The Man at the Supermarket
I had been sitting in my bath after draining it from full for around half an hour when I felt it; a hunger. Not a metaphorical one for anything that doesn’t exist but one that demanded attention like a grumpy toddler tugging at an apron for a toastie, or a bowl of pasta.
I got out of the bath and lay on the floor for a while, looking out the window at a bird that’d decided to collect moss in a pile on top of my neighbours roof. I had been doing a similar thing with my laundry, so when I saw the bird it made me feel better about myself. It’s in my nature, I thought.
I put on my tracksuit bottoms and left the front door. It had been a long time since I had breathed air that I hadn’t already breathed - the fresh kind- and at first I found it alarming to feel the coldness of it brushing past my nose hairs. It was like when I use a knife from the freezer to cut icing on a birthday cake. Efficient and sharp and for the best. The idea of birthday cake had lifted me off the bathroom floor many times before today.
I heard a woman on the phone say, out of breath that seeing someone outside without a mask is like seeing a cancer patient smoking - it’s like the doomed self-doom or attempt to beat nature or something. I thought about moss and the cost of a laundry detergent box - whether I wanted to lug one home. My arms hurt from lying on them earlier, so I decided against buying canned food.
Autumn had left the supermarket aisles bare. I chose battered boxes of cereal and things that I wouldn’t fear eating past their sell by date - things I could peel the mold from. I saw two people in the supermarket shopping, both with lists. Any time I walked onto an aisle where another person was standing, I’d extended my arm out to pick something up (maybe a bag of onions or a packet of oats) bring it back to my chest and by the time it was in my basket the other person in the aisle had scurried away.
That’s when I saw him at the till. He had a face that looked warm and I wanted to touch it. Hello, how is your day? he asked me and I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded. I put my card on the reader. It’s nice to see somebody buying the reject stuff. I moved my mouth upwards. Thank you, I said, just to say something.
Back at my place, I made overnight porridge and softened a potato in some hot water. I tried to poach an egg and it was better than the last one, but still looked bad. I ate it on the bathroom floor slowly. The first half was just how I like egg but by the time I had finished the half, the other half had stiffened into jam.
Every time I felt hungry I thought of him, and the way he pronounced words. He said reject’in the way you would expect someone to say rejected but without the -ed. I liked it. It made me think of projectors at school, of when we’d sing hymns sitting on our knees. I sung on my knees for a while, snack in hand.
I couldn’t tell you the number of days or amount of time had passed because I hadn’t been looking at my clock or watch or keeping any sort of diary. There was no reason to. Instead I ate cereal. It had been eight bowls since I met him in the supermarket. Six eggs. 8 saucepans of soup from frozen. I liked the way thawing out the igloo blocks of stock made the kitchen smell like his freezer aisle. I wrote a letter to him and then put it in my draw. I wrote a poem about the hair on his thumb.
After eating bowls of cereal on my bathroom floor for enough days to make my nails grow over the edge of my fingers, I took another bath and, after queuing, went into the supermarket again. I picked up the ugliest things. Best-before-date stickers over packets of chocolate filled pancakes and labels on boxes of cat food that looked like bicycle tyres had rolled over them. My basket looked like one a magpie would have, if a magpie could go food shopping.
I was collecting.
Hello, how is your day? he asked me and I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded. I could feel the warmth of his body when I put my card on the reader. It’s nice to see someone buy the reject stuff. Those are good toasted.
I moved my mouth upwards.
Thank you, I said, to say something.
Back at my place, I made overnight porridge and noticed I was down to my last spoon of oats. I added more water to make them last, and softened a potato in hot water. I tried to poach an egg and it was better than the last one - it looked a little better too. I ate it on the bathroom floor and beat my opponent's top score on the computer.
It was windy that day, and I watched moss from the collection on my neighbours roof roll down and land into the gutters as I ate. Sometimes I was too busy watching the moss roll that I would miss the bowl with my fork. After dinner I watched videos of a man in his kitchen in New York braise broccoli stalks with pork shoulder and thought about the supermarket man. I wondered whether he had freckles on his arms in the summer, or whether he just stayed in doors. I burnt the pancakes and went to bed.
Time moved like set gravy or custard. Slipping about clumsily and set in its ways but fluid and rigid and wobbling. I brushed my teeth more than advised, and started to forget what my voice sounds like. I tried to choose my best side and taught myself how to cry on command.
After stretching the oats to three portions, I only had one chocolate pancake left. I sat on my bed and cut it up into strips using craft scissors. In my cupboard sat the food picked last in P.E class. Sad, sorry state.
It had been four potatoes since I last saw him. Eight bowls of cereal - three were with water not milk. I sulked on the kitchen floor and kicked my legs like I was munching on an argument, then did three teddy bear rolls. I heard myself laugh and it scared me.
“Hello, how is your day?’. “It’s nice to see someone buy the reject stuff. Did you try toasting the pancakes?”.
I ran away, and on my walk home, I left a message after the tone on my answerphone machine
I hope you eat the cat biscuits tonight and spray yourself with cologne. I hope you sit on your bedroom floor and assume you will die there.
I am watching the crows pick up moss from the trees
I am hungry
I am wondering what all this means.