficient check out. Although she arrived after you, you are both bagging up your purchases. You should confront her, as you planned. But you are focussed on bagging and the clerk is asking for your Nectar card. Do you have coupons? Behind you, an unshaven millennial is hovering over your shoulder and glancing at his watch. While you fumble with your purse, the woman finishes her transaction. She is walking away, and you still have items on the conveyor.
You put the last items in the Bag For Life and balance the tulips on top. You hand over your Nectar card and don’t bother with the coupons. You insert debit card and enter pin. Success. A steady stream of coupons flows from the printer. You jam them into the side pocket of your handbag, noticing several other forgotten coupons. You stride toward the exit still wondering if you should go back for black olives.
You thread between dazed shoppers milling around the entrance. You head toward your car. An absurdly large Range Rover, which is parked beside your Toyota Verso, is on the move, manoeuvring out of the tight space. The woman in the black suit is at the wheel. You hear a thump and the Range Rover goes forward and then reverses. Your Verso quakes. Revving its engine, the Range Rover roars away, revealing a large dent just above your rear wheel. You must get a picture of her license plate. You’re running and fumbling for your phone in your handbag. You pull it out, fighting with the buttons and codes. You snap a picture and another as the Range Rover waits to exit the car park. Your heart thumps. Your blood races. The Range Rover drives away.
Your thumb prods the phone.
The first snap is a blurry mess. You swipe left. Another blurry mess.
You blew it.
|Publication date:||1st February 2019|
|Primary Genre||LoveReading Very Short Story Award|
Originally from Michigan, Molly Gartland worked in Moscow from 1994 to 2000 and has been interested in Russian culture ever since. She has an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and lives in London. The manuscript for her debut novel The Girl from the Hermitage was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Bath Novel Award and Grindstone Novel Award. "The Girl from the Hermitage" is due out in September 2020.More About Molly Gartland