Sloppy habits had crept into Susan’s life through the back door and were draped sideways over the three piece suite and making layers ring marks on the glass coffee table. She had trained herself to slump in the brown leather recliner with her feet up with large cushions either side obscuring any possibility of even a glance at the grime and hairs on the other furnishings.
Of course, it hadn’t always been like this but shortly after her sister had died, there seemed to be no polish left and she couldn’t find the dusters. In a cupboard, there was a vacuum cleaner but it had stopped picking up and a nasty sour odour deterred her from opening the door.
The only clear area in the entire house was the hallway, just in front of the door to the outside world. She didn’t want the delivery people to think that she was uncouth so once a fortnight, she would push the accumulated dust and fluff into the kitchen with a broom and shut the door quickly. Her library consisted not of books but take away menus and for her entertainment, she would shuffle them and surprise herself with the catch of the day. Although she didn’t make conversation with the drivers – and this would have been difficult anyway because they scarpered as soon as the exchange had taken place – she had her favourites and sometimes her selection of meal hinged upon her calculation of the rosters and who would be likely to appear on the doorstep that evening.
One evening, her meal arrived and things went wrong. And when Susan appeared in the doorway of the supermarket, it wasn’t just the onlookers who were taken aback. There was a man guarding the entrance, looking her up and down. He handed her a basket and waved her inside. The man was wearing a hot red uniform.
She wandered along the first aisle which housed an array of items claiming to be free from so many things that it should have stood empty. There were packets of what could be ham in one aisle and another place where you could watch it being wrapped up. Similarly, there were loaves of bread on the shelves in foil wrappers good enough for astronauts or you could queue up and ask for it to be sliced, for them to sigh for you, put it through a machine and then into a plastic bag. They had boxes of cream cakes or you could ask for the same cream cakes from an actual person who would put it into the box right in front of your eyes, no kidding. The frozen pizzas were ’buy one get one free’ which was curious because she wondered why they didn’t just make them cheaper. What if you only wanted one?
What if you only wanted one thing and you got to the checkout and yet you still had to answer all those questions about parking tickets, schools vouchers, reward cards from a disembodied voice floating around to the beat of a red light and a cacophony of bleeps. And this is just what Susan had to do. There were no cashiers to be seen anywhere and yet people seemed to be queuing up to pay. There were no carrier bags to be seen anywhere.
It was amazing how things had progressed since her last visit. The man behind her with a stack of disposable barbecues helped her scan her pizza. Beyond the checkout were four cubicles. You could swipe your ‘reward’ card to be admitted to the appropriate one; Protestant, Catholic, Muslim or other. Susan hadn’t been to church since she was a child and chose the last booth. Inside was a swivel stool and a selection of buttons.
‘You’re a dirty woman’ a female voice announced.
‘So give me the pizza.’
Susan thought about it. She looked down at the pizza on her lap. She’d made it through the self-service checkout, the barrage of questions and now she was going to lose the pizza after all. Now she understood why they had to give them away and she wished she’d picked up two. She hesitated. She was hungry. She posted the box into the flashing opening underneath the buttons.
‘Thank you. You may now press the redemption key. Your reward card will be credited.’
The swivel stool started to spin and descend towards the floor of the cubicle and Susan, weary from hunger, took this as her cue to stand up and leave. She looked for an exit but could see none so instead, she made her way back to the entrance. The automatic doors closed sharply in front of her and the gentleman in the red suit stepped forward and handed her a basket. Susan would have to go around the supermarket again. She felt like she’d died and gone to Hell.