Matthew grabbed him by the face! He had taken as much as he could by his inconsistent mumbling before finally snapping. He grabbed him by the face and dropped him face down against the trolley.
—20 minutes earlier—
– Babe do we need butter?
For the last quarter of an hour, Sofia had been incessantly asking about things that they might need at home. Matthew had grown tired. He had survived missing an important business meeting because of car engine problems, he had endured a full morning at the garage, he had suffered a full hour of driving through the packed streets of the capital city, he had undergone a penetrating phone call from his mother and, now, he had to live through shopping at the local supermarket; on a Saturday.
– Babe? Butter?
Sofia asked again, before Matthew could erase the echo of her voice from his eardrums. As much as he loved her, she was a Tommy Gun; she could go on chattering and talking and gossiping and nattering and blathering and drivelling and the only thing that seemed impossible for her was to keep her mouth shut.
– Butter? You know for breakfast and stuff… should I get cholesterol free or full fat?
Matthew tried to shut his eyes and, just for one second, find peace in his own personal, private corner of darkness in the back of his mind.
– I think I’ll go for the full fat one. Besides, cholesterol free is for old people, right?
He opened his eyes. He was never given one second of peace next to her. He did love her, he couldn’t imagine life without her, but her blathering was so infuriating that at times, he felt like he would just snap and explode!
– You do agree, right? Full fat, yeah?
– Whatever, just pick one and let’s go. I just wanna go home, watch the game and get some rest. Come on.
They walked down the aisle with the dairy products, stopped for another five times to get some cheese, milk, chocolate milk, yogurt and fresh cream and walked round into the aisle with the cooked meat products.
– I think I’ll get some turkey. Do you fancy some turkey? Turkey is good, right? I’ll get some roasted turkey. Roasted turkey tastes better, yeah? It does, I know!
He walked by her side, slowly pushing the trolley in front of him, his eyes behind a curtain of water that got thicker each time she uttered another question. His temper was awful, but his love for her was also unending.
– And besides, turkey is healthy right? I mean, it’s not pork, yeah? It’s no chicken either, but chicken is tasteless, right babe? Or worse, it tastes like paper yeah? I know, I know, right?
He walked further down the aisle, scouting for a single moment of tranquillity.
– I’ll just go see if there’s any lettuce, baby girl. You just choose whatever you like and I’ll come back in just a second, okay love?
He did need this one second. One second of peace. One second of absence. One single second of tranquillity.
– Yeah, okay babe. Check if there’s tomatoes too, okay? And peppers. We need peppers. Wait! Green and red peppers only! Don’t get the orange peppers ‘cause you know I don’t like the taste of orange peppers, okay babe? And see if there’s any fresh cabbage too. And onions. We need onions ‘cause your sister’s coming and you know how she always wants extra onions with her smashed eggs and… Oh! Make sure you get eggs baby, okay? Fresh eggs, get a dozen and see if there’s…
She was probably still talking when he reached the other side of the supermarket, where they kept the vegetables. He parked the trolley in front of the tomatoes stand, tied his arms on the trolley handle and dropped his head on them. He felt his watery eyes about to burst into tears when a voice terminated what he’d hoped would have been a single moment of peace.
– Excuse me sir, do you work here? Where can I find some better lettuce? This lettuce that you have here is like it’s two years old! How can you sell such stuff, you should be ashamed of yourselves! I should actually call the health inspectors. This is totally unacceptable!
She was a mid-seventies woman, wearing one of those robes that are made for mid-seventies women. The ones that are usually black with some white, uneven spots like the skin of an overgrown Dalmatian. Her hair was gray to white, she had a hunchback from all the years she was carrying the family’s weights, she wore thick horn-rimmed glasses, her hands were shaky and so were her steps. She probably only avoided falling thanks to the trolley she leaned against.
He looked at himself. He still wore his expensive suit, the one he had on to attend the meeting earlier in the morning -which he failed to attend since the car broke down and he had to visit the garage instead- he wore his expensive shirt with his white gold cufflinks, he had a silk tie on and black leather shoes; and he could just not believe that he had been deprived of his one shot at peace.
– Pardon me ma’am… I do not work here.
He tried to sound as calm as possible, but, even so, the trembling of his voice gave his irritation away. His grip on the trolley tightened. His lower jaw hanged without ever reaching the upper one and protruded forward as anger kept rising.
