They’ve opened an aisle just for me, apparently. That’s really very kind of them. The girl who guides me over to it is sweet but, you know…
It all happened
at once, the way things do in those made-up stories sometimes. We were walking
down into town on a Saturday afternoon. The little box was burning its usual
hole in my pocket, and you had news to tell. Good news. Great news.
You’d got a
gig. After all the months of waiting, auditioning, hoping, and praying, you’d
finally got an acting gig. Better still, you’d kept it a little secret from me,
and you’d gone and done it and got paid for it. You produced a cheque, an honest-to
God old fashioned cheque with a full and amazing four digits before the decimal
point. You didn’t know if you could pay it in at the cash till. You’d never had
anything to pay in before, but you sure as hell were going to try.
and I laughed back as we ambled along and there was this slab of paving with a
tiny edge sticking up proud from the footpath and you caught your foot on it
and you tripped and fell, and your head hit the edge of the concrete kerb stone.
It was nothing, really. In the movies, people get thrown off buildings and waylaid
with crowbars all the time and they just get up and fight on. They wince and they
rub the sore spot for a moment but that’s all. On they go.
go on though, did you? Not really, anyway. They kept you breathing for a time.
They kept you warm and sustained. But you were gone, really, weren’t you? When
they eased you off the machinery it was a blessing, they said, a pure blessing.
really see it that way.
I should have
asked you about the gig you did. You had worked so hard, waited so long. Acting
degree, audition after audition, working for free whenever you could. Anything,
anything to get on. I should have taken the little box out of my pocket and
asked you then and there. You might not have tripped then; you might not have died.
Whenever I go to the supermarket now,
I try to buy the minimum. There’s only me now to feed, only my clothes to wash.
I try but I inevitably get too much. I either think or hope you’ll be there when
I get home.
new checkouts in store today. Automated. Everywhere else has had them
for years but they’ve finally arrived here in my little place. Three of them in
a row. That suits me. I don’t need to see anyone in person these days, I don’t
need to be discussing the weather.
I place my
basket on the left side of the checkout and scan my first item, placing it
over on the right. I know how it works from the bigger supermarket where I go
on the weekends to buy too much stuff.
scanned your loyalty card?” the machine asks me.
I reply, a sudden unexpected smile running across my mouth, “I almost forgot.”
I fish out
my wallet and search for the card. Give it a quick scan.
your points add up.” the machine says.
they do,” I say, “I know it.”
I stop. Stare.
“Is it you?” I ask.
doesn’t say anything. I must scan some more things.
I scan and scan.
The machine says nothing more. It just beeps once with each item I send
through. Too much stuff. Far too much.
everything is scanned, I press ‘Pay’ on the touch screen.
payment type,” she says, in her lovely voice.
the gig you got? The voice of the checkout?”
you so much.
The queue behind
me is growing. People are looking at me with odd sideways glances. I select ‘Pay
instructions on the keypad.”
“I will. I
will. But first I want to show you something.”
I fumble in
my pocket and pull out the tiny box. I open it, the contents colour and sparkle in the high lux glare. I lay the box gently on the scanner.”
recognised. Pleased enter the code or select item from directory.”
that big of a surprise, I think.”
“Enter the code
or select item from directory.”
I pick the
little box up and place it carefully on the right-hand side, along with my milk
and my butter. I ease myself down on one knee, as we joked that I someday might.
“Will you please
item in the bagging area,” she says.
"I know it’s
quite sudden. I know it’s a bit naïve."
item in the bagging area.”
that I thought I’d lost you.”
is on the way.”
is on the way.”
has arrived. The small crowd parts to let her through. She puts her hand on my
shoulder. I think she might know my story.
here with me, John. We have a place.”
opened an aisle just for me, apparently. That’s really very kind of them. The
girl who guides me over to it is sweet but, you know…
… not as
sweet as you.
be wrong to let this little flash fiction piece go out without name-checking
the great Harlan Ellison, who has been an inspiration to me since I found first
found ‘Shatterday’ on the library shelf, when I was aged thirteen or so.
short story ‘Laugh Track’ from the collection ‘Angry Candy’ was an obvious influence
for this tiny effort.