I see him before he sees me. His flannel shirt is one he’s worn countless times before, thinning on the elbows and torn halfway down the right sleeve. He has a basket, not a trolley, and I guess my heart stopped beating so violently when I realise that fact.
A basket means he’s able to fit all he needs in a small space. A basket means all he needs is all he needs. A basket means he’s buying only for himself. Had I seen a trolley parked beside him and the canned tomatoes, I may not have made it out of aisle six.
A trolley would mean he’s not just buying for himself. A trolley would mean he’s moved on.
You’d think it’d be easier right, this whole eating thing? I mean, back in the day, us menfolk would take our spears, stab an animal, drag it back to the cave and that was it. There were no additives or preservatives or low-fat, no-fat or skinny. You ate the mammoth or you didn’t eat the mammoth. There certainly weren’t 22 different types of canned tomatoes to navigate.
Rachel always did the cooking. It wasn’t an oppressed housewife thing, she just loved it. Right from the word go, she cooked and I cleaned. It’s how the chips fell. And now that I’m on my own, it’s nothing but soggy chips and old coleslaw.
Well tonight, that all changes. I’m making lasagne and nothing can stop me.
I’m not sure what to do. He’s there with the canned tomatoes and he’s not moving. I need canned tomatoes too.
Roma? Puree? Chunky? I need help.
I turn to find someone, a shop assistant, a stock boy, a fellow shopper. Anyone. The aisle is fairly deserted, except for a girl right up the end. At least I think it’s a girl. The hoodie she’s wearing is hiding her face and her figure is small. It could easily belong to one of those gangly teenage boys who’s slim frame match their pre-pubscent voice.
She looks like she probably doesn’t get enough to eat herself, what would she know about canned tomatoes?
I pick up my basket and scoot out of aisle six. Aisle seven is also empty. On to aisle eight…
I look up from my shopping list. It’s the fourth time I’ve reread it this minute.
I relax momentarily, close my eyes, release a breath. That was the first time, and I knew it would be hard. We last saw each other in the reception at my lawyers office, to sign the final papers. It was months and months ago.
I couldn’t breathe that day and I can’t breathe now. He’s gone and aisle six is mine, but my feet are still frozen to the floor.
The rest of the supermarket is empty and I can’t be bothered walking up to the check outs just yet. I’ll wing it and get the Chunky.
I’m halfway down the aisle when he comes back. Back to Aisle Six. Back to the canned tomatoes.
It’s like everything shuts off – the voice over the speaker, directing any remaining customers to checkout three, the humming of the refrigerators, the flickering of those dreadful neon lights. It’s all silent.
I’m frozen, again, and he’s five metres away.
We haven’t been this close in a year.
I’m barely a metre into Aisle Six and my legs suddenly stop moving. It’s like the body slammed on the brakes while the mind is still accelerating.
Five metres infront of me, with two cans of Roma tomatoes in her hands, stands Rachel.
He sees me and he winces.
He sees me and he winces, damn it.
I need to unclench my teeth or I’m going to pass out. I need to get out of here. I need to take my canned tomatoes and run.
I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t move.
She’s not moving. I’m not moving. My head is spinning and I’m gobsmacked and it’s been months and months.
I’m standing here and I feel like an entire minute has passed and neither of us have said a word. I can’t even blink properly.
Her palms must be sweaty. The can in her left hand slide out of her grasp and clunked to the ground. It hasn’t broken, it’s just dinted. The noise scares us both. Suddenly we can’t shut up.
“Pineapple! I need canned pineapple too!” I announce frantically. He jumped when I dropped the can, actually jumped up into the air, and back a little bit. He’s stammering now too. “It’s the chips and the coleslaw. I can’t eat it another night. Lasagne. But aisle seven was empty too. So I’m getting Chunky, not Roma, though I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell, with the hoodie. I mean, I couldn’t tell it was you.”
I’m rambling. She’s rambling. We’re both rambling away in Aisle Six.
I’m an idiot, a rambling idiot. And why in God’s name didn’t I take the time to put on some makeup? Or at least a real sweater?
He’s going on about my hoodie and I can’t stop blurting out items on my shopping list. “Canned pineapple. Apple juice. Corn beef and satay chicken sticks.”
I have to shut up, I really do. But I don’t think he’s really listening to me anyway, rambling like an idiot himself.
What to do? What to do?
Suddenly it stops. All of it. The verbal diarrhea from both of us comes to an abrupt end.
I have two cans of Chunky Canned Tomatoes, one in each hand.
I have a basket at my feet, filled mostly with non-essentials and junk food.
I have my entire life for the past seventeen years standing right in front of me.
I have no idea what to do now.