She found a vague amusement as the human conveyor chugged slowly upwards, the handrail revolving in it its slick of grease of hundreds of insecure hands. The structural support it offered was limited; though perhaps there was something subconscious in putting ones palm over the grip of others. It was the closest to touch Abigail got. Yet she restrained herself. Her hands, like wild animals, squirmed in the pockets of her coat – almost like game strung-up pulsing from the fields. The crackle of artificial temperature, that declaration of ‘ambient’ seemed to prickle her skin. She attempted to distract herself, watching the slowly ascending line of bodies reflected in the giant pane of window, misted enough with the condensation of thousands of breaths to provide more of an internal image than an eye upon outside. All there was to see after all, was the dual carriageway and the assumed battle between cars and pedestrians.
Reaching the top of the conveyor, she felt an almost childlike thrill in selecting a trolley, pushing a grimy pound coin into the acceptance slot. The noise of the falling chain was like that of the gates coming up at a horse race, there was a kind of orchestrated excitement to it. It was in this sudden scurry to attach oneself to a trolley, that Abigail had failed to notice that it was one seemingly presumed for parent and child. This was made evident by the seat pinned to the handlebar which was ultimately a wire cage with a little embellishment. As Abigail pushed the trolley along, she noticed this more and more – the holes to let through the squirming legs, the reinforced front to provide that cold steel bite against a giddy stomach.
Her own stomach flickered and fizzed. Perhaps it was attempting to articulate the sensation which some would call ‘broody’. However, she acknowledged only that it was far from this. Continuing to push the trolley along, the weight of it and its wheels seemed enough, never mind the prospect of whole hot human weight.
The first aisle seemed to await her with an almost ceremonial irony. Other ‘shoppers’ littered its length, attempting order, though the majority frustrated by the concepts of expected conduct, slow and shaking wheels and cold metal. Strange, the informality with which hands now reached for bread, compared to the determined movement of grinding the grain, Abigail thought. People seemed a little detached from the situation, like the food itself was laid between paper an plastic.
A funeral for old habits, a welcome to ‘domesticity’.
Abigail did not want bread, even though he young woman who stood just by the bakery selection scanned Abigail’s trolley almost expectantly, she wondered why the young housewife was not stocking up on the ‘essentials’. The s he thought it was perhaps that Abigail already had a husband to for that, to buy loaves, fresh-baked . even. The young woman lingered, lingered in her own inaccurate nostalgia.
Abigail brushed past her.
In the next aisle, a middle-aged man was bent determinedly over the vegetables, aiming to look interested. He picked up a beef tomato and made a pantomime of applying pressure, what he called ‘testing for freshness’ in I an audio radio-monologue of a voice trained to be overheard. His eyes flickered upwards in the hope that someone, anyone, would consider him ‘a professional’. Abigail attempted to brush past him. Her trolley meshed with the side of the basket he held proudly in the crook his arm, expressing a lightness of pressure. He spin on her quickly in irritation, but without speech – just a click of the tongue and shake of the head, it was like the reaction of a territorial animal, or, Abigail thought, like a horse shakes its head to stop the flies crawling in the damp funnel between tear duct and lens.
Flies. Sticky, crawling, flies whose surface knows no caress.
She ducked her head and wheeled past him, as after all ‘wheeled’ was the verb she had t appropriate to her movements, her footsteps seemed unassuming and led. She paused slightly after where the middle-aged man stood, drawn by the carrots slightly purpling at the edges, the rings of their dirt-engrained skins like a token of age. She picked two with a cold hand creeping from the coat pocket two carrots grotesque in size, almost woody, they would taste close to what was considered ‘nothing’; she found that vaguely comforting. The middle-aged man peered over, head propped on an exaggeratedly starched collar, not clutching a different, seemingly quivering tomato with thumb and forefinger and shook his head in a emphatic swaying gesture. She was insolence he thought, an example of insolence,
Yet in the next aisle, the elderly gentleman only saw the gaping trolley with the two pale, still dirty vegetables laid side by side and felt an uncontrollable stir he would have called pity – only his wife said he didn’t pity anyone. He moved an agitation of hands through this greying hair and thought of poverty.
At the end of the aisle, thinking of poverty saw a woman waiting with a bottle of wine in her hand, her feet were in trainers, but her arms were in a blazer – two points Abigail knew she was expected to think off as ‘odd’. Something glinted as the woman moved her face, but it didn’t appear to be jewellery. Waiting. And then the woman’s eyes swum up and saw the girl, staring at the swollen plastic bottles with a waiting ‘trolley’. An ‘alcoholic’ she thought. The woman topped her chin up slightly and sniffed back moisture. Right back.
But Abigail only continued, proceeded to ‘checkout’. the name itself, emblazoned in banners overhead seemed affirmative that she had not travelled a distance but actually competed a kind of inversion, an insertion of self into other, an invasion of identity.
And it was in paying in loose chains for two individual vegetables she also went from ‘citizen’ to ‘insanity’.
It was almost a game.