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Every time I enter the supermarket I tell myself I won’t play the Game, but the refrigerated air needs only to touch me as I walk through the glass doors, not even enter my lungs, and I imagine the most creative ways to make a mess. This is the Game: what if I were allowed free reign in this shop with no chance of getting arrested?
I act out the scene in my head and make it more entertaining by adding certain tools: a cricket bat, a tin opener, scissors.
The possibilities are endless.
I can see me as I pull jars off the shelves and smash them into the linoleum.
I rip open bags of flour and shake them into puddles of olive oil, liquid soap, jam.
Wine bottles uncork, pouring their redness and whiteness and dryness over scattered mounds of cereal.
Yoghurts hit the wall and explode into sliding patterns of live cultures and high fructose corn syrup.
In my mind the other customers are envious as they watch my creativity. I do what they are not brave enough to do, maybe what they’ve never thought of doing.
I’m not brave enough to do it either. The Game pauses as I remember that, yes, I would get arrested, and that I have things to buy. The shop is crowded—Friday, 5 o’clock. I move my trolley out of a man’s way as he reaches for some Marmite on the top shelf, and suddenly that Marmite is smeared across the shop’s front windows, mixed with the condensation. No, it’s still in the jar. Now it’s in the man’s hand, in his trolley, rolling away.
The next part of the Game involves my wondering if I’m crazy.
I answer no. I know I’d never actually do it. I had started playing this when I’d been bored as a kid shopping with my mother. She said no to all junk food, she said it was evil, so I would pretend to destroy every processed, fat-laden snack we passed. Even now the biscuits and crisps don’t find their way into my trolley. They feel off limits.
I glance down at my shopping list. It has two sections. What I wrote in dark blue are the things I need to buy, and the invisible words tossed across the margins are the things I need to avoid. Pomegranates, my list doesn’t say. I’d like to crush every pomegranate in here, then ship them to J.D. He will sign for a cardboard box of bleeding pomegranates and his expression won’t know what to do with itself. He’d never eaten one until I brought him to this very shop and we picked it out, round and red, insides jeweled. My love for all things pomegranate moved away when he did.
Hummus, my list says. The Greek olive kind.
I find the hummus display and sift through the stack. They’re out.
The spicy kind is good too.
No, I like Greek olive. I’ll come back.
Jaffa Cakes, my list doesn’t say. They are his favourite junk food. I’d bought him a package one day for no reason, it wasn’t his birthday or Christmas or even to celebrate landing a gig. He stood there in his kitchen and ate one after the other, and I wanted to gag, to ask him, don’t you know how bad those are for you? My mother would have never let me buy them, I wanted to say, and I would never buy them now, if it weren’t for you.
I pass by a shrine to Mr Kipling and mentally knock it over, my flip-flops flattening every frosted cake and cupcake. Yellow sponge bursts through the plastic and squeezes out the sides of the boxes, misshapen yet free, never to be eaten.
Next. B.M., my list says.
That stands for beef mince. I once had this thing for abbreviations. I never found out what J.D. stood for, he’d only tell me that it was a family name. It doesn’t matter now, it can stand for the way jokes die, their humour lost and now making the air between us unbreatheable, and the way Janet didn’t die, although I wished that upon her every time her name came up. I know he moved back for her.
It can stand for Just Don’t.
Just don’t leave. Cheat, hurt, yell, hit, but just don’t leave.
Maybe it’s John Doe.
I approach the wall of meat at the same time as a woman with a crying baby in her trolley, and we study the last rectangle of beef mince before studying each other. I wonder if she knows her baby is screaming; she doesn’t seem to notice his existence and yet is very aware of this one remaining package.
What a beautiful baby, I say. His face is bright red, twisted into a fit.
Thank you, she says.
What’s his name, I ask.
The name paralyzes me. We stare at each other. I’ve already failed with the hummus, but I don’t know how to explain that to her. I don’t move. She takes the beef and tosses it into the trolley’s basket next to the boy. He shudders and stops his wail, now just faint hiccups, and he runs his fingers over the frosty plastic covering the meat. I watch them move away.
My list crumples itself and hides in my bag. It’s not working. The Game starts again, more vicious this time, and I see my hands take other packages of meat and tear them open, slinging the raw flesh at the wall—pork loins, chicken breast, sausages, beef tips, all adding grease to the paint and then falling into a spread-out terrain of muscle and fat. I see the manager come up to me and grab my arm and say, Madam, what on earth are you doing? Madam, put that down…
J.D. loves any kind of meat, I hear my voice saying, he loves all of it, even chili dogs. Once he ate three in one sitting, each lathered with so much ketchup and mustard that you couldn’t tell what they were. It was so disgusting I’d taken a picture.
What? he says. Who’s J.D.? he asks. Madam, please, just put those down.
They’ll put me in the news for this, I say, and he’ll see it in the paper and know that it’s me. He’ll read about it and again his expression won’t know what to do, that face that always knew what to do and when to do it and what to make me feel.
My hands drip red from the meat and the manager still holds my arm. He pulls me away from the carnage and up to the front of the shop.
I hear whispers as we pass.
The manager is on the phone.
It’s just a Game, I say.
He pauses on the phone and looks at me. Game over, he says.
Ice cream, my list says from my bag. But I know it’s wrong. A bowl of ice cream was his tradition every midnight and thus belongs in the margins, needing to be forgotten, unworthy of my money, disapproved by my mother, and I see it out of the shop’s freezers and it melts into a pool on the floor.
It’s just a Game, I say again.