Walking through the cosmetics aisle Annabelle said, “I need eyeliner.”
To her spectre I replied, ‘That sounds unlikely.’
She hovered before a range of bottled liquids in a jittering way, as though she was unsure to appear real or not. I wanted basmati rice and regretted this shortcut.
“Buy that one,” she said in a wispy voice with an infrequent tone. It was much like listening to a helicopter that is far off, and then suddenly near.
‘We don’t need eyeliner.’
“We don’t. I do. Don’t you want me to look my best?” She timed the statement so she appeared at her most solid at the end of the sentence.
Today’s Annabelle had dark hair that waved behind her shoulders. She wore a black dress which rippled with the coming and going of her image, and her skin was tanned and eyes brown possibly from an ethnic background or possibly from her inability to solidify. It is wrong to say I should remember what she looks like each day. All I knew was that she looked alright to me, and so the prospect of her looking better sounded appealing.
‘Okay, which one?’
“The black one.”
She pointed to the closest bottle. I dropped it into the basket and it rattled on the plastic before lodging between two struts.
My forehead scrunched with curiosity. Annabelle’s eyes now had a solid dark ring around them, while the rest of her body faded and returned.
“And pantihose,” she said as though a fact. I walked to the stockings and reached for a packet. “No, the tan,” she said, and added for help, “The skin coloured ones.”
I took a packet as requested and place it in the basket. Suitably her legs, or what was visible of her legs below the intermittent black dress, held their appearance as other parts came and went. I looked along the aisle for more items to build Annabelle’s character, so to speak.
To onlookers I might have appeared as a helpful boyfriend, buying ladies wares for a girlfriend who was perhaps in need of items before a fashion festival. This gave me a new feeling of social acceptance, and so I piled in a tube of lipstick, some nail polish, and a brand of hair removal cream, all under Annabelle’s guidance. I even put in some eye shadow and blush, but removed these after I saw how they looked on her.
‘Do you need these?’ I asked, and placed a box of tissues into the basket. Annabelle’s bra swelled. There was a great displeasure in her face. I put the box back.
‘How about these?’ I pointed to a packet of tampons. ‘Do you need these?’ At this second much of Annabelle disappeared and I made eye contact with a shopper who was selecting hair gel. The timing of Annabelle’s fade might have been intentional. The hair gel woman blinked and I withdrew my hands from the tampons to reach once more for the tissues, not as a threat to Annabelle but as a comfort product in the aisle.
With the box of soft papers in hand I realised that, to the hair gel women, I might not be a kind hearted boyfriend aiding a partner, a partner who might be detained at work or hospitalised with a mild illness, instead I might be a transvestite purchasing items for the weekend. This revelation provided a new issue. If the women buying hair gel was single, any hope of romance with her would be seriously hampered by the explanation of the bounty in my basket. Unless, of course, she was seeking a cross-dressing bearded male, in which case I would have to change my wardrobe, and way of life, but that would be a very niche market and unlikely. This idea of meeting someone did, however, remind me of one thing. This is the game of Supermarket Basket Dating.
I don’t know the rules, or even the correct name, all I know is that some single women go to supermarkets to see what groceries single men are carrying, and then they strike up conversation. Two single people meet through shopping, bond over food and loneliness, and begin dating. It sounded simple. Too simple not to try.
Annabelle stood in the middle of the aisle as I returned lipstick, eyeliner, stockings and other items to the shelf. She blipped with each return, and disappeared into a cloudy haze as I passed through her on my way to fruits and vegetables.
Supermarkets do not, in my local area, sell hardware tools, sand paper or groin protectors. In seeking an item that would identify me as a single male the items were limited. Once in the fruit section I placed a single banana in my basket and began looking for a women, someone who’s basket held a peach or watermelon or tub of ice cream. Something a single woman would put in their basket. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I thought I’d know it was when I saw it.
Five minutes later Annabelle flickered into view at the end of a row. She said, “Maybe a banana is sending the wrong message.”
