I’m heading to the supermarket. Either one. I only use the third player for its salmon and those damn rice cracker packs my kids inhale. And even then I exit with a random middle aisle purchase or seven…you know the ones. The beach towel. The craft pack. The soap dispenser (seriously?). The bamboo chopping board and bag of tennis balls. So…focus.
I’ve pulled in to park. My silver SUV blends with the other silver SUVs except for its side scrapes on both sides. Starting to rust. The maneuvering just to get the car in or out of our garage does my head in. I can spend the next 15 minutes of the drive ruminating over the “stupidity and greed of developers”. I cannot understand at a deep cellular – seriously at a visceral level – why anyone would choose to squash us all in. Why not allow a little wriggle room for those days when my hands ache and my sense of spatial awareness isn’t the best? For fuck’s sake. But I digress.
So I’m getting out of the car. The sound of the car door closing sounds like a slam to me. Yet I didn’t. My ears baulk. Often. And now I start walking and then remember those manky green shopping bags in the boot. Retrace. Grab them and try not to notice how irritating they are to stuff inside each other. They keep springing out again. Stuff. Squash. Spring. Shut boot. Migod I hate that sound. Isn’t there a mechanism that all cars should have – not just the high end ones – where things close with a sigh. A politeness. An ease. Now I’m ruminating about greed and classes of cars and how cruel design can be. Again.
Walk to the supermarket. My left arm is kind of stiff. I’m not sure how to move my arms smoothly as I walk. I’m consciously trying to swing my arms but not too much and not too little. Don’t hold them stiffly by my side like I want to. Fuck it. I push my oversized bag with bells on it across my body and hug it like a barrier. Much better.
The auto doors open and I’m in. Fuck I hate this place (but love that word). Instant. Remind myself to stick to the list, which is somewhere in the bag’s abyss. Can’t bring myself to scratch through it so think I should be right. I’ll remember. But that humming goddamn light. Seriously. How bright does it have to scream. I have a flash of the sound from Hitchcock’s Psycho – the shower scene of course – the pitch is about right for first-steps-into-the-supermarket-vibe.
Something about “stick to the outer aisles” and you can’t go wrong? But even that’s crap. There’s fruit without a fruit smell. Whole damn rows of it. I’m picking up the stone fruit and sniffing it – piece after piece. Nothing. Just a chemical reek. I feel teary at the thought. Now memories of Summer fruit so delicious it made me think of divinity. I’m angry. Almost furious but not quite. Need to calm down. Quick. Pulse racing and a hot flush creeping. Why are we such arseholes? Where’s the fruit that tastes like fruit? I write a quick diatribe in my head. It’s titled ‘Fruit and humans: another tale of cruelty’.
But I’m interrupted. Shit. There’s someone whose face I know grabbing at the grapes. I scan my memory. I used to remember every face of everyone I’d ever met. Even if it was the tiniest meeting. Like “I remember you. I was standing behind you at the newsagent in Newtown and you bought a magazine and a pack of gum. It was about 3 months ago.” Freakazoid. Big time. And yet it took me until I was in my mid twenties to realise I was going to have to start faking that I didn’t remember people in order not to scare the shit out of them. So I started the don’t-say-you-remember-anyone-until-they-say-they-remember-you-routine. It was extremely hard. I’d often break out in a sweat whilst waiting to see where it would go.
Not being able to be bluntly honest was excruciating. I felt sick sometimes. Like a traitor to truth. A hideous hidden beast who was always about to burst. And then going through this ridiculous slowwwww introduction of names. Sometimes people wouldn’t remember me after meeting me more than once before. I know this happens and wasn’t hurt by it – but omigod the pace of it all…I could barely stand it. Excruciatingly exasperatingly sloooowww…and me nodding and trying to smile rather than grimace and introduce myself again whilst thinking “We met twice. The first time was at Sam’s party on a Saturday night last month. We walked past each other near the loos. You were holding a green drink that looked revolting and I was busting. The second time was at Lucy’s when she introduced us. We shook hands and you didn’t quite catch my eyes and turned quickly away to talk to someone wearing a pink top. I lurched off to the chip bowl and thought ‘get me outta here’.”
So…do I know this grape-grabber or do I KNOW this grape-grabber? Fuck. I KNOW them. Is this worse? Sort of yes, sort of no. I like them fair enough. They’re not clearly mean or passive aggressive or super loud or garish. So that’s always good. But they like to chat. And they’re kind and always ask me how I’m going and I’m never sure what to say and oh shit here they are.
“How’s your weekend going?”