– Don’t give me that attitude young man! You should be ashamed of yourself talking to a customer in that tone! Where’s your manager? I demand to see your manager! You can’t sell spoilt things and talk to me like that! I will see that you’re let go before I leave this store. Now where is your superior? Don’t you walk away from me, you hear? Come back here you, right now!
He pushed his trolley away, back towards his girlfriend Sofia. He pushed slowly but he was boiling inside. The tears forming on the edge of his eyes were like a milky white curtain that hindered his vision, a curtain that never ended, never presented what was behind.
Sofia was still there talking to the butcher so, he decided not to interrupt; someone else had to listen to her for a change. The fact that the butcher was a woman made him slowly close his eyelids in satisfaction. He could just stand there for hours and let them talk till closing time. He was given a merciful, second shot at peace.
He took in a large gasp of air, seconds before a voice penetrated and dismembered the newly formed tranquillity in his mind.
– Sir? Are you with this woman, sir? Can you please advice her that turkey breast is the best part for turkey fillet? She keeps asking for turkey thigh, but, for starters, we don’t do thigh fillet, we never did, and second, breast is definitely better than thigh! It’s the same for chicken and for any other kind of meat. Thigh meat is definitely more fat ridden and less healthy. Do you listen to me, sir? Please just get some turkey breast fillet; you’re holding up the line here.
Sofia hadn’t gotten anything during all this time that he walked to the vegetables and back. She had just argued with the butcher about the turkey. Matthew didn’t know if he could form fire with a single stare, but, at that moment, he could definitely swear that there were sparks flying from his eyes.
– The game starts in forty minutes, we’re a thirty minutes drive away from home and we still haven’t gone up the second level to get shampoo stuff. Get some turk… get some breast fillet and let’s go.
Sofia looked at him ready to answer him but she never got the chance.
– Breast fillet, now! A quarter. Let’s go!
She realized there was no point in arguing. So, she agreed.
– Yes babe. Breast fillet is good. Breast fillet is just fine. We’ll do some sandwiches and you’re right, it tastes so nice with dijonnaise mustard and some yellow cheese, we should definitely go back and get some yellow cheese. Gouda sounds good, right? Cheddar is okay, but Gouda tastes better with turkey, right babe? I mean Cheddar’s ok with almost all kinds of stuff but Gouda really hits the spot, right?
He has sweating down the spine, his arms were shaking, his eyelids were fluttering against his will.
– Just get the fillet, please…
—10 minutes later—
Sofia and Matthew were finally waiting in the queue before checkout counter number two. There were another two trolleys before them but it was still the shortest queue available. Being served was an elderly couple, at about their mid sixties, the man unloading stuff on the black, rolling belt, the woman standing at the end of the belt, simply looking; as if checking whether her husband was doing a good job or not.
Another couple was waiting behind them. This was a younger couple, still much older than Sofia and Matthew, probably past their fifties. Matthew gave an examining look to both couples. He had a thing about sticking in places where the average age doubled his own.
– Hey babe, look at these new gums here. Do you think we should get some? They have pineapple and strawberry, watermelon and papaya and what’s this? I’ve no clue what this is, can you read it? Nah, forget about it. So watermelon sounds perfect right? I wonder what this will taste like! I mean, yeah okay, probably it will taste like watermelon but still I just wanna see how good it tastes! You too right? Cause it’s like watermelon, we definitely have to try watermelon, right?
He kept trying to ignore her as much as he could. He tried thinking about the game. He would go home and kick back in his sofa and watch the match between Newcastle and Tottenham. He had always been a huge Newcastle fan. Ever since he could remember himself, he used to watch all Newcastle United FC games. Even now that they were not competing in the premiership, he still never missed a game. He used to grab a couple of beers, make himself a sandwich and just enjoy ninety minutes of lonesome singularity; the only time of the week that he could act as if he were totally disconnected from the rest of the world.
He checked his watch. They had been standing there for the last four minutes and still, the old chap ahead was unloading groceries on the belt under the examining eye of his wife. Sofia on his left was still checking the various gums and candy on the stand before the checkout.
– Oh, they also made family size M&Ms and what’s that, a new white chocolate bar? Maybe we should try this. You don’t really eat white chocolate but maybe you’ll like this one. Look it‘s a cute panda bear, oh it’s so cute. I’m definitely getting a bar, or maybe two; just in case you like it. Oh, look here, they also have a new espresso flavoured lollipop. That’s awesome, let’s get a couple of those too! You love espresso, right? Oh, they also have it in latte and …
He looked around. People were calmly or hectically unloading their shopping carts on the belts before the counters. Behind them, more people were idly waiting, checking the gums and the candy, reading the paper, texting or calling people while waiting to be served.
