The wind whipped her hair across her face as she tucked the elastic of her poinsettia print mask behind her ears. It wasn’t December yet, but it had been one hell of a year and so she was determined to start Christmas early. The last decade had seen her gradually lose her love of the festive season, viewing it as a tiresome excuse for over-consumption, but there’s nothing quite like reaching winter during a global pandemic to restore a desire for fairy lights and comfort food. So, Grace entered the supermarket keen to buy a few things that would cheer her up, in addition to her weekly shop.
As she stood staring at a sign that informed customers of how they could pre-order their Christmas turkey, another customer approached. Keeping a safe distance, she glanced at the woman and realised that she’d seen her before. Although they were both wearing ridiculously festive masks, Grace recognised her from the daily walk to the station, back in the days when commuting was a thing she did. They may have even spoken once… perhaps when they boarded the same train heading into town for Pride last summer, both decked out in rainbows and enthusiastic smiles.
“If it wasn’t just me on my own, I’d be tempted to have turkey every week of December just for the hell of it this year,” the woman said. “Think I might just stick to snacking on the party food though.” Grace turned to look at her and replied, “yeah, I’m so tempted to stretch Christmas out for the whole of December but I don’t actually think I like turkey that much!” They both laughed at the absurdity of the interaction before continuing with their shop. People never used to talk to each other in that little supermarket, but there was something about the lack of human contact during lockdown that had made even Londoners start to talk to strangers a little bit more.
Grace double-checked the shopping list on her phone, so that she didn’t forget something important. Having to type her passcode in every time was a small but frustrating reminder of how different everything was. Face ID didn’t work because she was wearing a mask, the queue for the tills stretched out further down the shop because of social distancing, and the overly fragranced hand sanitiser would leave its scent under her fingernails for the rest of the day, no matter how hard she scrubbed when she got home.
She thought of the turkey again. Perhaps she should get turkey sandwiches for today’s lunch, so she could try pretending that she was momentarily ducking out of the office into the nice Pret where they all recognised her and would occasionally give her a free coffee. Commuting to an office and corridor conversations with colleagues seemed to be a life that happened far more than a year ago, and now Grace’s mind turned once again to buying things that might bring cheer to these dark winter days at home. She had picked up everything from her list now, so figured that it was time to grab something frivolous before heading to the self-checkouts.
Flowers were always a nice colourful addition to her flat, so she wandered towards the front of the store to see what they had. Grace quickly spotted that there was only one remaining bunch of roses – with yellow, pink and red blooms – but the woman from her commute was already eyeing them up. As the woman turned, roses in hand, she caught Grace’s eye. “Party food and roses… I guess it’s date night with myself later, “ she joked. Grace laughed, pleased that it wasn’t just her making daft purchases under the guise of self care. In lieu of her favourite flowers she treated herself to a fashion magazine, plucked from the shelves as she patiently queued, and then quietly cursed the failing Face ID once again as she struggled to pay using her phone.
On leaving the supermarket, she stopped to remove her mask and noticed that the woman was sat on a bench outside. She looked up as Grace approached. “I noticed you looking longingly at the roses after I picked them up, so I thought I’d share.” The woman placed a single red rose on the bench next to her and said, “this one’s for you.”
This post is part of a series of short fictions, written during or inspired by a creative writing short course I took at Central Saint Martins in 2017. This particular story was inspired by a title shared by @whollybrogued on Twitter in November 2020.
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