“Um, ok, thanks.”
“What’re you up to?”
“Um, sorry I’m so vague…just getting some food. Kids at home. Just got a minute.”
“And how are you? How’re you going?”
And how am I supposed to answer this. I feel tears almost there but not quite. A kid’s shrieking in another aisle and my stomach immediately knots at the sound. A couple are muttering to each other in the most fuck-you-darling terms. I start to think about how many couples are ill-suited and why do they bother and what is it with humans and their insistence on having a partner even if they’re uglier together? And the loudspeaker – the goddamn loudspeaker – has just announced a special “down to $14.99 a kilo” on some cut or other that’s been bludgeoned from a cow.
“I’m fine thanks…How’re you?”
“I’m going great, just back from soccer…” and she keeps talking but there’s so many details about which ground and the weather and the score and she’s laughing now and I’m not sure why or whether I should be too. But I don’t want to offend her because she really is nice, so I do a mini-laugh and hope for the best.
“Anyway, I’d better go” I say but flinch as I realise I’d started pushing my trolley away from her and had turned my head just that bit too soon. The rhythm always catches me out. The damn secret rhythm I don’t seem to move to. But then the imported oranges catch me and the inner rant resumes: “Are you serious! C’mon people we don’t need oranges from California!!” when I hear her say “oh ok, see you”.
I still can’t remember her name. But her face…warm, earnest, truly kind and open despite it all.
I’m exhausted. Spent. I want to sit down. I’m thinking cup of tea cup of tea cup of tea. Walk past the chocolates and grab 3 blocks.
My head feels sharp and thick all at once. Muddled and yet fierce. Each aisle adds a punch to my stomach or a press on my chest. Stay focused. I’m now looking at the ground – the tiles – instead of the aisles. Maybe if I look away I won’t have to hear the screaming from the shelves. The “buy me you motherfucker who I don’t give a shit about coz if I did I wouldn’t make this crap and try and sell it to you”. The colours trumpeting. The smells snickering as I rush past. Hot chicken. Salami cuts. The strange smell of refrigeration. I think of how much I love my kids and the gentleness of my husband and that I really need to bring some food home for them.
Grab the things that don’t make me retch. Some tea sitting quietly on the shelf. Humble. Undemanding. Thankyou tea. I love you. Organic honey (stop thinking about the declining bee population. Stop it! But it’s such a worry and…enough!). Some tomatoes that smell like tomatoes…oh thankyou Lord. Stop and look at this. What gloriousness there is right here. The tears are almost here again. Actually they’re here. I blink and blink and think fuckety-fuckety-fuck.
And then a speedy awkward rush around grabbing what we need. Trying not to overthink each thing. Stress about too much packaging. Ignore. Stress about not available in organic. Ignore. Stress about too cheap to seriously be able to appropriately reimburse the producer. This world is so cruel. Try and ignore. I’m just as self-centred as the next motherfucker. Stop swearing even if it’s an inner-swear. Slap on the wrist and all that.
Now, to do self-checkout or not?
Pros: made for introverts and lurchers and general hot face flushers like me. Plus I love the rhythm of the beeping. The simple achievement of it all. It’s so damn neat. And no eye contact when I’m already spent. And no handing over change if I need it and me almost dropping it and then having to remember to say thankyou because I really am thankful but don’t want to have to speak whilst shoving money into awkward purse (or wallet or what’s the best word for this money-holding thing. Dislike both. Quite a bit actually).
So, self-checkout it is. Except…as I’m self-checkouting I’m infuriated. At the state of the supermarket and the world’s tramping on towards more profit (“MORE! MORE!”) by crudely reducing human jobs, at the tiny space to balance your groceries and never being quite sure how to move my clumsy trolley. I notice the line of people waiting and say sorry sorry I’m really sorry in my head and think hurry up hurry up hurry up and try and rush and for some reason – when I’ve never shoplifted in my goddamn life – the whole time I’m feeling guilty. Like I just might put the red tipped bananas in as normal bananas. But I never do.
And then one last wave of sadness at the lollies and the little ones begging for them and the tired mums and dads and carers of course not always knowing what to do…but trying their goddamn best.
And I want to salute them all. The whole beautiful bunch of them. Tears escape and I’m thinking “you gorgeous lot. You deserve better than this.” And I’m looking at little lit faces in trolleys high and thinking “keep your eyes bright you darling sprites. Do better than us and know you’re enough.” And now it’s time to leave and get myself away from this pop music that’s shamefully making my heart ache and ache and shuffle off to my rusting car.