“THE CHECKOUT” by JAMES HOLLOWAY

It’s 6:30PM when you enter the supermarket.

You’re dressed in thongs and rugby shorts, an old white t-shirt with “Taree Surfing Club” on the front, pressed in faded letters. You haven’t been to Taree since you were a kid, and you can’t remember where you got the shirt, or why you still have it, but now you wear it for occasions like these – ordinary ones, like doing the shopping or visiting your parents; occasions that don’t really require you to dress up. This one t-shirt does have a pretty noticeable barbecue sauce stain down the front, and it makes you a little self conscious, but hey it’s the shopping centre – and who’s judging you? You’re dressed to be comfortable, not land a date. Who’s even looking, you convince yourself.

“This is water,” you say, as you pass the Mount Franklins.

You have your shopping list written on your phone in the notes app, and every so often you get a notification from a Facebook group chat you’re a part of with some friends from high school. You start thinking about that time earlier today when you searched for that girl in your economics tutorial you spoke to last week and considered adding on Facebook but didn’t. You still haven’t added her and now you worry that it’s been too long, and if you do it now it’ll be obvious that you were thinking about her – and that might come across as creepy.

Your list reads like this:
– Pasta
– Pasta sauce
– Eggs
– Milk
– Ice Cream
– Capsicum
– Quinoa (for Jake)
– Toilet Paper
– Biscuits

Avocados are on sale, you notice, as you stroll through the aisles – its not too busy today and you like that, it means you don’t have to do that awkward thing when someone else is standing in front of the shelf you want for an awkwardly long time and you’re too polite to ask them to move so you just potter around vaguely in their peripheries, hoping they’ll notice. Then, giving up, you move on, only for them to move a second later. And sometimes even you’ll then try to turn around, but because the trolley is so unwieldy and actually heavier than you’d ever care to admit you end up gently ramming the side of yours into the front of hers by accident, and sheepishly expel a ‘sorry’ and a nervous laugh before returning to the shelf where you browse the different types of pasta sauce.

You don’t need to do that today, because the supermarket is mostly empty, and besides it’s a small shop so you’re only carrying a basket.

But as you’re meandering down the snack aisle, perusing the chocolates, you notice another soul passing you in the opposite direction. It’s a girl, and she looks about your age, and she’s beautiful. She’s so beautiful you’re suddenly reminded of the stain on your t-shirt, and your thongs and your rugby shorts which probably ride a little too high. She’s so pretty it makes you feel like a little boy.

You’re not stoned but it reminds you of a time you were stoned and at the movie theatre and the girl at the candy bar was so pretty you got distracted and forgot to pay for your Maltesers. You’re not stoned this time but you’re similarly incapacitated, and you wonder if those years of drug use have coloured your sober experiences to a point where you can’t help but see them through a weedy lens. And you worry that you’ll never see the world again the way you used to. Forever comparing it to ‘that time you were stoned.’

This girl has tan brown skin, she’s short but not too short and she’s skinny but not too skinny. Like Goldilocks, you think. You make brief eye contact and she smiles politely as she walks past and has the most beautiful smile, its difficult to describe but it makes you feel like smiling too and her teeth are white. She’s wearing shorts, those thin fabric ones with the elephants on them that she probably got from Bali or from someone she knows who’s been to Bali. Even though her outfit is basic she looks really good in it.

You send a message to the group chat.

Just seen the most beautiful girl in the world, you say.

Matt replies: fuck her

Tom: send a pic

She’s over by the groceries now in front of the mushrooms. You’ve already got your groceries but you head over anyway. Could you ask her out? That’s a bit weird. You’re in the supermarket and you’re both in daggy clothes. She’s probably not expecting to be asked out, and she’s so pretty she probably gets asked out all the time by daggy guys. You could just start up a convo, get her number or add her on facebook. You could make a joke about mushrooms. Something about fungi. You wonder if she would find that funny or cringey.

A buzz from your phone.

Tom: send a pic

You open up SnapChat because that doesn’t make a noise when you take photos. You take a photo of her from behind, she’s still looking at the mushrooms. You cant see her face in the picture but you can see her body and her body looks good. You save the picture and send it to the group chat.

The girl moves on to some other part of the grocery store. You finish your shopping. You hope you might see her at the checkout. You even consider hanging around a little longer just so you end up in line together. When you get there though she’s at one checkout and there’s another checkout free and you think it would look weird to take the busy one instead of the free one, so you take the free one and think in your head maybe I’ll see her in the parking lot.

But you don’t.

And when you check your phone you see Tom’s posted the picture of the girl to Facebook and tagged you in a post with the caption:

Damo spotted this cutie in the Dandenong Woolworths. Has a little crush on her but too shy to go up and say hi – anyone know who she is?

Your heart skips a beat. This is pretty ruthless on Tom’s part. You type ‘WTF’ in the group chat and he responds with ‘hahaha’ and ‘chill out mate’. You think about it a little longer, Damo’s got a lot of friends so lots of people will see this and maybe she’ll think its charming. You think, this will make me look like a quirky dude, like Mac DeMarco or someone like that.

The post gets 30 likes in the first few minutes and you get a notification every time. And then the post gets 100 likes and then 300 likes because people are sharing it with their friends. Someone links it to the Sunrise Facebook page. You and Tom can’t believe how much attention its getting.

