There’s something dripping on the floor. I watch the drops as they begin to pool, red. I look at my left hand, at the soft fruit I’m holding, lift it to my mouth and suck at the sweetness. There’s a woman walking towards me, walking fast and purposefully towards me, coming close to me, too close. I raise my eyebrows, open my hand. The fruit falls to the ground and the red of it is everywhere now.
‘It was more juicy than I realised,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry.’
She smells of something meaty, this woman. She’s wearing a uniform with words on it I don’t understand. All around me are words I don’t understand. Now she’s speaking and I understand that she is angry.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say again. And start backing away before she can touch me.
Tomorrow I’ll be on the bus, moving away from this place. I have my ticket. I think of showing it to the woman with the meaty smell, but she’s shouting now, so I turn and start walking away from her. I look at my feet, walking away, moving silently across the silvered floor.
Now I’m in a different area of the shop. There are fridges. I know how a fridge works, how gas is compressed into a liquid, how when the pressure is released the liquid expands and becomes a gas again. That process cools the things inside the fridge. Latent heat. I learnt this. I lift the lid of one of the big fridges and lower my head into the cool blue mist.
‘Hey!’ There’s a man standing next to me. His eyes are a strange colour and they flash when he moves his head. I wonder if he is a humanoid, or if he wants me to have sex with him. He says something I don’t understand. He’s flashing a light and pointing to the door.
‘Is the shop closing?’ I say.
His reply is fast and the words have hard edges. I put my hand onto the top of the food in the open fridge. It is beautifully cold.
‘Hey!’ There are more words, more of those sharp-sided Russian words.
‘Niet, niet!’ he says.
I can’t remember if that means yes or no. His humanoid eyes are not telling me. I’ve already taken my hand out of the fridge and closed the lid. I’m not stupid. Now I turn and walk away, watching my feet. They are moving just fine, one, then the other, peeling off, pressing down. I watch his feet, out of the corner of my eye. They are not moving.
Outside it is warm. Too warm. Tomorrow I will be on the bus. Tomorrow I will get away from this place. I just have to keep moving, towards tomorrow. I realise it is that simple, and that if I can understand how a fridge works, which I do, then I can do this. It is, this latent knowledge, a big relief.
Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her prize-winning novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Rarebyte, her short stories have been published in The Lonely Crowd, Strix and a number of anthologies, and she is active in the online flash fiction community. https://cathbarton.com/ // @CathBarton1