He felt uneasy. Everything added to his temper; Sofia’s voice, the noise from all the other people, the apathy of those around him, the slow pace, the ugly faces, the colours of marketing, the price tags, the smell of other people mixed with grocery smell and covered under body deodorants, the eyes of other people examining everything as if from higher ground, the distinct odour of older people. Everything added to his anger.
He pulled in a large gasp of air, slowly exhaling in a controlled manner; that moment of so deeply needed and desired tranquillity was still evading him.
– Do you have any special vouchers?
The clerk addressed the old chap and pulled Matthew from his attempt for peace. The old man had just finished placing his groceries on the belt and the couple behind him had already started unloading theirs.
– Excuse me?
The old chap had probably not understood the question. Or maybe, he had just failed to hear. There is no growing old without taking a toll on the senses.
– She asked you if you have any special vouchers! Did you bring them? I told you they were on your nightstand. You didn’t bring them, did you? I knew you would forget them. I should have brought them myself. You couldn’t do this one simple thing. Tell her you don’t have them. Tell her I told you to bring them but you left them home, go on!
His wife was just as irritating as Sofia were. Matthew looked at her with swollen eyes; eyes about to pop from their sockets. Could it really have been that he had just taken a glimpse into Sofia’s future? He was skipping heartbeats as his breathing became scarce.
The old man reached into his right pocket and pulled out a couple of illustrated strips of paper. They were two £10 vouchers.
– You had them? All this time you just had them in your pocket? So, what were you waiting for? You just love it when you can prove me wrong, don’t you? So many years and you’re still the same. You never changed one bit. You always look for opportunities to make me look bad when you’re the one…
The old man’s wife carried on. He never answered back; he didn’t even give her a look. He smiled at the girl behind the counter, a very forced smile, as he tried to avoid creating an even bigger scene.
– Excuse me sir. This one here has expired. I’m afraid I can only accept the other one.
The cashier held out one of the two vouchers with one hand while showing the expiration date with the other.
– Expired? What do you mean expired? It’s a £10 voucher. You will definitely accept it young woman or I will call for your superior! Where’s the store manager, I want to see the manager!
The old lady was furious. Her husband still looked as calm as possible, but she was shouting beyond tolerance. Matthew could not believe he was getting the “fetch the manager” line for the second time. The skin on his face felt itchy and stretchy. As if someone was pulling it towards the back of his neck.
– Couldn’t you have checked the vouchers earlier? We’re waiting for you for the last half an hour here! Do you think this is appropriate? Just pay the damn bill and be more careful next time!
The man right in front of Matthew addressed the old chap who was being served by the cashier.
Matthew chuckled. It was as if God had grown a hatred for the old chap and forced him into this situation where his own wife and a total stranger had circled him and kept bashing him verbally.
– Please come through this counter too.
A mid twenties girl had just opened the previously closed checkout point next to the one Matthew had been waiting for. She looked at him and asked him to pull his trolley through.
He exhaled in peace for the first time. He was just about to pay for his groceries and go home to watch the game. Probably in time, certainly much earlier than if he had to wait for the two older couples in front of him.
He pushed his trolley towards that checkout but he never made it that far.
– What are you doing?
The woman in front of Matthew was asking her husband why he was loading the groceries off the black belt and back into the trolley.
– I’m going through the other counter!
Matthew didn’t pay any attention to them. He was overwhelmed by the opportunity to get his groceries through the free counter, pay and go home to watch the game. As soon as the front edge of his trolley reached the right side of the woman in front of him though, out of the blue, another trolley flashed in front of him, its right side crashing against his own.
A loud metallic noise shattered his fragile serenity.
Behind him, Sofia was still checking out the new candy.
– Hey look at that, they also have the old big bubble gum. Can you believe it? Remember the ad in the 80s? Oh, this brings back so many memories. I remember one time, I had made that huge bubble in class and the teacher saw me and you know what happened, right? He …
Matthew felt his right eye turning round towards the back of his skull. The hair on his neck had all risen. Chills crawled down his spine. His lower jaw edged to the right violently before returning to its normal position. His eyes narrowed.
