Boots or Hearts
The Old Man at the Window
The Nesquick and the Dead
The Old Lady and her Dog
Pape and Danforth
The theme this week was 'Beat', which did actually have something to do with this, if only in my subconscious. And here is a link to brigits_flame.
As with all the other scenes in this 'verse, there are huge warnings for really, really bad language.
Thank you very much for reading. I hope you like it.
Charles stood in the cold medicine aisle in Shopper's Drug Mart, hunched over a little because he was still cold after walking all the way from Broadview. Gloria was running late and didn't want to go home by herself. The Shopper's felt like it had only been heated to the bare minimum of human tolerance, and the few clerks still there so near closing time looked chafed and miserable in their grey and red uniforms.
He was trying not to notice the woman further down the aisle, the one examining the boxes of painkillers. She was lifting one brand after another and squinting over the ingredients, rattling the bottle of pills inside. She seemed too young to need glasses, though--blond and lightly pretty in a way that looked like she worked at it. Her skirt was too short for how cold it was. Her thighs were bare and very white.
Charles watched her out of the corner of his eye and mostly kept staring at the boxes of Life Brand Allergy Formula, $4.49 for a bottle of 90 pills. The woman had one of those in her hand, too. The bubbles of pink foam at the corner of the woman's bluish lips were the only sign that she'd probably swallowed every single one.
Charles tore his eyes away from her, carefully fixing them on the clean, white order of the Allergy Formula boxes. He wondered if taking two whole bottles of pills at once would hurt.
Farther down the aisle, past the woman with the foam at her mouth, there was a little girl in a bright purple snowsuit and a white toque with kitten ears. She was all by herself, looking at a large display of leftover Christmas items. The girl put her tiny hands around the ceramic snowman and grinned to herself. Charles looked away again, trying to ignore her, too.
He wondered how she had died; it was far too late at night for anyone to be out with a child.
"Hey," Gloria said. "Did you get the NyQuil stuff?" She nudged him with her shoulder because her arms were full of a box of tampons, a three-pack of boxed tissues, a big jar of Nutella and an even bigger jar of peanut butter. She sniffed, then wrinkled her nose. Charles watched her contort her neck trying to wipe her nose on the shoulder of her wool coat, bobbing her face against the cloth like a pigeon. It looked really painful. Charles wished he had some tissues to offer her, but he kept forgetting to buy them. He'd saved some napkins from his lunch, but they were all balled up and tattered in his pocket.
"That's kind of expensive," Charles said, looking at the Nutella. "Do you have to get that?"
"I like it," Gloria said. She shifted her arms a little, and Charles grabbed the peanut butter before she dropped it. "Thanks," she said. "And it's not like you guys won't eat it." Gloria kept most of her food at Charles' and Josh's apartment, since she barely spent any time at her own place.
"I still don't get why you can't just buy this stuff at Sobey's," Charles said. The dead woman had disappeared, but the little girl was still there, drifting towards the magazine racks. Charles flicked his gaze away, hoping Gloria wouldn't notice him looking at nothing. "I mean, I work there. I get a discount and everything."
"No way," Gloria said. She made a face. "Everyone in there looks, I don't know, like they're all about to die of cancer or commit suicide or something."
Charles thought about the Allergy Formula, 90 pink pills. "It's not that bad," he said. He didn't remember anyone he worked with being unhappy or anything. "It's cheaper."
"Not really," Gloria said, shrugging. She glanced at all the white cardboard rectangles, then at Charles' empty hand. "I told you to get NyQuil."
"I know," Charles said. "Sorry." He walked the few steps to the part of the aisle that had the liquid cold remedies. He snagged the biggest bottle of Shopper's NyQuil knockoff and held it up for Gloria to see. "Here."
Gloria shook her head. "That stuff's crap." She gestured at the lines of NyQuil bottles with her chin. "Get me a real one."
"Fine," Charles said. The store brand was the same poisonous green as the NyQuil, but Charles obediently grabbed it anyway. "I really need you to pay me back for this," he said.
"I told you I would," Gloria said.
"Sorry," Charles said. He looked down at the peanut butter in his hand. 'Kraft' was one of the most expensive brands, too. "Do we still have bread?"
