(content note: absence of a baby and obliquely
implied rape of a character who might be a minor)
I didn’t set out to lead a life of crime, but then again, I didn’t set out to do a lot of things. As I went into the shop, I walked past the glossy chocolate bars, and my fingers tingled like I’d held them too close to the bar heater. I was tempted to put one in my pocket, but I didn’t as I was trying to be good. There was a soft, doughy belt around my middle, and I knew I still looked preggers if I didn’t hold my tummy in. Last Monday at the market, a new stallholder asked me how many months along I was. I tried to laugh as I said, “I’m not pregnant, just fat,” as if it was all some big joke, but inside, I felt sick. You see, I’m not really fat; my wrists are tiny, you can see the blue veins through my skin, like a map of the Picadilly line on the underground. And I know my legs look good in a short skirt coz Mum told me I should cover them up when she caught Steve looking at them. Anyway, I rummaged around in my over-large bag, looking for something to take away the nasty taste in my mouth that I always get whenever I think about Steve. I found an Imperial Mint; it was a bit fluffy, God knows how long it’d been there, but I wiped it off and popped it into my mouth anyway. I made a point of leaving my bag unzipped, casual-like. The mint was chalky on my tongue, so I took it out and dropped it on the floor. I sailed past the bottles of nail polish. The candy-colored shades reminded me of when my nails were like talons, but that was before Dad left. I curled my sticky fingers into my palms to hide my nails as they’re bitten down to the quick now. I started biting them after Steve moved in with us. I’d reached the baby aisle, and there was a young woman with a heart-shaped face and a baby bundled around her middle looking at the dummies. The baby was yelling blue murder, but the woman just smiled and rubbed his back. She even smiled at me as she left and said, “Teething, you know.” I wanted to shout, “No, I don’t know,” but of course, I didn’t.
Then I pulled out my scrunchie, and my hair made a curtain around my face. I picked up a can of baby formula and weighed it carefully in my fingers like I was choosing a melon, and then I slipped it quickly into my bag. The rush was immediate, as thick, and as golden as honey. The can pulsed in my bag, warming my belly, and I didn’t feel numb anymore.
Of course, I knew not to leave straight away. I repeated in my head, “Linger, and browse, linger and browse.” And I headed to the perfume counter. I picked up a curved hot-pink bottle; it was dotted with tiny glass chips, a bottle for Disney’s idea of a princess or maybe a genie. Do you know, once upon a time, I believed in happily ever after and wishes but not anymore. Anyway, I sprayed the scent on a cardboard stick and wafted it in front of my face. I was surprised, it smelled like a clean white T-shirt, so I spritzed it all over my hoodie. I hoped it would mask the sour smell, but then I noticed a shop assistant was watching me. I put down the bottle, fighting the urge to run; my thoughts slapped me around the face. “Breathe slowly,” I told myself, “Smile at the old witch giving you the stink eye as if you don’t have a care in the world.”
Wandering down the next aisle, I found myself amongst the greeting cards; a mountain of pale pink and blue cards shouted congratulations on your new baby. I swallowed something hard in my throat and moved along. The cards, further ahead, were printed with shiny woodland animals, sparkly fish, and glittering insects. Of course, the only bugs or animals you got around here were anything but pretty, but I suppose nobody would buy a card with a cockroach or a rat on it. I felt like I was walking through a paper meadow far away, one full of flowers and magical creatures, and I smiled for the first time in a long time.
I chose one with a butterfly and a rose and thought about slipping it into my bag so I could send my smile to her. But I didn’t know where they’d taken her, so I put the card back and turned to leave the shop. “Excuse me, Miss,” a razor-sharp voice pursued me.
Later, when they found out I didn’t even have a baby anymore, I could see the pity in their eyes, and all I could do was shrug as if I didn’t care. But of course, I did.
Adele Evershed is an early years educator and writer of poetry and flash fiction. She was born in Wales and has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore before settling in Connecticut. Her prose has been published by Every Day Fiction, Free Flash Fiction, Ab Terra Flash Fiction Magazine and Grey Sparrow Journal. Her poetry can be found on line at High Shelf, bee house Journal, Tofu Ink Arts Press, The Fib Review, Shot Glass Journal, Sad Girls Club and Green Ink Poetry. Adele’s work also appears in a number of print anthologies.