Hardware Hangover Horrors

Photo credit: Dave Mohammed (CC0)

My mouth was dry and everything was irritating me, but here I was in my local hardware store, wandering around in a fruitless attempt to find the light bulb aisle. I had a can of Coke in my right hand and a sausage sizzle in my left. I had guzzled half the Coke already and was counting on the sugar and caffeine to bring me back to life.

The sound of thongs clicking against feet and echoing against the high steel roof was driving me mad.

Does no one in Maddington wear shoes?

The thongs were approaching me quickly from behind.

Click. Clack. Click.

Clack.

I slowed deliberately to let them past. They belonged to a man with dark, hairy legs. His toenails looked gnarled and infected with fungus.

Why did I have so much to drink last night?

I continued my slow zombie lurch towards the far end of the store, trying to make sense of the numbers and signs dangling from high steel girders. I looked down from the signs for a moment just to rest my neck and calm the swirling inside my skull.

I saw her.

She was engrossed by something on the shelf, in the nuts and bolts section.

My adrenaline spiked and my heart gave my ribs five swift kicks. I jumped out of view like I had been tasered. I was out of breath and my head was spinning faster than it was before.

Did she see me?

What do I do?

Last time we communicated it was on Facebook. She swore at me. I blocked her. It was six months ago.

I could hear my pulse. I could feel it in my throat.

I slunk down the adjacent aisle and spotted her feet under the row of shelves. She was wearing thongs, too.

Does no one in Maddington wear shoes?

Why did I have so much to drink last night?

I held my breath for a moment or two, suddenly afraid that she would recognise the sound of my breathing, somehow, through the wide metal shelving.

My mind was panicking, thoughts rushing past as quickly as my heart beat. Should I just pretend she isn’t here and keep looking for lightbulbs? What if I run into her then? No, the only safe thing to do would be to follow her. I could keep track of her and make sure she doesn’t see me. Surely that would work. I wasn’t very fleet of foot and the Coke was yet to work its magic. I dropped a chunk of onion on my foot; I looked down and saw that my hands were shaking.

Her feet started moving down the aisle.

Click. Clack. Click.

Clack.

I froze for a moment. I thought, I can’t make it look too obvious. Would she recognise my shoes?

She was never one to notice the finer details. She was a shoe fan, though.

I followed her after a few moments, walking on the balls of my feet. The adrenaline had converted my zombie shuffle to a cat-like stalk. As far as I knew, my feet were silent. I couldn’t hear them over my ragged breathing.

I saw her feet right at the end of the aisle and realised my tactical error.

I had no way of knowing whether she would turn towards me or away.

I moved close to the shelves and squatted down, pretending to look at whatever it was there.

Oh, bags of rags, how fascinating.

The sudden change in posture was not kind to my head. My vision was blurry and my stomach was doing flips. I could still hear my heart rattling my brain inside my skull. I was now holding an empty can of Coke and a cold sausage.

I dropped more onion and a dollop of yellow mustard. It landed on my shoes.

Click. Clack. Click.

Clack.

I could see her feet for a few more moments, and then they disappeared.

I stopped breathing.

“Hello.”

The Coke can clattered to the floor and rolled underneath the shelves. I made myself stand up and look at her.

She was smaller than I remembered. She looked older. Can someone age that much in six months?

Click. Clack. Click.

Clack.

She walked right up to me, and before I realised what was happening, her arms were around me. She buried her face against my neck.

“I am so so sorry,” she said, quietly, close to my ear.

The panic started to subside but I felt nothing else. The garage door around my heart had slammed closed to her.

“I’m sorry too,” I whispered back and her arms tightened a little around me.

“What can I do so that you can forgive me?”

“It’s too late,” I murmured back, “I’ve met someone else.”

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