I drive to the supermarket at 1 p.m., five minutes from the office and park in the furthest point to the car-park entrance. I’d rather not be spotted by any of my work colleagues.
I grab a wire basket and choose something for lunch and supper – a bit of fish or a chop for later and some seasonal veg. I try to mix it up a bit for lunch. Today I’m back to my favourite, a little plastic tray of sushi. I’ve treated myself to the seafood version with a crayfish tail and slivers of tuna.
I eat in the car, listen to the lunchtime news and check my social media. Not that I do much on social media apart from liking what everyone else is doing and re-tweeting my employer’s new range of cleaning products. My life’s straightforward. Sometimes I set an alarm on my phone, tilt back the seat and fall asleep. Old bugger with one foot in the recycling.
I’ve got to know the outdoors attendant who corrals the wayward trolleys, pushes the rattling trains back to their graffiti covered shelters. He stops by my open car window and says hello. We comment on the weather conditions for herding supermarket trolleys. Seldom perfect. He’s a prostate watcher like me. Used to be a fireman. Retired at fifty on two thirds pension – lucky bastard. I’ll die in this pin-stripe suit, sat in this company car in this very car-park. I call him by his first name, Frank, but he only ever calls me ‘Sir’.
I like to people watch, who doesn’t?
Frank says you see all of life in a supermarket car-park.
Last week I witnessed a mother slap her crying toddler’s face so hard, the little girl’s legs buckled and down she went on the tarmac. The mother yanked the girl up by one arm and started again on her bare legs. I shot from the car, went over and yelled at the woman to rein it in.
‘You’ll do that child some damage,’ I said. The little girl reminded me of my daughter at the same age.
‘Fuck off and keep your nose out,’ she said and gave me the finger as she threw the girl into the back of the car. I returned to my car to call someone but by the time I had my phone in my hand the woman had driven off.
‘You should have got the number plate,’ Frank said. That’s his fire-brigade training.
My daughter lives in Australia now. She calls me twice a year, on my birthday and Christmas Day.
I’ve seen solitary men, and women, sitting in their cars, drinking spirits straight from the bottle they’ve just purchased. One time I saw a couple having sex on the driver’s seat, her straddling him, in their office clothes. I parked in the same spot for the next couple of days in case it was one of those places. A tap on the window. Nothing.
There’s a knack to eating sushi in the car. I spread an old map book over my knees to catch any stray rice, then dab the wasabi paste and mini ginger flakes onto each seaweed-wrapped bundle. I pinch each piece of sushi with the chopsticks whilst, with the other hand, I squirt on soy sauce from the tiny plastic fish with the screw-top nose.
Frank is never without a packet of dog biscuits in his supermarket Hi-Viz jacket pocket. I keep track of him as he goes around the car-park, poking the treats through the gaps left at the top of car windows, his eyes scanning for returning dog owners. He was threatened with the sack when he was caught feeding meaty treats to a vegetarian Pekinese. I watch him chatting to the dogs, sometimes putting his hand through the open window, patting heads or scratching chins. If he finds a dog in a hot car with no window open, he asks customer services to put out a public address announcement.
‘I wouldn’t hesitate to smash a window,’ Frank says. That’s his training again.
At 1.45pm I take my rubbish to the nearest bin and, if Frank sees me, we wave cheerio. I wonder if he has anyone to talk to in the evening, who he tells about the dogs he’s met through car windows, the memorable parts of his car-park day. I try to forget about my day and who I’ll tell. That’s all part of my training.
Steven John’s writing has appeared in Burningword, Bending Genres, Spelk, Fictive Dream, EllipsisZine, Storgy and Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020, amongst others. He’s won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record seven times. Steven lives in The Cotswolds, England, and is Fiction & Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.