By Sam Unwin

Deep breath. Eyes open. Chin down. 

Doors slide apart. Follow her in. Clench empty hands. Pull out the trolley. Hear the squeaky wheels. Squint in the fluorescent glare. 

One step after her. And another. Watch the back of her head. 

We used to hold hands. Used to wander the aisles, unhurried. I used to trace the lines on her palm, memorise the gentle curves and warmth. Her engagement ring used to dance in the lights.

Now her ring hunches over her finger, dull and tarnished. I rub my thumb over my own wedding band, still as bright as it was on the day we promised to stand beside each other forever.

A bag of apples into the trolley, the plastic crunch of their wrapping the only sound between us. I take brief solace in the fact she has picked the kind of apples I prefer, but that burst fades as her blank eyes sweep past me. 

A pause while she selects a cheese. Brie, not Camembert. 

“What’s the difference?” I used to ask her.

“Everything,” she’d say.

To me, the only difference is in their names, but on her tongue the contrast is crisp. And as the days and weeks and months pass, it has started me thinking. We are the same in name – together, married, family … but the difference between us is becoming everything.

A packet of biscuits tossed in. Her baby pink cardigan sits oddly on her frame, as uncomfortable as our silence.

There is an unfathomable gulf here, a tectonically slow divide. The ever-widening shadow of an afternoon I know is headed towards night.

And I don’t know how to stop it.

It tears at me, a physical rip, every time she glances away. Every flick of her eyes towards the cacophony of pickles, washing powder and pasta sends another fracture line splintering through my chest.

The checkout bleats. The harsh lights make her normally sun-kissed skin pallid. Lifeless. But I summon courage, open my mouth to ask her something, anything, and again she turns away. As though she can’t bear to hear my voice, to be touched by my words. 

And it breaks me completely.

She starts towards the doors, but for a moment I cannot move. A piece of us will be left behind here, discarded at this checkout amongst the tabloid magazines and chocolate bars. 

And I know we can never be whole again.

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