« A Grandson Called Eden | Main | 111 - Bolivia's Independence Day »

Open Features: Checking Out

...A carton of orange juice, a couple of tiramisu, two slices of gala pie, a beetroot salad, a tube of toothpaste, a Daily Telegraph, a pack of toilet rolls, a bottle of tomato ketchup.

This was his life.


But if you're lucky you find something far more important than groceries in your local supermarket, as Brian Lockett's deliciously satisfying tale reveals.

Arthur had tried the scan-it-yourself check-out, but it hadn’t worked. A disembodied voice kept telling him to clear the packing area, which he didn’t understand. Eventually a woman with a badge telling everyone that she was Chagira had come along and taken charge, explaining as she went about her business what he was doing wrong. She had everything sorted out in a few seconds and then asked him to show her his money. She picked out coins from his palm, fed them into a slot and grabbed the change as it clattered noisily into a little bowl attached to the machine.

“Have a nice day,” she said with a smile as she handed him 78p. The machine repeated this, adding peremptorily “Next!” Other customers were glaring at him and muttering comments he didn’t quite catch.

No, he didn’t want to go through that again, which was why he was now standing behind a large woman at a manned check-out. Judging by the mountain of groceries in her trolley she seemed to have a very large family. Two giant boxes of washing powder, for instance. A moment of panic gripped him. Washing powder was not on his list. Should it be? The choice was horrendous: powder, tablets or liquid? Biological or non-biological? And there were so many brands on the market these days. And conditioners, pre-conditioners and Lord knows what else. Dora would have known, of course, but now ….

“There was all that trouble at our Edie’s wedding,” the large woman was saying to a slim, shorter woman at her side, her pendulous earrings swinging from side to side as she breathily started to unload on to the conveyor belt. “I was surprised he had the cheek to turn up again. After all, Bob clouted him, so you’d think he’d get the message, wouldn’t you? Some people … ”

She left the comment in the air as she moved forwards and backwards with three large packets of cornflakes and a couple of bottles of milk. The smaller woman grunted, moved to the bagging area & tore several wads of plastic from the dispenser.

Arthur sighed and for the umpteenth time counted the items in his wire basket. There were still eight, so he couldn’t move over to the so-called express checkout. The sign there still read ‘5 items or less’, although he had pointed out to the manager that it should be ‘5 items or fewer’.

“Countables,” he’d explained helpfully. “If you can count them you want ‘fewer’, otherwise it’s ‘less’. So: ‘fewer oranges’, but ‘less sugar’. Here we have ‘items’. Countables, you see. Therefore ‘fewer’. OK?”

The young man, whose badge gave him a name which Arthur found unpronounceable, politely agreed and thanked him. He clearly had no idea what Arthur was on about.

“Just a minute,” the girl on the check-out was saying, “this bag of sugar is leaking. I’ll get someone to bring you another.” She pinged a bell and a light started flashing while she carried on scanning. A groan went up from the queue and Arthur found there was now enough room on the belt for him.

A carton of orange juice, a couple of tiramisu, two slices of gala pie, a beetroot salad, a tube of toothpaste, a Daily Telegraph, a pack of toilet rolls, a bottle of tomato ketchup.

This was his life.


The large lady in front of him was nowhere near half-way through her load. He glanced behind. A young couple, he talking animatedly on his mobile, she engrossed in a paperback. Arthur had the impression that for them shopping for groceries was not allowed to interfere with the more important activities of their lives. He, on the other hand, …
He felt a prickling behind the eyes. A warning that he could be about to make a fool of himself again. When Dora was alive … He blew his nose. She wasn’t, and there was no point going down this road again. If they had been in the habit of shopping together, would it have made a difference? Would it have made things worse, perhaps? She had been firm all those years ago.

“Arthur,” she said, “you clearly don’t enjoy pushing a trolley and I get fed up turning down your potty suggestions about what we ought to buy, which aisles we should visit and in what order and great money-saving offers we can’t afford to miss. So let’s agree, shall we, that you either sit in the car or get yourself a cup of coffee somewhere?”

She was right, of course. So he just drove the car, loaded and unloaded and generally kept out of the way.

“Seven pounds eighty-four,” he heard.

“Sorry,” he said, fumbling for his wallet. “How much did you say? I was miles away.”

Belinda, according to her badge, repeated the amount, pointing to a visual display and staring into the middle distance, while the young couple behind finished unloading their trolley without interrupting their more important activities.

“Need help with bags, dear?” asked Belinda, eying Arthur’s small pile.

“No, thanks. I don’t need any bags. Brought my own.” He produced a capacious, straw-coloured bag bearing an environmental slogan.

“Suit yourself, dear . Wanna get yourself a loyalty card. Mounts up, y’know.”

Arthur scooped things into his bag. Dora had a loyalty card, but he hadn’t been able to find it. He would have to look again. As Belinda said, it mounts up. Even at seven-eight pounds a time.

Avoiding the trolley battering rams as best he could, he paused by a display of paperbacks alongside the tobacco counter and, his thoughts elsewhere, cast an eye idly along the titles. Popular thrillers, romances, lots of cover drawings in pink and red and … Live Alone and Like It. Was that a piece of advice addressed to him? He lived alone now, and he didn’t really like it. More accurately, he hadn’t got used to it. He stretched out a hand towards the book, then realised that another hand was alongside his heading in the same direction.

“Sorry,” he said.

“No, I should be the one to say sorry. You saw it first. Go ahead.”

Standing by him was a woman in, perhaps, her early fifties. She was smartly but casually dressed. He studied her. Green eyes, dark hair with flecks of grey and, he suddenly realised, she was reddening under his intense gaze.

“This time I have to say sorry because I am embarrassing you, I think,” he said. “It’s rude to stare, but I, well, I … ” He stopped. What could he say? Because I’ve not looked at a woman - really looked - for many years? Because you really are very attractive? Because I don’t talk to women any more?

She seemed to sense his awkwardness.

She reached forward again and picked out the book.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s the last one. I couldn’t do that. Here.” She thrust it at him and made to go.

“Just a minute,” said Arthur. He thought more quickly than he had done in a long time.

“Look, you take it and, perhaps I could borrow it from you when you’re done with it. I’m in here fairly regularly, so we could meet, couldn’t we?” Was the note of pleading too obvious?

She looked at him and then lowered her head to read the blurb.

“ ‘Enjoy a life on your own. This book has been written by someone who knows about the problems of living alone. Practical matters: organising your day, shopping economically, recipes for one, making friends. Outlook and lifestyle problems. Decisions to be made. Loneliness. Attitudes. How, when, where, why. The answers are all here.’” she read aloud.

They looked at each other.

“Sounds a bit too good to be true,” said Arthur with a self-conscious laugh.

“Well, okay. I’m prepared to give it a try. Your idea’s a good one. Shall we say ten o’clock next Tuesday? Here.”

“What about the coffee shop next door? A bit less crowded, I think. You could give me your impressions of the book over a drink and a slice of carrot cake or whatever.”

“Right,” she said, holding out a hand. I’m Amanda.”

He took her hand and squeezed.

“Arthur,” he said.

“Arthur it is then,” said Amanda with a smile and a wave as she turned to leave.

Arthur couldn’t explain the feeling, the sort of tingling that overcame him. Childish, silly wasn’t it? No-one had spoken his name in his presence for a long time.


To read more stories by Brian please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Brian+Lockett


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.