The woman in front of him had just pushed her trolley in front of his own to cut his way to the open counter. She didn’t look at him. She completely ignored him, just making sure that her trolley would not allow him to go through first. Her husband was still trying to unload their groceries off the other counter.
– I’m not gonna wait for this wanker all day. You should have checked your vouchers before coming to the till you stupid twat! Do you think this is how I wanted to spend my Saturday? By staying here in line and waiting for you and your stupid twat wife to solve your problems at the counter?
Matthew felt a cold spasm conquering his extremities; like a ripple of needles and pins being shot from his stomach and quickly galloping towards his fingers. He could not budge an inch. His grip tightened on the trolley handle but he could not push forward through the blockage the old woman had created before him.
– How dare you talk about me like that? And you, you! How dare you let this bastard talk about your wife like that? What kind of a man lets a total stranger insult his wife so despicably without reacting in the very least? A loser man, that’s what! You’re a pathetic excuse of a man, that’s what you are! And you, who do you think you’re talking to, uh? You and your stupid wife, you just go through the other counter, we’ll stay here till forever if needed! We’re not going anywhere until they accept the vouchers!
The old chap’s wife answered to the insults. They were now involved in a full-fledged argument, shouting at each other, the old chap lowering his eyelids in discomfort and disappointment. Matthew was still dead still in place.
– And you! Where the fuck do you think you’re going wanker? You think you’ll go first, before me? I’m going first you fucking twat!
This time the mid fifties man addressed Matthew. In all fairness, he was a miracle of multitasking! He managed to insult the old woman, attack Matthew and still unload his groceries, all at the same time!
– You fucking little bastard trying to go before…
Matthew grabbed him by the face! He had taken as much as he could by his inconsistent mumbling before finally snapping. He grabbed him by the face and dropped him face down against the trolley.
Groceries flew in the air, blood spilt against his expensive suit and shirt, a couple of teeth shot in the air! The old man staggered backwards, spitting thick red blood, trying to take a breath but finding warm blood pumped into his nostrils and down into his lungs instead; lost for air he coughed and gasped for breath, spitting out even more blood onto his wife’s face.
She started screaming. With both hands on the sides of her face, fingers fully open and extended, she screamed to the extremes of her voice! Matthew grabbed her from the throat so hard that she almost choked at once. She tried to lose his grip but he kept squeezing to the end of his strength. He squeezed as if trying to shut her up but she kept screaming even more. Until the first punch landed against her face.
The nose flattened, her nostrils shattered, the little piece of bone that formed them broke loose and carved into the matter of her brain, immediately shutting off all awareness. The only thing keeping her from dropping was Matthew’s grip but as soon as he let go, she dropped like a bag of excess animal fat.
Sofia realised something was wrong and rose from behind the candy stand. She touched Matthew’s left arm and looked at him with big eyes full of concern. He looked back at her with eyes full of hatred, eyes small and narrow. She caressed his arm with love, care and affection. He ripped her throat with just one strike of his right hand.
His fingernails had protruded out of his fingers, they had hardened and they had taken an eagle claw shape. Meat hanged from his fingers. Fresh meat. Beloved meat. Meat from Sofia’s throat.
Sofia dropped dead in an instant. Blood from her carotid artery spurred and gushed into the air and onto the supermarket floor. Everyone had frozen into place. Everyone had been removed from reality, placed into chaotic emptiness and forced to watch a crime in the making.
– Sir, will you please come through this counter?
The mid twenties cashier who had just opened her point, urged Matthew to move forward past the dead woman’s cart. He turned round to face her. She smiled softly. He grabbed the pressurized can of whipped cream off his trolley and jumped over the counter, grabbed her, dropped her on the floor and sat on top of her chest. She tried to scream but he forced the can’s nozzle into her mouth and pulled the valve all the way back; cream filled her mouth and pushed towards the back of her larynx, moments before it started coming out from her nostrils. Her eyes darkened and flipped back inwards.
Sofia tried to push herself off the floor. Meat was disgustingly hanging off her ripped throat, blood still gushing out; it soaked her clothes and stagnated on the floor, making it even harder for her to walk on. She circled the checkpoint number three, reached Matthew and touched him on the left shoulder kind-heartedly and sympathetically.
He turned around and saw her standing by his side. He spurred from the floor, punched her in the wound and saw his fist penetrating the throat and reaching the other side, bloody and covered in living meat. He pulled his fist back out holding her trachea and thyroid gland in his hand, blood dripping on his leather shoes.
