Best before

‘I’m just off out to the shops,’ Graham called from the front hall. ‘We’re running out of French dressing.’ 

‘There’s still half a bottle here,’ Eva shouted back, shutting the fridge. ‘And we’ve plenty of oil and vinegar. And don’t forget your mask.’

But he had already closed the front door and she heard him getting into the car. She knew it was just his excuse to get out of the house. Their attention spans had shortened during lockdown and by half past ten he needed a break from his spreadsheets. They had gone through a phase of having morning coffee together, sitting in the conservatory and watching the bird feeder outside, but even that had become repetitive. 

The trouble was that every time he went to the shops he came back with more and more groceries. Jars of olives, tinned fruit, packets of jelly. Soup.

‘It won’t go bad,’ he’d say. ‘And it’s best to stock up, what with Covid and Brexit, you never know.’ 

She would have to try and make room. She opened the kitchen cupboard. There was a lot of old stuff on the top shelf, probably beyond its expiry date. That shelf was too high really to be useful, or, as Graham liked to say, she was too short. 

She got the old milking stool from the utility and stepped on it. It toppled beneath her foot. She fell backwards, tense and rod-straight, her head crashing on the kitchen tiles.

Now her life passed before her eyes.

It had been a decade ago that she last cleared that shelf and had thrown out the rusting tins of Heinz baby food, together with a half-box of banana Nesquik that was a few years too old. The yellow powder had formed a solid lump. There had been a can of horrible beer up there that Harry must have brought one Christmas when he came home from college, and the biscuit tin that he always used to test by shaking had long been empty.

There was an old ice-cream tub full of old postcards: Harry’s trip to Andorra with the snowboarding club, his week in Barcelona with his university friends. Then his year in Australia with Michelle. Beside the ice cream tub was a little white box patterned with silver bells that once held a piece of their wedding cake, but now held a blue silk flower from his firstborn’s christening, posted in Arizona. 

Then there was a packet of green-lipped mussel extract, best before February 2019, that hadn’t worked for her arthritis. Wear and tear, the doctor had said. Perhaps she was getting on a bit.

And now her skull was broken, and bleeding inside, and her soul plunged into oblivion.

When her eyes opened again, she saw fluorescent lights, and heard the hiss and beep of medical machines. A rush of air blowing up her nose from a plastic thing, and a nurse: 

‘Eva, how ya doing? Can you squeeze me fingers there? Good girl, well done!’

Luckily, she had not reached her expiry date; Graham must have come back for his mask.

©, 2021