The next morning you get a message from the Sunrise Facebook page saying that they saw your post and they’d like to interview you and Tom for the breakfast show. That you could take them to the Dandenong supermarket and show them the spot the girl was standing when you took the photo.

You ask, is this a joke? And they say no, and that a lot of people have been responding positively to Tom’s post and they think that their television viewers would enjoy the story too. They ask when you’re free and you tell them every afternoon after five. They say they’ll meet you outside the Dandenong supermarket this afternoon after five. You ask if you get paid. They tell you that they don’t typically pay people for these types of stories. ‘Human interest’, the Facebook account calls them.

You and Tom arrive at the supermarket half an hour early just in case. You sit in the car listening to the radio, to the classic rock station – they just played the Who and now they’re playing Foo Fighters. You and Tom argue over whether the Foo Fighters count as ‘classic’ rock since they have only been around since the late 90s and then you realise that the late 90s was almost twenty years ago.

You see a small white van with SUNRISE written on the side pull into the parking lot. You and Tom get out, eager to meet whoever steps out. There are only two people in the van, the first person is a tallish woman with blonde hair and white skin dressed in a sensible blue blouse and black pencil skirt she introduces herself as Samantha. The second person is a man who looks about forty, he’s wearing a blue rugby jersey and black trousers. When he shakes your hand you feel intimidated because his hands are quite a bit bigger and his grasp firmer, but he’s smiling so you don’t feel intimidated but you still feel inadequate. He introduces himself as Reese.

You wonder if Reese and Samantha have fucked.

You don’t know why you think that – especially because the answer is most likely no. But you think it anyway.

Reese opens the back of the van and lugs out some camera equipment. He spends a little while plugging certain cords into certain holes, and testing microphones and changing lenses and things like that. You don’t really understand what’s going on but it looks tedious. During this time Samantha runs you and Tom through the segment, she says they’ll spend some time filming interior and exterior shots of the Woolworths and then they’ll ask him and Tom and few questions about their friendship and about your love life and that if he doesn’t want to answer anything he can just say so. But you tell them that you’re ‘game’ and when Reese is finished with the cameras they begin filming.

Samantha asks: “So, how did this whole thing start?”

You tell her that you saw a girl in the supermarket but were too shy to approach her so you sent a photo to Tom – and then you point to Tom, and Tom nods his head, smiling slightly and unsure what to do with his hands, or where to look – and he posted it on his Facebook page.

Samantha asks: “Were you surprised by how popular the post has become?”

Tom answers this one, he says that he has a lot of Facebook friends so he wasn’t too surprised. Plus everybody loves Damo and everybody is keen to help him out. He says Damo’s ex-girlfriend from highschool even liked the photo.

Samantha asks: “So Davo, what is your relationship situation like?”

“Well,” you reply, “I’m single – obviously.”

You laugh nervously.

“I don’t know why, I’m good looking” – you tap your belly in a way that’s meant to be self-deprecating, but you’re not sure if it comes across as arrogant.

“And everyone says I’m a funny guy.”

You laugh again. You want people to know you’re joking.

That you don’t actually think you’re that attractive or that funny.

Samantha asks: “what will you say to the girl, if you end up finding her?”

“I’m not sure, I think I’d be dumbstruck” – you laugh again – “but I think I’d go for the usual, ask her for a coffee, hope something good grows from there.”

Then Samantha thanks you for your time and tells you the segment will be on tomorrow morning around seven thirty.

You and Tom go home. In the car you talk about how the whole thing didn’t take as long as you thought it would. You said, I wonder if I’ll get lots of friend requests on Facebook after tomorrow morning. Tom says that if the girl ends up seeing it and contacting you Sunrise might ask you to be on the show again, maybe even with the girl, probably even with the girl.

You laugh at this idea. She really was very pretty, you think in your mind.

The next morning you wake up earlier than usual to watch the show. When you turn on the TV they’re doing a segment on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Then that segment ends and the presenter, a woman with brown hair announces: “now, for something a little unusual, this man” – and she says it with a particular emphasis on “this man,” so as to clarify that it is ‘this’ man and not you or me, (except in this instance it is you) – “noticed a good looking girl in the supermarket, but instead of going up and talking to her, he took this photo instead.”

Then the footage you recorded the day before plays.

You see Samantha asking you about your love life, you see your response, except they’ve clipped it so its just “I don’t know why – I’m a good looking guy” and your laughter. You think its pretty clear that you’re being self deprecating. They include some other parts, a lot of it is out of order, a lot of it was recorded after Tom and you had left.

The footage ends and they return to the panel.

The woman with the brown hair says: “So guys, what do you think, romantic or creepy?”

There’s a woman with short blonde hair, she says: “Definitely creepy. Can you imagine finding out someone had taken this photo of you behind your back?”

A man with a bald head replies: “Oh come on, its flattering! You’d be thrilled if it were you, I reckon.”

The original woman says: “It’s a bit” – and she hesitates here, like she doesn’t want to say something mean – “desperate, don’t you think. Instead of just going up to her, taking a photo. I mean, I’m not sure if I’d want to date a guy who resorts to social media to ask me out, rather than just saying it to my face. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.”

The man with a bald head says: “Well, I think that’s clear!”

And everybody laughs.

 

 

James Holloway is a writer from Sydney, Australia where he helps kids to read good. Find him at @Hollololoway