“That you’re looking for a single banana, not that you are one. Plus there’s a connotation with bananas that I don’t want to go into. You’re more of a cucumber.”
There was some logic behind this. Some murky logic that was unclear but still made sense. I went back to the fruit and vegetable section and put the banana back. There were no cucumbers so I put in an apple. It was green but I wasn’t sure what the apple was supposed to mean, so I took that out and put in a potato. That too I wasn’t confident about. Maybe it implied I was making a very small serve of gnocchi, or that I was distilling vodka as a coping method. I put the potato back. So far the practice of trying to portray a single man was proving more difficult than simply being a single man.
‘What do lonely single men eat?’
This answer was obvious. I went to the frozen food aisle and placed some microwave meals into my basket. Then I went and put in a can of spaghetti and tugged the hem of my shirt out of my trousers so that it hanged below my suit jacket. I then began looking for any woman carrying a basket of desserts and a lot of cream cheese. I watched for every woman that was unaccompanied hoping one of them would be mopping from the depression of isolation.
“How about that one?” said Annabelle.
A woman in tight fitting lycra paced down an aisle, a shopping basket before her. It held a bread stick and a packet of precooked pasta tubes. She had a confident stride that might have been a hangover from exercise, yet this was not the only fault with Annabelle’s suggestion. Behind the women two children picked up and put down items from the shelf. The basket in the lyrca lady’s hands was held high to keep these primary school aged children from depositing goods into the basket. I watched her speed past with the children in tow. She did not glance at my basket.
“How about that one?”
There was a woman pushing a shopping trolley. She could either have been purchasing supplies for a coming Armageddon or be buying enough goods to feed multitudes in a family. I guessed the second option. She squeezed past.
My hunt continued. I saw two young women buying noddle packets for their cupboard in a share house, eight old women buying goods their teeth could chew, and a number of women who would be within my age bracket talking on phones to their partner or buying enough food to feed two. There were some single men shopping. None holding a banana or cucumber. By my forth lap of the supermarket the basket of frozen food and canned mush began to feel heavy. Rather than returning it all to the shelves I decided to head to the cash registers and buy it.
“Giving up?” asked Annabelle. She had materialised near a discount display of toilet paper. It was like she was a sales woman, suddenly solid, standing next to the mound with a bright smile at a sign that read Buy One Get One Free.
‘I need to talk to someone,’ I said.
“You can talk to me.”
‘That doesn’t count. Not for long anyway.’
“What about my cosmetics?”
I looked over my shoulder and then back at her.
‘We don’t need them.’
Annabelle didn’t flicker or fade. Standing next to the rolls she rested a hand on the top packet. The arm of her dress slid to her shoulder. I took two packets of the paper and continued towards the cash registers.
There was a queue for the self-service terminals, yet I was seeking human interaction and so headed to a service counter with transaction dialogue ready: Just these thanks…Good thanks yourself?…I don’t need a bag…Yes…card…no thanks…have a good day.
Placing my goods on the conveyance belt the cashier said, ‘Murphal.’
‘Sorry?’ I replied.
He pointed to a sign that read: Hello, my name is George. I am deaf. Thank you for your understanding. Have a good day.
He said, ‘Marred all nashish?’
I looked at him. The foods had been placed in a bag, the two packets of toilet paper next to it. A red light displayed the figure 28.49. He looked at me expectantly.
‘Oh!’ I took out my wallet and handed him some money. He smiled, genuine satisfaction, and then swiftly tapped buttons. A draw opened and change was given.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
He nodded and smiled again, and then gestured for someone behind me to advance. I took my items and pottered away. The toilet paper under arm.
It was lunchtime so I got a burger and chips. I sat at a four seat table, a mid-thirties man wearing a suit jacket, a beard, greying hairs, a bag of frozen packaged meals and two packets of toilet paper. I didn’t really need the toilet paper.
Annabelle sat opposite. She was glowing. Perhaps from the oil that I was sure was in the frozen packaged meals, or maybe the toilet paper gave her some relief. I know little about women.
‘Thanks for coming,’ I said.
“Not a problem,” she said.