Chocolate. The ‘ch’ sound for ‘cheap’. The heady sigh of ‘co’. Finally the tongue tripping at the back of the teeth on ‘late’. Cho-co-late. It was the soothing mantra Gemma concentrated on repeating to herself, timing her footsteps to. Her mouth watered as she rounded a corner and saw the store. ‘EZ HOURS’ said the dusty looking sign. Known with a touch of fondness as ‘sleazy hours’, it served the local community their everyday staples, and the town’s drunks their cheap cider.

The sound of the shop bell dinging as she opened the door silenced the chocolate chorus in Gemma’s mind and she set about choosing the real thing. She took her time examining the various deals. Did she want quality or quantity? She had a feeling she’d go with quantity. She didn’t know when she’d be leaving her flat again. It had been struggle enough to unpick the cocoon of her dressing gown, give her armpits a quick sniff, pick out clothes, brush her teeth, drag a comb through her hair. Her roots needed doing. She wasn’t sure what colour she was going to go with next. The royal blue she’d used for four years had been one of George’s favourite things about her. “My baby blue,” he’d croon, stroking her hair while her head grew drowsy on his shoulder.

She grabbed a hoodie off one of the hooks on the back of her door. Until she could muster the enthusiasm to get creative with dye again, she’d settle for covering her head. She could even pull the hoodie down over the eyebrows she couldn’t be bothered to draw on.

“I wonder what he’s singing now,” the back of her mind had asked. Which is when she assigned a conductor to begin the Chocolate March. Drown out the blues.

A sharing size bag of milk chocolate and caramel discs? Or a bar with fruit and nut pieces. At least she could kid herself it was a little bit healthier then. Or mix and match. A small fancy bag of truffles she could pretend she was buying as a present. With some small bars to chase, as no way would the truffles be filling enough.

She’d reached the end of the aisle. Looking over to her left, there were ice cream tubs where the freezer section of the shop begun, and her ghostly reflection. Good grief, she looked like a bundle of rags still scrunched up from where they’d been pulled out the washing machine. Gemma looked down at the floor. A hole was forming at the right big toe of her canvas shoes, revealing a gash of red sock.

The shop’s bell rang out again as she rounded a corner. This aisle was all noodle pots and biscuits and other stuff she wasn’t in the mood for. This was an aisle for people who wanted to keep themselves alive. She wanted a sugary fix to remind her she wasn’t dead. Although thinking back to the ice-cream reflection, she may as well be in that half ‘n’ half zombie state.

She could hear the murmurs of the shoppers who’d just entered. She absentmindedly tapped her foot to the 90s trance anthem being piped through the shop’s tinny speakers. Another of the shop’s staples, she was quickly learning from the couple of friends she had managed to make so far (although her coworkers might have been surprised to learn she classified them as such). Discount wine and a banging soundtrack. If you were flagging on a bar-hopping night out, just jump into EZ HOURS for a couple of minutes, the bass will lift you right up. Either that, or the worry you might get shot would boost your adrenaline.  

One of the new shoppers that had entered laughed prettily, and Gemma grimaced. “Stupid girl/enjoy it while it lasts/he’ll only break your heart/yes, keep laughing at his lame jokes if you wanna get in his pants.” The Chocolate March had long died a death and was replaced by this buzzing of hatred. Whatever it took to keep Gemma’s mind off

“My baby blue…”

The flash of those dimples

The smash of glass during their final argument

The dents she’d kicked in the wall after the front door slammed.

A male voice almost made Gemma drop the packet of laundry powder she’d picked up. Shit. There was no mistaking it. Or the Pavlovian response she still had to it. The voice of home. Of laughter. Of desire. Of love. A voice now trained on whatever dizzy little missy was the next aisle over, a voice that had no right popping up in EZ HOURS, reminding her of what she was doing her best to forget. A voice belonging to a person she had no wish to face while looking like an extra in Shaun of the Dead.

Fight or flight coloured her movements. Which way would the lovebirds fly? She stealthily crept back to the aisle with all the candy, peering at the convex mirror high up in the corner, trying to spot her adversaries. She saw trainers that were definitely his style. Looked like new ones. While she’d been binge watching a superhero series and licking her wounds, he’d gone shoe shopping with his new fanclub.

Gemma was gritting her teeth so hard they were starting to grind.

She looked at her armful of detergent and sugary treats. “I don’t want any of this stuff,” she thought. “I just want to get out of here.” She shoved everything down on the nearest shelf and quickly rubbed her eyes with the ends of her sleeves.

She stood rooted to the ground for a second, holding her breath while she strained her ears to figure out her enemies’ location. George was reading out from some of the greetings cards they had on the spinner, making silly voices, while his date was close to making a puddle from the sounds of things.

“Clear up on aisle 6,” thought Gemma gruffly. They sounded like they’d be entertained for a minute. A good time to slip out.

She had her hand on the handle and was readying her exhausted body to push.

“Wait a minute!”

She froze.

“Can you come back here a moment please?”

Her grip lessened. She was so close to being back out in the unforgiving night air, air she took a sadist’s delight in sharing as it so closely matched the new temperature of her heart.

She looked over her shoulder, having to push her hoodie out of her eyes slightly. The man behind the counter was gesturing to her. “Yes, you! Over here now please.” His nostrils were flaring. What on earth had she done?

This was the exact opposite of her plan to slip away undetected. She paced over to the counter, shoulders hunched, her sneakers squeaking on the lino. She was all too aware of how she could hear a Chemical Brothers song but no more sounds of a couple goofing around in the corner.

“Yes, what is it?” Gemma practically hissed.

“I saw what you were doing with that chocolate,” the man said, dark eyes glinting. “You did the right thing. But it was close, very close.” He tapped a finger on the counter for emphasis. Gemma stared at its shovel-like tip dumbly.

“What are you – ”

“I was watching you. We see it all on the cameras, see.” The man thumbed to a screen in front of him.

“You were going to steal that chocolate, put it in your hoodie. You pretend to be interested in laundry powder. I see you. But your conscience got to you. You put the chocolate back. Well done.”

Sherlock himself couldn’t have been more pleased as this store owner was. Gemma quietly died of indignant embarrassment. She didn’t think George had spotted her yet. If she took care not to raise her voice, there was a chance she could still slip away.

“Whatever, dude,” she muttered, and the owner’s mouth fell open. He was clearly used to more of a fight with shoplifters he caught.

Gemma strode over to the door, went through it and never looked back. 

March 06, 2020 16:04

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John K Adams
01:37 Mar 12, 2020

Nice stream of consciousness. And a good twist at the end. Sorry she didn't get her chocolate.


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Ben K
18:13 Mar 13, 2020

I really enjoyed this piece. It got me to laugh a few times and made me smile more. Moving between the real world and what was in her head was great way to keep it alive and interesting.


Karen Mc Dermott
18:17 Mar 13, 2020

Aw shucks, thanks for saying so. I'm glad it made you smile! Thank you for the feedback.


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