Sport 27: Spring 2001
Maggie Rainey-Smith — Saturday Night Shopping
She is standing at the check-out, mentally adding up her purchases. The man next to her is buying dental floss, a new brand, but for some reason it won't scan. The sullen young woman on the check-out has summoned the supervisor, who is now trying to trace the dental floss among the toiletries and find a price. Amy grins sympathetically at the waiting man. The check-out operator leans back in her chair as if this is her cue to relax. Amy watches the frustration of the shopper beside her, senses his impatience as the supervisor heads towards the wrong aisle. The queue behind her is growing. She is suddenly aware of someone next to her, up close to her trolley.
‘I see you bought some Lindauer!’
Who is this person? She looks up. A woman is talking to her, gesturing toward the bottle of Lindauer Special Reserve in Amy's trolley along with the cat's meat, corn chips, packet burritos, genuine Greek feta, pistachios, toilet paper, monthlies and the Listener. The woman has a purple nose. This is what Amy notices first: tiny, broken blood vessels forming a map in front of Amy's eyes. The woman is scrutinising Amy's trolley.
‘I have a friend who buys this stuff in bulk—can't drink anything but bubbly—give her a chardonnay or a sauvignon, and she's as silly as a chook—right-as-rain on bubbles—$7.95 on special—do you realise, it's normally$13.95?’
Amy doesn't, and she doesn't really care. She is going out for a celebration dinner and, not wanting to look cheap, she has bought the Special Reserve, and not the special. If this woman doesn't know the difference, maybe her friends won't either. Amy looks at the woman's trolley, trying to take her attention away from the purple nose. There, beside a box of Libra invisible with wings, a box of bacon-flavoured crackers, hokey pokey ice cream, a New Idea, and a packet of Holiday (Smoking Kills), are six of the gold-wrapped, naturally page 124 fermented, cork-at-the-ready Lindauer (on special)—six bottles! She envies the New Idea. There is an article about Tom and Nicole she badly wants to read. Who is getting custody of the children? Amy usually finds long queues so she can scavenge the magazine rack for snippets of gossip while fingering the North & South and buying the Listener. She has her standards.
‘Don't you hate this part?’ The woman is determined to engage Amy in a random conversation. Amy focuses on sorting her groceries on to the now stationary conveyor belt. Fresh from frozen, fragile from fetid and reading material next to the toilet paper. She's become an expert in packing to save at Pak 'n save. A part of her disagrees with the concept of saving a few cents on each item, only to end up wasting precious moments packing her own groceries. And now, here she is, captured at the check-out unable to escape. There is something very vulnerable about placing your groceries on the conveyor belt for the scrutiny of others.
‘I say to myself, why do I come here and then have to pack my own groceries?’
Amy's thoughts exactly, but she avoids looking directly at the woman.
‘I see you've bought the ones without wings.’
Amy hurriedly stashes her monthly supplies in behind the packet burritos. She glances around the supermarket for support, a distraction. The place is awash with Saturday night shoppers all in a hurry to get served. They are queuing quietly, a captive audience. The check-out operator seems to be enjoying herself. She is in no hurry to price the dental floss and begin scanning Amy's purchases.
Amy is running late. She'd fallen into a trance when she stopped to choose her monthlies. It is always the same. She has one of those short memories that prevented her from planning ahead. You'd think after all these years, she tells herself, I'd be prepared. But no, here it is, that time again, and she is faced with an ever-increasing range of products. She often wonders about the woman who assist the market research. The focus they must have, the detail they must lovingly share about every single sad redundant cell. Lately, she's taken to grabbing the packets based on colour. But this has failed her badly when she's page 125 arrived home with not diagonal wings but aerodynamically rounded wings. This involves a number of tricky manoeuvres including endless little scraps of paper at the end. The worst part isn't that they're sticky, but what it is they stick to.
‘Do you prefer them without wings?’ The woman isn't about to give up.
