“Oh shit! Quick! Hide!”
Matty shoved Sarah behind the the huge stack of toilet rolls at the end of aisle 9 and was quick to follow, peering cautiously back around the 3-ply. With her head down, busy checking off the shopping list on the app, Sarah had failed to notice whatever deadly threat Matty had discovered in the next aisle and was taken unawares by his sudden protective manoeuvre. Her phone skittered across the floor and she bent to retrieve it from under the shelf of cleaning products where it had come to a stop.
Matty peered again around the corner and then quickly stepped backwards, unfortunately into Sarah’s bent rear-end, pushing her headlong into the shelf. Pine-o-Cleen bottles clattered and bounced all around them.
“What. The fuck. Matty?” Sarah’s arms were protecting her head from plastic bottles cascading from the shelves above. Luckily the aisle was empty apart from themselves and a pallet’s worth of displaced disinfectant. Sarah sighed and bent to begin righting the disarray. Matty was annoying enough to shop with at the best of times – mostly it was harmless stuff such as singing and dancing along to the store’s piped music, but sometimes he levelled up to asking “DO YOU NEED TAMPONS?” from the length of an aisle away. She was often finding herself casually lagging behind or nonchalantly racing ahead to avoid association with her darling husband. She liked to get in and out as efficiently as possible – and preferably without entire grocery categories descending upon her person.
Matty hurriedly grabbed some bottles and shoved them back on the shelf. “It’s him!” Matty’s stage whisper was paired with a wildly intense look; Sarah could see the whites of his eyes and his back was hunched, his arms cradling another dozen bottles. He was just shoving them on the shelf any old which-way, which had them rolling and falling down again in a Sisyphean fashion that suggested to Sarah that fleeing the scene of the crime would be the best option before someone came to frown at them. She grabbed the trolley and pushed on, hoping for a quick exit.
“Stop! No! Don’t go that way!” Matty dropped the armful of bottles and grabbed her arm. “He’ll see us!”
“Him! That guy! You know! My arch-nemesis!”
Oh Christ. Sarah rolled her eyes. “Where?”
“Freezer section. Desserts.”
Sarah stuck her head around the toilet paper display, briefly weighing up whether it would have been better or worse if he’d pushed her into the loo paper instead of the Pine-o-Cleen.
She could see into the next section of the supermarket which had a low freezer installed all the way down the aisle. At the other end of the aisle a man was deliberating at length between a box of mini Magnums and a Vienetta. He was wearing a bright yellow beanie with a pom-pom.
“The one with the head that looks like a pineapple?”
“Ha! Perfect! Yes, that’s him!” Matty chuckled maliciously. “Stupid pineapple head.” Matty’s own beanie was the slouchy kind that suburban dads wore on weekends in the hopes of looking like young hipsters.
Sarah leaned on the trolley and cocked an eyebrow at Matty. “And he’s your arch-nemesis?”
“Yes! You know! He’s that guy. THAT guy! The one that cut in line when I took the kids to see that animated emotion movie, you know, the one where kids are supposed to learn something about how to deal with their emotions…”
“Yeah that one…”
“…I sent you to see that movie…”
“… his kids go to St Bede’s. Then there was that time he stole my parking spot at Bunnings when I was CLEARLY indicating for it. And there was that other time he turned up late for his timeslot on the BBQ at the fete and then we saw him at the trivia night and he acted like he’d never seen me before! I WAS THE ONE WHO HAD FOR WAIT FOR HIM TO TAKE OVER THE BBQ!! And he’s ‘never met me’! I hate that guy!”
Sarah peeked around the toilet paper again and pushed the trolley on. “It’s ok, he’s gone. I think he went with the Vienetta.”
Sarah started pushing the trolley a bit faster, and rechecked her phone for the remaining items on the list. Matty selected his box of mini Magnums and they finished up the shopping without further product displacement.
At the checkout, Matty began to heap their shopping onto the conveyor and Sarah acted as overseer, rearranging everything by category so that the shopping bags would be packed properly by pantry shelf, household room or need for the all-important insulated bag (the modern person’s guarantee that their hard-earned ice-cream would survive a ten minute journey in a climate controlled car without the threat of instant liquefaction).
A man in a yellow beanie joined the queue behind them.
“Matty? Sarah? Hi, how are you guys going?”
Matty froze with his arms full of bread and paper towel.
“Oh hi, sorry, I don’t remember your name?” Sarah stuck her head around Matty’s dumbstruck form and smiled at the pineapple-headed man. “We know you from St Bede’s, right?”
“Yeah, I’m Zach, my twins are in your daughter’s grade I think. Anyway, I took over from Matty at the fete BBQ. We go way back.” Pineapple-head laughed.
“Oh yeah, right, Zach, how are you, man?” Matty dropped the assorted goods on the conveyor and out of habit or aeons of social conditioning, unthinkingly moved to shake the man’s hand. Zach stepped forward with an awkward fist bump that Matty mistook for the opening of an embrace and both men ended up in a high-fiving mess of misread body language which resulted in each patting the other’s shoulder and both clearing their throats in phlegmatic fashion. Sarah stifled a pretend sneeze to cover up the snort-laugh that had escaped her at the display of these two paragons of middle-aged masculinity meeting in the wild.
The supermarket employee was of the competent and task-oriented sort, so the reusable shopping bags were quickly filled and Sarah busily immersed herself in handing over credit cards, loyalty cards and gathering up a 6-foot receipt for the purposes of retaining one inch of it for its magical petrol discounting powers.
Zach was unloading his trolley onto the belt. “Hey man, I never got a chance to apologise for being late that time at the fete BBQ. One of the twins had just thrown up after too many lollies and the wife was manning the cake stall. I had to do a quick hand off to the mother-in-law and didn’t want to leave the poor kid alone till she got there. My bad. I know those days just drag.”
“Hey don’t mention it man, I’d forgotten all about it. Totally understandable anyway. Kids come first, right?”
Both men smiled and laughed like the bros they clearly now were.
“Speaking of which,’ Matty continued, “gotta go get the little monsters from nanna’s place now, so I guess we’ll see you round.” He shot his pistol finger towards Zach in an excruciating gesture that had never been cool in any era.
“Absolutely, no worries. See you guys another time.” Zach mock-saluted, drawing attention to his yellow beanie.
Sarah waved goodbye and pushed the trolley out the automatic doors as Matty followed behind.
“So, that was your arch-nemesis?” Sarah was smirking. “Hey man…” she mocked as they reached the tailgate of the SUV.
“Oh my God what a wanker, did you see all the kale in his trolley? There’s no way they eat that much kale.”
Sarah’s snort-laugh escaped for real this time, and resounded through the undercover carpark.