Expiration Date

by Michael Parker

The woman in front of me tuts. “I haven’t got all day, you know,” she says. In my experience, people who say that often have all the time in the world.

The checkout girl doesn’t even acknowledge her. She merely grabs the first of her items and swipes it through. The woman mutters something about customer service and the girl doesn’t even look up.

I watch her curly red hair, the kind a lot of fat women seem to have, tumble forward as she leans forward to snatch the last few items from her trolley. Her T-shirt escapes the elastic clutches of her jogging bottoms and exposes a tattoo that was probably once a dolphin. A tonne of shopping struggles down the conveyor belt. She straightens up and adjusts the bra that’s turned her back into a balloon animal.

When there’s sufficient space, I unload the paltry contents of my basket. A pack of chicken breasts, some parma ham, new potatoes and asparagus. I’d asked the woman in front if I could nip ahead of her, after all I had a total of four items, but she just sneered at me. And as much as I’d like to have argued, I couldn’t be bothered – life’s too short. I toyed with the idea of using the self-checkout, but they’re strange and temperamental beasts and I don’t want people to think I’m hopeless.

I check my watch, the one my wife gave me on our wedding day. She got us matching ones and said time was more precious than any gold ring we could buy. Whenever I look at the watch face, I see her. That used to give me comfort.

The seconds eke away, punctuated by the steady beep of the checkout.

I lied to her, today. First time I’ve told her a lie of any consequence in forty years of marriage. I told her I was going for a round of golf. Coffin-dodger Tuesday, I called it. I didn’t want to worry her; didn’t want her to be with me in case the doctor confirmed my fears; didn’t want one or both of us to cry in the doctor’s office.

My shopping edges nearer to the till. The potatoes, I notice, have a use-by date of the end of May, six weeks’ time. Properly stored, they’ll outlast me.

I’ll tell her tonight, after the meal.

Michael Parker is an English teacher hoping to become a fully-fledged writer, one day.

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  1. #1 by oovj on April 20, 2015 - 8:51 am

    Nicely paced piece.

  2. #2 by fiona richardson on April 20, 2015 - 10:15 am

    Beautifully written.

  3. #3 by Lizzie M on April 20, 2015 - 1:56 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. Enjoyed the imagery – especially the ‘balloon animal’

  4. #4 by Linda Daunter on April 22, 2015 - 11:11 am

    Poignant story, beautifully told.

    (This story arrived in my inbox with the title ‘Potatoes’. Just my opinion, of course, but I thought that was a better title. ‘Expiration Date’ gives too much away.)

  5. #5 by joehaywood on May 27, 2015 - 3:12 am

    Really well written – I particularly liked the references to time throughout: ‘I haven’t got all day,’ ‘life’s too short,’ the watches. Kind of agree with the previous comment about the title, however, in the sense that the revelation doesn’t come as much of a surprise. ‘Potatoes’ would ensure this isn’t an issue, or maybe something a bit more subtle like ‘Checkout.’

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