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"Out of stock" by Eleonora Balsano

Yesterday sadness hit me in the condiment aisle, my cart still empty save the unseasonal raspberries I will forget in the fridge, watch them mould and shrink into black bitterness. I was looking for vinegar, although once there I couldn’t remember which kind I needed. Was it the Modena one or the cleaning type, with its sharp, chemical smell? Did I need olive oil too? Or was it sunflower? Which was I supposed to use for mayo? I stared at rows and rows of ketchup, and I couldn’t choose. I gave up on the grocery list, and on all the others, too. I could never check all the items off anyway. There is always something out of stock. Green peppers. Intimacy. Time.

I’ve heard people say how grief hits you in waves. One minute you’re fine, self-scanning your canned chickpeas and thinking about hummus, and a second later a searing pain in your chest stops you from breathing. You drop one can, bend to pick it up, slip, steady yourself against the cart, inhale, hope no one has seen you.

A navy arm pushed my cart to the side to reach the truffle dressing and murmured an apology. She looked my age, but better. A double-breasted coat like the one I’ve always wanted to find somewhere, jeans, Converse. Hair up in a loose ponytail, blue eyes, long, pale hands. She quickly filled up her cart. Maldon salt, sesame paste, olive oil — the five litres can — three jars of chickpeas. She’s making hummus too. I followed her to the pasta aisle, enthralled by her confident stride. She knew where everything was. Her coat had pockets on the hips, the unflattering kind. Not on her. I wish she could teach me. How to shrink my hips. How to make good hummus. How to forgo lists.

We parted at the self-check-out. I needed to think of something, something I could call dinner. I saw the rotisserie in the corner, by the exit. There was one bird left, and it looked like it’d spent too long in the heat, but it would do. It had to.

Later, as I dropped my reusable bag on the passenger seat, I saw the navy woman again, carefully arranging her bags in her boot as in a game of Tetris. When she was done, she slammed the door shut with a strong hand, stronger than it’d looked when it had moved my cart aside.

Then she straightened, fished a crumpled Kleenex from her pocket, and patted her eyes dry.

She turned toward me, met my eyes, and hurried to get in her car but didn’t start the engine. Sitting in mine,  I wondered how it would feel, to listen to her story. Then I remembered that it all comes in waves. The illusion of closeness, and yearning for more, and love, and loss, and all the items that can never be crossed off a list.


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