Bread and Tulips. Flash Fiction by Kathryn Anna Marshall

Wednesday is the best day – quiet, lovely Carl is usually filling the shelves and if I get here for twenty past four the yellow stickers are just going on which always gives me a little rush of excitement. I’m about halfway through my shop, just past the cooked meat aisle, wondering about a quiche but I probably wouldn’t get it all eat and the mini ones, well they’re mostly pastry, aren’t they? A lady bumps my elbow, and I look up, wearing my best benign smile, pre-hearing the mutual unmeant sorries. She glares, calls me a stupid bitch and dumps four more two pinters in her trolley. I let her pass, and she grabs the last six mini quiche. I suppose the milk will wash the pastry down.Carl is indeed working today, and I see him behind a trolley piled with Smart Price toilet roll – not my favourite but it seems really popular today. The people of Telford must have thicker skin than I gave them credit for. A red faced man pushes me out of the way – turns to explain that he’s got four kids, then fills half his trolley from the gurney. One of his children is trailing behind with a bag of potatoes. It’s split and there’s four on the floor, which I start to pick up. Mr Toilet Roll almost takes my legs from under me and demands I get my own fucking potatoes. I do have a small bag of salad potatoes in my basket but I don’t point this out.

Naturally, I’m a little shaken (more embarrassed to be fair – as if I’d steal potatoes from a child), and lovely Carl abandons his trolley of treasure to the masses to check I’m ok. I am, of course, I encounter worse than Mr Potato every day but it’s nice to have some attention from lovely Carl, so I fashion what I hope is a brave, yet enigmatic, smile.
Carl tells me to follow him, and I do – we step into the loom of the warehouse. It smells cold and is rumbling with wheels and trolleys and people moving stuff from nowhere to nowhere. No one looks bothered by me and my little basket. Some of them recognise me I think, because I always smile and wave. One man grins widely at Carl and comes over with a bunch of tulips, hands them to Carl who hands them to me with a slightly embarrassed flourish. I open my mouth to say something lovely but the tannoy cuts me off. All staff must go to aisle five, repeat all staff must go to aisle five.
The rush is like a supermarket action movie, if you can imagine such a ridiculous thing. Pallets of potatoes, trolleys of flour and even more toilet roll are abandoned as all the staff rush to the commotion in the bread aisle. Warburtons and Hovis are jammed in trolleys, next to white plastic loaves that go so well with tinned tomato soup. Garlic tear and share and tiger loaves soars though the air, and are caught by kid of about fourteen, who holds them as though they’re a school attendance award. Carl shouts that I’m not safe, and I should go. I hand my basket to one of the women already pawing through it and head to the exit, clutching my tulips to my chest. A security guard eyes me, and I get ready to try to explain why I don’t have a receipt but he’s distracted by a row near the frozen chickens that looks likely to turn nasty.

The sun’s out as I start to walk home, past throngs of rushing families muttering about pasta and rice and tins of tomatoes. I put my nose to my tulips, which is ridiculous since they don’t smell, and look closely to see if he’s hidden his number amongst the blooms.

Kathryn is a writer based in Shropshire. She’s always written, but it was diagnosis with M.E. that forced her to re-evaluate and reconsider the role of writing in her life. Kathryn’s poetry publications to date include work in Mslexia, Words for the Wild and Saltwaterzine, and she was Poet in Residence for Secret Severn Art Trail in 2019. She has flash fiction in Riggwelter Press and was longlisted for the Fish short story prize in 2019

1 Comment

  1. That’s just beautiful. All we need are these random acts of kindness to keep us going. Thank you for sharing this.

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