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  • Alan Ward

Supermarket at the End of the World

Scarlet catches herself reflected in the glass, which is glass but not transparent because, before the end of the world, the company responsible for the shop had placed some branding behind it. A vinyl background the colour of autumn. There’s a small logo in the corner that doesn’t matter now.

For a brief second she sees herself in the glass and everything could be normal.

Things that are out of place: her hair is too long. If the background behind her were clearer in the glass she’d be able to see the figure slumped in the open doorway of Wetherspoons. Doors on some of the abandoned cars are open and the middle of the road is littered with leaves and bags and other litter raked out from the shops in the panic. There’s no one else here apart from her and the baby.

The reflection doesn’t really show the background though. The dark, flat colour will only pick out what’s closest to it, what’s brightest. So when Scarlet steps out of her dealership-clean Nissan Qashqai and slams the door, the sun catches her and the baby and it could be a few months back, like she’s just stopping off to buy some milk from Sainsbury’s on her way home.

Strands of her straight blonde hair float around her head. What was once a sharp fringe is now soft, and the rest of her hair hangs down over her shoulders to frame the baby. Similarly yellow-haired, he’s smiling from his carrier, quite content to be strapped in, facing forwards, looking out at the world from the middle of Scarlet’s chest. She has on denim dungarees and a long-sleeved t-shirt. She looks, she thinks, single mother about town. All that’s missing is a purse in her hand and a bit of make-up, but the murky reflection doesn’t pick out those details. She’s healthy, her skin is rosy, the baby’s cheeks are full, and the car door gives a single clap behind her as she slams it. A one-handed applause that’s over before it’s begun, and reverberates dull off the buildings either side.

The leaves in the gutter, already blurring the line where the tarmac ends and the pavement starts, shudder in a fresh breeze, but the sun is bright and the drive this morning has been pleasant and the baby is smiling so Scarlet is in a good mood. And her reflection, caught only for an instant, gives her a window back to old times.

They come in flashes: the day the power inexplicably came back on and she watched fifteen minutes of Sliding Doors before the DVD player went back to being nothing but plastic and circuit boards. Picking out clothes and finding herself trying them on in the fitting room. Slipping a pound coin into the charity box on the counter in the library like anyone cares about cash any more.

The clouds cross the sun and her reflection is gone, and anyway she only catches it in that instant when she slams the car door. She’s here to shop: she swallows a deep gulp of autumn air and pulls the baby’s muslin over his mouth and nose, enters the shop through the jammed-open automatic doors, and takes a basket.

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