by Rebecca Field
What food do you buy for a dying man who has no appetite? Celine’s eyes skim over the fruits and vegetables arranged in their crates like she is in a hardware store, seeing nothing. She wonders how she ever got to be this woman, aged forty-two and having to think about hospices and funeral services and claiming widowed parent benefits.
A woman further down has a toddler in a trolley seat eating a packet of raisins, leaving a trail of them on the floor behind her. The little girl is wearing blue dungarees and has a runny nose and a crooked fringe. She stares back at Celine, mesmerised by the strange lady with the empty basket. Their trolley is piled high with bags of apples, bananas, sweet potatoes. I remember the sweet potato phase, Celine thinks. It was hell at the time, but she’d go back there in a heartbeat if she could.
She realises she has no memory of him eating, no recollection of a time when he was well. What did he like to eat, before? Her brain feels sluggish, like his illness has taken over her mind as well as his body. There must be something, she thinks, something I can tempt him with. The dietician who came to the ward said he could have whatever he wanted; junk food, high calorie, all the better. But he always hated that stuff before, so why would he want it now?
Then she sees them: stacks upon stacks of blueberry punnets in the reduced section, their yellow labels clamouring and jostling for her attention. Like dogs waiting to be rehomed, they seem to be shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” She piles them up high into her basket, one after the other until it is overflowing. She will do something good with them, something he would like. Blueberry pancakes, muffins maybe. She smiles and rushes to the checkout, filling three plastic bags with her purchases.
Back home, Celine rinses some of the berries in a colander. The water is icy cold and a shiver passes through her body, sparking an idea. She gathers up all the punnets and heads for the bathroom.
Celine steps into the tepid water, her foot squashing some of the delicate fruits beneath the balls of her toes. She holds on to the bath sides and eases herself gently into the water, then lets it envelope her body like a shroud, the tiny berries bobbing against her pale skin. The peaks of her knees and breasts rise out of the water like islands. She is reminded of a Canadian landscape at cranberry harvest time.
Celine closes her eyes and submerges herself in her berry lake. She imagines herself floating, drifting under clear blue skies, and a calm suffuses through her body for the first time in what feels like forever. They’d always said they would go to Canada together one day. Maybe it’s not too late.
Rebecca Field lives in Derbyshire and works in healthcare. She has been published online at Literally Stories, Spelk Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, and Ellipsis Zine. Rebecca was highly commended in the 2018 NFFD microfiction competition and can be found on Twitter at @RebeccaFwrites.