Amelia wilted down the beach, bored with herself. She needed a change. She was sulky, sludgy. Perhaps, she thought, she should change her hair. She was almost positive her hair hurt. Yes, that would help. She stopped and looked out to sea, shading her eyes against the glitter on the water. Did she see…was that something moving towards her? A black spot on the horizon was steadily flinging itself in Amelia’s direction. As it grew closer, she could almost make out…it was! It was a man’s bowler hat! It was so sharply black that it looked like a hole in the air. As it sailed closer, straight and true towards Amelia’s shapely head, she could feel her future changing. Everything would be different now! She would be dapper, instead of diaphanous. She would be decisive, incisive; she would snap her fingers at people and they would take notice. She would take charge, she would – suddenly there was a flash of golden fur and Amelia got a faceful of damp sand. Henry flung himself in front of her, and snapped the hat out of the air right in front of her. Landing on the sand with a soft plop! he tossed the hat in the air, and tapped it into place on his head with one jaunty paw. Damn that dog! His sartorial greed, his elastic hind legs.
My 365 sentences project is a shared venture with @scrufflibrarian. For every day that I write something, he draws something and posts it on Instagram. Early on, we agreed that we’d swap a couple of days here and there, and today is our first. I drew something, and Phil wrote this beautiful piece.
The masks didn’t bother the kids, they’d never known any different. A whole generation. But they bothered us, and a lot of others who could remember before. The seals would get wet, or a speck of dust or grit would get lodged in there, and before you knew it your neck would be red raw. You weren’t supposed to loosen them, of course, for any reason at all, but sometimes it just felt too good not to break the rules; to slide your finger under the seal and rub the skin there while the warning tone beeped, steady as a metronome.
But worst of all? Imagine never being able to truly look someone in the eye. The slight curve of the glass always distorted things. That bothered me like nothing else.
That night, we lay side-by-side, and we each pulled the catch at the top of our spines until it clicked free. Together, we lifted our masks clear of our heads, and we finally got to really look at each other. We’d promised ourselves we would be quick, but we got lost in the looking, and the chirping of the alarms didn’t seem quite so important any more.
The receipt said “Your cashier was Laura.” The man stops in the act of unpacking the bag of groceries, arrested by the anomaly of the past tense. He shifts the carton of eggs to his other hand, reaches absentmindedly for the bag of tomatoes. “Was Laura.” Is she still Laura now that he’s home, the paper bag torn at the top, the condensation from the bottle of milk starting to soften one corner?
He’s arrested by a sudden vision of her identity existing only in transaction. His cashier was Laura. Maybe by now she’s Tiffany, who is only in evidence for the four minutes it takes to ring up and package a roasted chicken, a box of bandaids, two bottles of wine, a cantaloupe, and a package of ballpoint pens. Before that, someone else’s Marigold handled four pounds of roasting potatoes, a bar of baking chocolate, a jar of peanut butter, a package of sponges, a bottle of kitchen cleaner, and a box of tampons.
He thinks about Louisa, logging out of the register and eating her lunch in the breakroom: a Tupperware container of cold leftover spaghetti, carrot sticks and a Diet Coke. He thinks Louisa reads half a comic book, puts it back in her backpack, washes her hands.
Stephanie signs back into the register and sells a bag of balloons, paper streamers in pink, green and yellow, a birthday card, a box of cake mix, a tin of sprinkles and a pound of butter. The carton of eggs grows heavy on his arm, and he notices that one of the tomatoes is about to roll out of the bag. He opens the refrigerator and finishes putting his Laura groceries away.