‘My friend, she's menopausal, but she still buys the sure and natural without wings. You know,’ the woman says, confiding, in a quiet tone of conspiracy, ‘great for the odd incontinent moment’.
Amy feverishly throws the last remaining items on to the now moving black surface and grins with relief as the dental floss is finally priced. She beams enthusiastically, empathetically, at the man in front of her who is now receiving his change.
Amy thinks about the choices forced on her when she is shopping. It always seems so important when you have to make a decision between regular, light and heavy. As if this is a defining moment in your womanhood—fecundity, sex appeal and your general state of health, all there in the choice you make. In your trolley, lies the secret to your womb. The man is leaving. Her turn. At last.
The check-out operator has resumed her robotic scanning technique, but not without first addressing Amy. ‘And, are we having a good day?’ How she hates these inane niceties that the supermarkets now encourage. But she always feels compelled to respond. And Amy's problem is she often finds it hard to just say ‘fine’.
‘Great thanks, now that I'm being served.’
She regrets it the moment it comes out. There is silence. Just the pock pock, mock mock of the scanner. Then absolute silence. Amy's bag of hand-selected pistachios is being waved across the scanner in a gesture of contempt.
‘You haven't written the product code on here.’
Surely she can punch in pistachios thinks Amy. She waits hopefully. The check-out operator waves the pistachios across the scanner once more to show Amy that without a produce code she can't price the product.
‘They're pistachios’, she hears herself saying in a matter-of-fact, and she hopes assertive, manner. Chosen with care, only the fully page 126 sexually mature with their green fruit bursting out of the husk, forced open for convenience by the heat of the oven. She has to keep in mind her nail enamel and the new porcelain on her two front caps. If you think pistachios are expensive, thinks Amy.
‘I know that,’ comes the reply.
‘Perhaps she can't spell it.’ It's the little purple nose leaning towards Amy in a gesture of solidarity. Amy is glad of the trolley that separates them. The queue now has formed a curve around the magazine stand and some lucky shopper is reading the very article that Amy so badly wanted to read on the custody battle between Tom and Nicole.
‘What are they like? I've never tried them. My friend…’
The check-out operator suddenly relents, begins scrolling through the computer to find the nut category. Finally, with relief, Amy is punching her pin number into the Eftpos machine, offering a weak smile of gratitude as it flashes ‘accepted’. She glances briefly in the direction of the woman, now unloading her trolley onto the conveyor belt, a farewell gesture. The woman doesn't notice, she is busy chatting to the check-out operator about the cost of the yellow plastic bags and whether she ought to buy two or three and whether the bottles of wine will fall through the bottom of the bag if she uses two, instead of just one.
Amy rushes to the formica and chrome tables to pack her groceries, eager to escape the uninvited intimacy that shopping imposes. She reloads her trolley, heads towards the glass doors just as they are closing, pulls back, reactivates the sensor and then hurtles into the night air, navigating her trolley with a focus that parts the traffic as if Moses himself were conducting the flow. Behind her she can hear the ominous clanking of bottles, a trolley that is progressing with an alarming sense of purpose towards her. Amy pushes with her thumb over and over, hoping to activate the car door opener from way beyond the normal range, a futile and agitated action that she repeats until she is almost on top of the car—pointing with fury at the unopened, unresponsive door.
Behind her she can hear a voice calling, ‘Excuse me, excuse me.’ Amy thinks if she can just get the car door open, the groceries into the hatch, maybe she can escape, reverse out of the car park and dissolve page 127 into the evening. The batteries are stuffed, she thinks, as relentless thumb pressure renders nothing, not even a flicker of life in the small bulbs by the door that normally leap into life at the lightest touch. She can no longer pretend with any authentic nonchalance to ignore the ‘Excuse me’ and the sound of clinking bottles heading towards her.
Amy looks up with her car-park-friendly-I'm-in-a-hurry face and there across the asphalt, aloft, level with the purple nose, her Stayfree, ultra-thin, no wings, have taken flight—they are waving to her, beckoning for recognition, demanding ownership.