The security officers rushed from the other side of the supermarket; a chubby twentyish boy and another even fatter man, near his forties. They wore blue uniforms, black hats and they were holding full size expandable batons. They rushed amongst the shocked bystanders pushing through the crowd, batons high over their heads and ready to give him a beating to remember.
Matthew stood firm on his feet, lifted the till over his head and with both hands, he catapulted it against the security officers. It hit the chubby young boy right on the forehead and ricocheted towards the ceiling, made him spin around his axis a couple of times and then drop still on the floor with a dislocated lower jaw and half his teeth lying on the floor. His older co-worker immediately knelt over him and tried to bring him round.
– Tommy, Tommy! Are you okay? Talk to me boy, talk to…
The airborne till landed on the back of the older security officer’s neck, snapping it off his spine and severing his head away from the rest of his body; a headless trunk fell on Tommy’s dead corpse.
Sofia moved in front of Matthew. She touched his face with both hands, caressed his harsh skin and looked at him with mercy in her eyes. Her eyebrows arched with concern and dear sympathy, tears fled her eyes and her lower lip shivered with sorrow.
He took the empty pressurised can of whipped cream into his hands and made sure there was no more cream inside. Pulling the valve down, it emitted pressurized gas but no cream. He read the label on the can.
“Pressurised contents. Highly flammable. Keep away from fire. Store in a cool and dry place.”
He stuck it into Sofia’s larynx, made sure that the gas was still being emitted from the nozzle and then lit a match and placed it in her mouth. She still looked at him with sincere concern and compassion when he started walking away from her and towards the old woman who was earlier demanding to see the store manager.
A couple of steps before he had reached her, a terrifying explosion made him turn promptly and look at what remained from Sofia.
The explosion had shot her head towards the supermarket ceiling but not before her eyeballs had been forced out of their sockets and thrust against the store front windows. As a result of the explosion, the whipped cream can was propelled down Sofia’s peptic system, it travelled through her oesophagus and hit hard against the lower end of her stomach, it punctured it and reached the large bowel, leaving the duodenum intact.
Nitrogen, methane and hydrogen in Sofia’s large bowel sparked a second large scale explosion, as soon as it came into contact with the flame that followed the travelling can. Her abdominals were ripped into shreds, semi-viscous chyme and partially digested food spattered and sprayed everything around her and her lower intestine unfolded out of her hollow trunk as the can kept travelling forward until it exited the dead body from its anus.
Matthew chuckled. She would finally stay down.
He turned around and looked at the old woman who had first started the original argument. He looked around for something he could use for a creative new death. Walking towards the old couple, he felt something hitting him softly against his chest. A cane.
The old chap, the woman’s husband, had stopped him with his cane and looked at him in the eye.
– This one is mine!
The old man uttered the words behind defective plates, saliva spit out.
Before Matthew was given the time to realise what had just happened, the old chap swivelled on his left foot and launched a tremendous strike against his wife’s head, a couple of centimetres below her left ear.
Matthew blinked. He then chuckled and smiled. And then, he burst into incoherent laughs.
The old woman’s glasses flew in the air, just as her plates soared into the air and hit the cashier in the face. She pivoted in place and then received another strike below her right ear.
The old man was a ninja with a cane! He kept whacking her time after time, he jumped in the air and gave her a powerful blow on the top of the head and before she could hit the floor, he knelt and gave her a strong uppercut with the handle of his cane. She flew into the air before resting dead on the black belt of the checkout counter number two.
The old chap turned around and looked at Matthew with a huge smile on his face. His plates were really defective. Matthew wondered how this man could even chew.
– Now that was cool son, wasn’t it? That’s how we ninjas do it!
Matthew started laughing again. He felt tears forming on the edge of his eyes. He laughed hardly and wholeheartedly.
Sofia tried to make him stop. A couple of men in white robes held him by the arms as he kept kicking and twisting while laughing insanely. He screamed and he laughed and Sofia sobbed her heart out.
– Ninja! Ninja! Ninja!!!
Matthew kept shouting as he was escorted out of the supermarket and onto the ambulance. Sofia kept crying helplessly.
She sat next to him in the back of the ambulance. He seemed so happy. He smiled and he laughed so much.
– Babe, you didn’t take your pills this morning did you?
Back in the supermarket, the two couples had stopped arguing. The older one of the two paid in cash and left with their groceries. The other couple used the checkout counter number three.