Flash Fiction


Warmth from the previous shopper’s hands makes me shiver with repulsion as I clang a trolley loose from the line. How can the handle still be warm anyway; the shop is as good as empty this early on a Sunday morning. Although the virus was long gone I dig into my handbag for a Wettie and wipe the trolley handle and my hands clean.

The vastness of B&Q swallows me up and I zig-zag past store front displays of special offers all clamouring for attention. A huge advertising photo of a paint-splashed couple decorating their bedroom as if it were the most joyous act in the world, contrasts starkly with my domestic life. Lisa and I had been a team like that. Once.

The ballcock valve had been leaking in our en-suite toilet for days, but my partner, Lisa, refused to fix it claiming that Sunday is a day of rest. Lisa worked as a plumber so her inaction was galling. Earlier that morning, deciding to fix it myself with the help of a YouTube video, I sat down at the kitchen island and switched on my laptop. Lisa came downstairs, placed her phone on the counter top and made herself a cup of coffee. Her phone vibrated with an incoming message.

‘Terri’s asked me to meet up for a workout.’ Lisa said and poured the coffee into a travel mug and left the house.

Lisa had never been fitness conscious before meeting Terri. She used to be a curry-in-front-of-the-TV kind of gal which suited me. Quelling my frustration with a glass of last-night’s Chardonnay, I calmed enough to watch some DIY videos. Taking responsibility was good; I made a list of tools and materials necessary for the job.

In B&Q, feeling like a lone ant in a deserted colony, I smile in relief when I find the PLUMBING aisle. I pick up my note from the trolley but this notepaper is lined and has a serrated edge where it was ripped from a spiral pad. The words are written in green felt pen. I don’t possess a green felt pen. I had laid the list in the trolley, hadn’t I? Fumbling in my handbag I find only my phone and some old receipts. No list.

A sensation of being watched makes me spin around, but no one is there. All I can see is the blinking eye of a CCTV camera which creaks when it turns to cover the aisle adjacent to plumbing.

Fluorescent lights flicker on and off in a Morse code pattern and I do a double take of the shelves heaving with articles so alien they might come from another planet. The lights buzz like angry mosquitoes.

The shopping trolley rolls forwards of its own volition. Is the floor on a slope? It appears spirit-level flat. I look around searching for someone else to witness this uncanny phenomenon. No one. The lights on the ceiling continue to flash on and off so that the trolley jumps forward in jagged pictures like a flip-book animation. Jogging to catch up with it, I stop every few strides to catch my breath. The trolley goes straight past all the plumbing gear, takes a wide curve at the end of the aisle and comes to an abrupt halt so that its back wheels come off the ground like a bucking horse.

Sweat trickles down the well of my back and I look around desperate now for some human company. Something to root me in the moment. Anything to tell me that I am still in the workaday world.

We stop in the ROPES section. All the different colours and textures look like sleeping snakes in a reptile section of a zoo. Some are lurid colours wrapped around drums waiting to be liberated into the desired length. The jute ones are less alarming, they smell of hay drying in the sun. The first item on the list reads, ten metres of flexible rope.

I grab a packet of 10 metres of polypropylene braided rope.

Off the trolley goes again, this time stopping at rubber gloves. I choose Marigold because Mum always swore by them. Next on the list is gaffer tape (black, 11 metres, 48mm wide) followed by a hatchet axe. The heft of it in my hand feels good. Powerful. Then the final item, 70-litre bin bags, pack of 50.

A symbiotic relationship grows between me and the trolley. If it comes to an awkward angle when it stops I straighten it and makes sure the items are laid flat so that nothing falls in transit, upsetting its equilibrium. If only all life could be like this. All decisions made for you and a set of instructions to follow. Wouldn’t that be nice. If the day of reckoning ever came I would say, the list you see, it just had to be obeyed.

Things could have turned out differently. If only Lisa had agreed to fix the en-suite toilet that Sunday morning. If only I hadn’t chosen a murderer’s trolley. If only the trace of virus hadn’t infected me. If only my wife hadn’t fallen for a gym bunny.

I aim for the self-checkout area. The shop lights return to a tinnitus buzz, and outside a curtain of rain sweeps across the car park. I check the time. After their ‘workout,’ Lisa and Terri will be jogging towards the canal.

Displayed next to the self-checkout tills are torch head-lamps. I put one in the trolley even though it’s not on the list. Netherton tunnel is en route for the lovers and it’s always pitch black. It was single file there and it would be a toss-up which jogger was lagging behind. No matter. I scan all the bar codes of my items and in a moment of recklessness I nick a carrier bag. I lick my fingers to open the slippery bag. Well, it’s not as if anyone is looking, are they?

Angela Williams lives in the Netherlands where she writes stories in between the less demanding jobs of house-sitting, dog-walking and dreaming of worldwide renown. She has had short stories, poetry and flash fiction published by among others; Liars’ League, Mslexia, Reflex Fiction, Flash Flood Journal, Reckon Review and Casket of Fictional Delights. In 2020 she published her story collection, Healer, under her pseudonym, Susan Carey. In 2021 she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. See her blog and Twitter: @su_carey