Harry stopped by the washing powders looking from one box to the next. Big box, tablets, liquids, liqui-tabs. There was too much choice. He couldn't decide.
"Honey, what do we normally have?" he asked Margaret as she rounded the end of the aisle, battling with the trolley as it tried to continue straight.
"Hmm?" She was looking down at the list.
"What washing powder do we normally have?"
"Oh, well, I tend to go with tablets, but it depends what's on special."
"Okay, so how about these?" He held up a box of Persil tablets that were marked '50% off.'
"Well, they'd be fine, but we don't need any this week. I bought two lots last time I was here." She looked back down at the list, then moved past him to take a large bottle of fabric softener from the shelf and place it into the trolley. It was extra large, with '33% Extra Free!' emblazoned across the label in red letters. "Let's just stick to the list, honey," she said over her shoulder as she walked on down the aisle, guiding the recalcitrant trolley.
Harry stood still, the box still in his hand and watched her wander off. "I would if you'd let me look at it," he said under his breath. His wife didn't hear him, but a woman nearby gave him a funny look, then turned back to her trolley to stop her son pulling at the bottles of bleach on the shelf opposite. Harry put the box back and followed after Margaret.
"Well, what do we need, then?" he asked when he caught up with her.
"Oh, well, we need to get some food now," she told him and moved off again, giving him no greater clues.
Shopping was her domain. He never usually came with her, and she was obviously not in a sharing mood. This was a military operation, and it appeared he wasn't even a soldier in this campaign, merely a camp-follower.
She turned into the tinned veg aisle and came to a halt in front of the arrays of beans and bean-related products. She consulted her list and started loading tins into the trolley. Harry stood behind her and looked around him, not really seeing the other people moving past him. His mind was on the topic he had been trying to raise for nearly a week.
This was why he had come with her on this occasion. He had been trying to find the right time to broach the subject and had thought that maybe this would be it. He was starting to realise just how wrong he had been. There was no way she would be able to listen.
Despite this feeling, he found himself talking anyway. Maybe it wasn't the right time for Margaret, but her distraction gave him the space he needed.
"I spoke to them the other day, about the thing we talked about."
"Hmm-mm?" was Margaret's only response, then, "Can you pass me those peas? The blue tin. No, the small one."
"I asked them how much and they told me it would depend on exactly what we wanted." He carried on talking as they moved off again, into the 'World Foods' aisle. Every week Margaret would try a new curry sauce, but as far as Harry could tell they always just tasted more or less like spices and tomatoes.
"They said if we wanted him injured or maimed it would cost us a thousand. Paralysis could be done, they said, but it's a tricky business, so it would be two."
Margaret didn't respond, lost in reading labels to find out the calorie and cumin content of the various sauces.
"It's a funny thing, though," Harry gave an empty laugh to show how funny it wasn't, "they said that just to kill him would only be seven-fifty. Apparently it's to do with not having to worry about him seeing their faces."
"Did you like the rogan josh sauce we had last week?" Margaret asked.
Harry focussed on the jar in her hand and tried to differentiate his memory of last week's tomatoes from the previous ones. "Yes, it was nice."
"Hmm, I didn't like it. It wasn't thick enough." She put down the jar she was holding and started examining a different brand.
"They can threaten him, apparently, for only five hundred. They don't have to do that in person, you see. I asked why it would cost so much if they were simply going to use the phone or a letter or whatever. They said—and I guess it's fair—that they had to make sure they covered their tracks, that they were taking the risks, that we were paying for their expertise. And, well, I suppose it is a case of what the market will bear. They said if it was so easy and cheap why didn't we do it ourselves."
Harry didn't really like the thick, tasteless naan breads that Margaret always bought, but he didn't say anything as he watched her slip two packets of them into the trolley.
"I asked how much it would be to break his legs, but they said that came under the whole 'injured or maimed' category. I should have worked that out for myself, I suppose."
Harry picked up his pace to keep up with her as they moved down the pet food aisle. They didn't have a pet, and the aisle was mostly empty, so it gave Margaret the chance to build up the speed to swing the unruly trolley into the next aisle, the chiller cabinets.
"I told them I'd have to think about it, and that I'd have to talk to you about it before I got back to them. They said the price might go up if they felt I was messing them about, so I said I'd do it as soon as I could."
Margaret didn't say anything, just loaded yoghurt after yoghurt into the trolley. Harry waited, wondering if she had even heard anything he'd said. Finally, as she put a large plastic bottle of milk into the trolley, she looked up from the list into his eyes. "It's just a hedge, Harry. Why not ask him if he'll cut it back, first?"
She pushed off and turned the corner, heading for the fresh meat, and left him standing there, his skin prickling in the cool blast from the open fridges. He let his head nod up and down a couple of times, his shoulders sagging from the tense height they had unconsciously reached as he talked. "Okay, I'll ring them and tell them we'll leave it," he said to the empty air where she had been. The woman from the bleach aisle gave him the same look as before and pushed her child and trolley to safety.
Calum Kerr writes, reads writing, and teaches writing. The rest of the time he sleeps. He has had stories published in a number of places, and keep writing more and more of them. He lives in the north of England, for the moment.