I’m about to climb up into the goddamn freezer when a guy in a faded suit jacket leans over and grabs the last tub of Americone Dream from the top shelf. The freezer door swings shut and a cloud of vapor expands between us and disappears.
Why don’t you stick with the Cookie Core? he says.
He holds the tub and a thin layer of frost melts beneath his fingers.
Maybe I want to try something new, I say.
Here we go again, he says. You pick the latest flavor, then hate it. I come back to the store, even though it’s late and I’ve just opened a bottle and the movie has started, and by the time I get home, you’re already asleep on the couch.
This might be something a regular couple laughs at, so we do. The way he looks at me, it reminds me of when we met.
It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was packing my groceries at the checkout and he was next in line. I’d forgotten my wallet and was emptying my bag for the third time when he said, Don’t worry, honey. I’ve got this, and swiped his credit card through the machine. The checkout girl said, Your husband is the cutest, and neither of us corrected her.
Now, whenever we meet in the store, we keep up the act, play out our imaginary lives. Pretend Husband. Pretend Wife. It’s our thing.
Let’s get both, he says.
He throws the ice cream in the basket, spins the trolley in a half-circle, and pushes it down the aisle.
Listen, he says, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.
You know how I feel about secrets, I say.
I know, he says. And I’m sorry. But it’s good news. I’ve made partner at the firm. They want me to head up the new office in Manhattan.
I see the Manhattan skyline silhouetted against the grey Atlantic. Central Park. Times Square. The Statue of Liberty, chains broken, foot raised off the pedestal. People think she’s marching forward, eyes on the horizon, lighting the path to freedom, but that’s bullshit. I’ve climbed every one of those three hundred and fifty-four steps, and you know what? She’s looking up. She’s reaching.
Are you OK? he says. You’re always somewhere else these days.
I’m pregnant, I say.
He looks at me, eyes wide and bruised.
That’s amazing, he says.
Six weeks? It must have been our weekend at the Lake.
Pretend Husband picks me up and whirls me round, just like he did on our wedding day that never happened.
We’re pregnant! he says, punching the air.
Nearby, grocery shoppers look up and smile, applaud. Pretend Husband lays a hand on my stomach. I cover his hand with mine.
The moment stretches out and then snaps.
He pulls his hand away, makes a fist, and knocks a box of washing powder onto the floor. The cardboard splits and white powder drifts through the air like confetti.
My heart fills with blood and empties again. I wrap my arms around a whole row of neatly stacked boxes and scoop them out. We face each other and breathe. Our chests rise and fall as a fluorescent light burns fiercely overhead.
Pretend Husband kicks a shelf from its bracket and wrenches it down. I tip the trolley and push it over. Then we run. Bottles of detergent, bathroom cleaner, shampoo, all of it, tumbling into the aisle around us.
I’m demolishing a pyramid of discounted toilet paper when an urgent voice crackles through the loudspeaker.
Security to aisle fifteen, please, says the voice. Security to aisle fifteen immediately.
Across the aisle, a security officer tackles Pretend Husband to the ground. I rip open a pack of toilet paper and launch the rolls at him like grenades. The paper streams out in long white ribbons.
Another officer appears behind me and grabs my wrist mid-throw.
Drop it, he says.
The roll falls from my hand and unravels along the aisle.
Pretend Husband marches by, security on either side of him.
I love you, he says, and then disappears.
I don’t mean to cry. It just happens.
The officer takes my arm and I look back at the overturned trolley and at the ice cream leaking out of the open tub, spreading across the tiles in sweet, sticky trails, flickering in the sharp light like a lantern flame blazing until the whole carton of Americone Fucking Dream is empty.
© Christopher M. Drew
[This piece was the runner-up for the 2019 Forge Flash Fiction Competition, and was selected by Katrin Gibb]