‘Produce Aisle’ by Essie Dee

Elanore grabs a cart, struggles with the wheels for a moment, then makes her way to the produce aisle. Examining the list she searches for the desired items – goodness, can these be the real prices? Seven dollars for a bag of carrots, twelve dollars for potatoes… strawberries are ten dollars for a pint. Sure, fresh berries are often a luxury, but these prices are higher than usual. Not much better in the frozen food section, sale on canned though – two for a dollar. She guesses that counts as vegetables.
       Cereal is no better. Prices up everywhere, except on things she doesn’t want to buy, not really. Instant packs of oatmeal are on sale: two boxes for two dollars, limit of ten per customer. Elanore checks the bags of plain flake oatmeal, does the math, and per serving the sugary boxes are cheaper. Sighing she tosses an assortment of four boxes into the cart. Minimum wage only stretches so far, can’t be too choosy. She wonders what dairy is like today.
       More sticker shock, not really all that surprising though, given how things have been going. Eleven dollars for a block of cheese, on sale for eight-fifty … yet surely that was the full price only a week ago. What on Earth could have caused such an increase? Looking in the milk fridge comes the sad realization that eight litres of cola are the same price as two litres of milk… Elanore grabs a one litre carton, will do for tea perhaps…
       List more or less complete, time to head to the checkout. The couple in front of her have a small cart full of artisan cheese, bakery bread and fresh produce. They look like they just came from the gym – athletic gear and lean svelteness the pair of them. Seems to be if you can afford healthy food you need to look like you haven’t eaten in a week. She looks at her cart overflowing with sugary processed junk, the best she can do to feed the family and pay rent… there are food banks, but that’s for people worse off… right? Sighing, Elanore looks back at the rainbow of food in the other cart and wonders, am I a good mom?


He rifles through bags and places the sifted items on a worn wooden table while she ticks items off on the receipt. Taking out her phone she opens the calculator app to tally up the total. He quietly reorganizes the bags to make them easier to carry, then heads off to a back room for a moment. He returns with a small canister and notes she has been checking the time. As he starts counting out what is owed, he looks at his share of the purchase.
       ‘Thank you again, he says softly, ‘I really appreciate you combining your list with mine so I could take advantage of some of the sales.’
       ‘No worries,’ she says looking at the door. Patience has never been her virtue. ‘As I said, don’t much care about brands, just want my stuff I need.’
       He hands her a pile of money, ‘keep the change…’ a half smile hanging about his lips. She raises an eyebrow, a look in the eye tells him that was never in dispute. ‘See you next week… in class?’
       She nods affirmative, waves in his general direction and leaves with her bags.
       A sigh. Closing the door gently he turns his attention to the pile, noticing that stains on the wood appear highlighted by the stream of sun filtering in the window. A cupboard is opened, bare inside until a few items are stacked within. The fridge is also hungry, waiting to be filled with whatever has been scavenged. And he is hungry as he sits by the window waiting for the kettle to boil.

Essie Dee is a Canadian author whose writing has appeared in The Cabinet of Heed, Nightingale & Sparrow, Cauldron Anthology, Reflex Fiction and Crêpe & Penn. She enjoys running, reading, drinking tea and spending time in nature.

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