It’s what’s left over from seafood, I tell myself. It’s waste, packed into random shapes. Red and white coloured marine waste, smothered in mayo. It’s not right.
My feet find their way past the fruit and vegetables, burning with healthiness under the supermarket lights, past the bakery (the same anaemic lemon cake always on display) and I arrive at the cursive neon heaven that is DELI. Ralph is on tonight. Ralph has seen it all. We understand that I won’t stare at his birthmark and he won’t comment on another tub of seafood salad making its way into my canvas shopping bag.
“Evening,” he says.
“Hi,” I reply. We know each other’s name, but this is courtesy at its basest, like a dealer and his junkie. Ralph’s one of my favourites. He’s not like John, who says my name all the time out loud so anyone can hear it, and sings “Sadie the Cleaning Lady” at me, because he’s seen to many movies with incidental greengrocers who are jolly and whose homely wit brings light to everybody’s day. Ralph is surly and discreet.
“What can I get you?” he mumbles.
I feign indecision. My eyes briefly scan the other offerings. I’m fooling no one. The fancy players are all up the other end of the cabinet—sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and marinated bocconcini luxuriating in imported oils—but I’m standing right where things are served on a bed of old ice.
“Maybe just a large tub of the seafood salad,” I say.
Ralph scoops a huge spoonful into the plastic container for me. The unidentified pieces of things that once lived near the sea ooze wonderfully together. “Anything else?” he asks me.
I shake my head, wish him goodnight, and move on. I scan my head for other things I can possibly buy to make it look like I’m not having seafood salad for dinner again. I need distractions. The deli guys I can handle, it’s the Friday night checkout wenches I have problems with. I settle on a bottle of pineapple juice and some toothpicks. Like I’m having a party and these are last minute purchases. This must be what it feels like for guys buying just condoms. Except you’re pretty sure you know what a guy’s going to do with a condom. There’s something far more sinister about a girl buying a large tub of seafood salad.
I join the jaded get-me-the-hell-home-and-out-of-this-12-items-or-less-queue queue. The girl in front of me has a small basket filled with pasta, apples, yoghurt and nuts. She stands there, work clothes impossibly unrumpled and ponytail impossibly perky. I close the top of my shopping bag. I consider taking a Mars Bar from the kid-tempting display next to the queue and slipping one into her basket, but then I hear the next please call and there’s a raccoon-eyed teenager waiting for me behind a register, one skinny bangled arm held in the air above her with the world-weary indignity of a political prisoner.
“howsyourdaygoingtoday,” says the checkout girl without looking up at me. Her lopsided nametag says CAROL.
“Alright,” I say. “And yours?”
“Ah… no.” I place my shopping bag up on the counter for her. Carol takes out the pineapple juice and scans it. Just normal purchases, I say to her subliminally. Nothing wrong with pineapple juice. Next comes the toothpicks. Fine. Then the seafood salad. Carol holds it up to her face. I emit manic brainwaves that say just sell it to me bitch but she just holds it there.
“Not … really, no.” As far as I understood it, this was the sole responsibility of the checkout chick.
I shake my head. Maybe I should have used Ralph’s name. How hard is it to put a sticker on a plastic container? Carol reaches for a microphone next to her register. Oh indignity of supermarket indignities.
“pricecheckcheckoutten,” she drones, and then just stands there, looking at me with black-hole eyes like I’ve just thrown up on her feet. The girl with the healthy shopping basket whisks her ponytail away from the next register, off home to bathe in mountain streams. I grind my palm into my right eye.
“It’s $7.99 a kilo,” I tell Carol.
“The … that. The salad.”
“Yep.” I grimace gainfully.
Carol shrugs her shoulders and types something into her keypad. “thatstwelvedollarsfifteen.”
I pay her and walk out of the supermarket, past the other registers and the their attendant judgemental adolescents. All sufferings for my addiction.