by Fiona J. Mackintosh
I’m in Sainsbury’s frozen section looking at the ready meals when I see you. You’re in the child seat of a trolley, holding onto the orange bar. The woman with you bends into the refrigerated case, and you stare at me over her back. I know that face. Your eyes are blue-grey, the pupils dark as slate. That arrow-straight hair, flyaway when brushed. It crackles and stands on end when I pull off your woolly hat and you run to the mirror, bent double with laughing.
I push my cart up behind yours. You lean sideways to look at me, the freezers enfolding us like an igloo. I want to reach out and zip up your jacket, though you never feel the cold. It only snowed once in your life. I called in sick, and we scraped enough together to make a squat ball which we squirted with the food colouring I’d used for your birthday cake.
The woman glances at me, then away. I follow you. It’s warmer away from the freezers. I put random things in my cart — a jar of Taste the Difference curry sauce, an Easter egg in golden foil. When I lag behind, you look for me. You try to turn in the child seat, but your coat’s too tight, and you let out a cry of annoyance.
Big red signs hang over our heads saying BUY 2 AND SAVE! ½ PRICE! 2 FOR £7.99! There were signs in the hospital too, huge blue ones with too many arrows — Radiology, Ultrasound, Acute Assessment, Paediatric Emergency. Chapel. Mortuary. Exit.
At the checkout the woman loads her shopping onto the belt, chatting with the girl at the till. You watch me from under those lashes I can still feel on the inside of my wrist. I could lean forward and touch the large round buttons on your coat. Our eyes are locked together as if our lives depended on it.
I leave my items on the belt and follow you outside. The till girl calls after me. A tepid rain is falling. You stare at me, one finger in your mouth, as the woman loads the orange bags into her 4 by 4. I hold tight onto the trolley handle, adoring your head’s perfect oval. An elderly man touches my arm.
“All right, pet?”
“Thanks. Just thinking.”
“Right you are then.”
He touches a finger to the brim of his cap and limps away.
The car park is stained with damp. She’s strapped you into your car seat, your moon face still turned towards me. I pull out my mobile, and, as the 4 by 4 reverses out of its space, I key in the license plate number and watch it dwindle into traffic.
You’re gone, but I still feel your breath on my face, your heart in my chest. This is not like the last time. We’ll be together again, my baby, my love. It’s just a matter of time.
Fiona J. Mackintosh is a British writer living in the Washington, D.C., area. Her short stories have been published on both sides of the Atlantic and have been longlisted for Plymouth University’s 2015 Short Fiction Prize and the 2016 Bristol Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the 2016 Exeter Story Prize. In the last year, her flash fiction has won the TSS Flash Fiction Competition, the Retreat West Monthly Themed Flash Fiction Contest, and the Ad Hoc Fiction Contest (twice). You can follow her on Twitter @Fionajanemack or on her blog Midatlantic at http://fiona-midatlantic.blogspot.co.uk/.