"How the fuck should I know?" Gloria said. "It's your place." She sniffed again, then pushed past him, heading to the cash register. Only one had anybody working at it: a skinny guy with bad acne who was reading a magazine. "Come on. I want to get this shit before the store closes."
Charles followed her. The little girl wasn't at the magazine rack anymore, but there was a crumpled 'People' magazine on the floor. A shiny torn corner of the cover pointed like an arrow towards the store exit, where the little girl was now. The door slid open as Charles watched, and the little girl went out with it. A gust of cold came in as the door closed.
"Oh my God!" Gloria shouted. Charles whipped his head around to look at her. She dropped everything she was carrying into a bin of chocolate bars and took off out of the store.
Charles ran through the sliding doors after her. He slid on an icy patch of the badly-cleared sidewalk, regained his footing in time to see Gloria yanking the child back onto the curb by her arm. The little girl began to shriek.
Gloria lifted the girl into her arms, ignoring the tiny, flailing limbs and what must have sounded like a siren right next to her ear. "Shh. It's okay. It's okay, honey," she said to the girl, then looked at Charles. Gloria's brown eyes were huge. "She was walking into the street! Where the fuck is her mother?"
Charles realized he was staring at her, at both of them. The air in his lungs was very cold. "I--"
The doors slid open again, spilling out a yelling woman.
"Emily! Emily!" The woman grabbed at the child, all but wrenching her out of Gloria's arms. "Oh my God, oh my God, Emily!" she hollered over the child's screams. "You bad girl! You bad, bad girl! Don't you ever do that again!" The woman looked at Gloria. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you, thank you." She started to cry.
"You should keep a better eye on her," Gloria snapped.
The woman looked startled, then angry. She opened her mouth, but just closed it again without saying anything. She threw the trailing end of her expensive shawl around the girl, who was sobbing a little more quietly now, then stalked back inside.
"Stunned cunt," Gloria said, glowering at the closed doors. "Her daughter almost got hit by a car."
"I thought she had," Charles said quietly.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Gloria said. She sniffed. "I saw the kid going off the pavement and my heart was in my fucking throat, you know? I mean, if we hadn't…." She stopped speaking, stepped closer. "Hey, you all right?"
Charles tried to speak again, but it was like the words were all stuck together somewhere in his chest. He just shook his head.
"Oh, honey, it's okay," Gloria said. She put her hand on his shoulder. "I know--it freaked the fuck out of me, too. But nothing happened. Her mother's a dumbass bitch, but the little girl's fine. We got her before she went into the street."
We, like Charles had anything to do with it.
"I thought she was dead," he said, forcing it out.
Gloria snorted. "Tell me about it. Fuck," she said.
The doors slid open again; the noise was startling. It was the clerk with the acne this time, hugging himself . "You left without paying for that," he said. His breath came out like smoke.
Charles had no idea what he was talking about, then Gloria yanked the peanut butter and NyQuil out of his hands. He hadn't noticed how cold they'd gotten, clutching the plastic.
"Here," she snarled at the clerk, shoving the NyQuil and peanut butter at him. "Go fuck yourself."
"Bitch," the clerk said, but his voice was trembling with cold and he went back inside right away.
"Asshole," Gloria muttered. She took Charles' empty hands. Hers were cold too--she hadn't put her gloves on. "You okay?" she asked him.
Charles swallowed. "I thought she was dead," he said. "You don't understand."
Gloria looked at him, her thin lips pressed white. "This really freaked you out, didn't it?"
"Yeah," Charles said. He nodded, swallowed again. "I didn't see her," he said, because that was the closest thing to the truth.
"It's okay," Gloria said again. "It's okay. She's just fine. Everything turned out all right."
"Sure," Charles said. He managed a tiny, jerking nod, a tiny, flickering smile. "Thanks."
Gloria grinned, pushed his shoulder hard enough that he stumbled a little. "No problem."
"Oh, hey," Charles said, suddenly realizing. "We didn't get any of your groceries."
Gloria shrugged. "We can go to Sobey's," she said. She began walking, pulling on her gloves.