A short festive story which I had published in a small press magazine back in 2005 - thought it could do with another airing...

Don’t Panic It’s Christmas

 

            Here I go. I can do this, so what if I forgot my list? How hard can it be to stock up for Christmas?

            “Are you sure you can fit my shopping in the car as well as your own?” asks Margo, my ultra organised neighbour. Not however, organised enough to learn to drive.

            “Of course,” I smile; after all I have got a seven-seater estate car – with the seats folded down. I briefly wonder how much shopping she’s likely to need for two people.

            “We can always come back round with another trolley if we can’t fit it all in one,” she says, looking doubtfully into the depths of her trolley.

            I smile, or was it a grimace? No no, it was definitely a smile. Here we go. As we go round the shop I can feel the tension levels building; so much for peace and good will, more like ‘will’ get the last ‘piece’ of food on the shelves. Everyone has the same determined look on their faces; this has to be the shop to end all shops, the one where everyone buys everything they could possibly need over the festive season; along with a good many things which are destined to be thrown away in a future cupboard clear out. I blame the shops; how can they close for twenty four hours just when we need them most? It’s a shocking neglect of their customers, who’ve now grown used to twenty four hour shopping. What if we have unexpected visitors, and we’ve run out of the very thing that they want to eat? I wonder who these inconsiderate people are, who turn up out of the blue making impossible demands; and think that maybe my life would be a lot easier if I became one myself, instead of fretting about them descending upon me.

            “Isn’t Christmas exciting Mummy!” I hear a small child say to her mother, her face lit up as the bright lights reflect off the tinsel which she has wrapped around herself like a glittery boa. Yes, Christmas is supposed to be exciting, but as I look around I can’t see much sign of it, I grab a piece of tinsel off a shelf and wrap it around my neck. The little girl points and smiles; everyone else just stares. I don’t think I can be entirely blamed for what happened next, if the shelves had been stacked better, and not booby trapped to make everything fall off as innocent trolleys go by, I never would have thought of setting off party poppers in the middle of the supermarket – I do hope I don’t set off a security alert! Some serious looking men in uniforms are stood staring at me, Margo is flapping about trying to distance herself from me and several children in trolleys are trying to escape, to come and join in.

            I try to get my mind back onto the task of shopping; I manage to put several things in my trolley before Margo snatches one out.

            “You can’t buy that! Didn’t you see the documentary last night?”

I look at her blankly.

            “It’s full of that dangerous chemical that kills rats.” She takes several other things out of my trolley, tutting disapprovingly. “You really should read the small print.”

            I head for the fresh produce, there’s no printing at all on that; unless it’s already bagged, and then it says 5 on it, no matter how many items the bag contains.

            “5 a day,” explains Margo, as if addressing a small child. “You must have heard of that.”

            I wonder if a chocolate orange would count as one of my 5; but probably not. I wonder how many pieces of produce I should buy in order for six people to have 5 a day for a week; and where I could keep it all cool enough not to become something that resembles a science experiment. I begin to panic buy, anything to get out of here. When did shopping become so complicated?

            “I noticed you haven’t got any of these,” says Margo thrusting a pack of little plastic bottles at me, which look just like the bottles of cat milk I buy for the kittens.

            “They’re full of good bacteria,” she assures me patiently. “You should drink one every day.”

I have a mental image of bacteria sorting themselves into goodies and baddies and having little battles in my intestines, and I wonder how many more calories I will have consumed by the time I get through all the things I must have everyday – and what time I will have to get up each day, in order to get through it all.

            “It’s a good thing I came shopping with you isn’t it?” says Margo smugly. I just smile in defeat as she takes it upon herself to help me to all sorts of things I didn’t know I needed.

            “Ooh look, wrapping paper’s on a multi saver, of course I bought mine in September, but you can never have too much can you?” several rolls land in both our trolleys. She’s on quite a roll herself now, and reaches for everything in twos. On a good day I can be quite assertive, but all the fight’s gone out of me by this stage, and I trudge along behind my trolley, consoling myself that I should have enough here to hibernate till spring. It’s no accident I decide, that the booze section is at the far corner of the shop, just at the point when you know you deserve a treat. So despite protests of:

            “We don’t need that isle; I bought my sherry weeks ago.”

I carry on; my trolley, by now gaining momentum, and far too heavy to turn at a moments notice. Now it’s my turn, I can shop in twos as well; two for me, two for Margo.

            “But I don’t drink,”

            “Didn’t you see that documentary last week? A little bit of alcohol is good for you – it relieves stress.”

            “But I don’t suffer from stress.”

            “You might have visitors,” I assure her. “Spirits – good for a sore throat, and unwinding after shopping.”

            “I haven’t got a sore throat, and I enjoy shopping.”

            By the time I get to the cash out, I’m feeling slightly revived, the shiny bottles decorating my shopping like baubles on a Christmas tree.

            “Would you like help?” asks the cashier. I look nervously at Margo, but she’s too busy with her own shopping, trying to hide the shameful amount of booze that seems to have found its way into her trolley.

            “Yes please,” I smile, what do I care if my potatoes are packed on top of my bread, or the cat tins on the tomatoes? It’ll all turn out right in the end, Christmas always does; and anyway, what can possibly go wrong when I’ve got an army of goodies in little plastic bottles. I’m a great believer in the goodies always coming out on top.

By

Anne M. Stephenson

Published in ‘Cauldron’ Magazine 2005