REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE by Sonia Trickey (3rd place Jul19)

I go to Waitrose every Saturday morning to eye up the men I wish I’d married.

I leave my reusable, upcycled cup in the bike trailer and queue for a complementary flat white served in a single use waxy cup that will take longer to decompose than my still living corpse. Then I meander like an idling gondolier down the aisles, drifting between towering fridges of gourmet meals and deli-snacks, hooking baba ganoush and meat-free Moroccan lamb into my shopping trolley, eyeing the local talent, streaming Puccini through my bamboo earphones, basking in CO2 emissions.

Sweet hedonism.

A yellow-trousered blond with the ruddy complexion I associate with country shooting parties is piling hand-stretched pizzas into his basket along with pickled lemons and almond stuffed olives.  I admire his brogues, acorn calf uppers and a stitched leather sole but his wax jacket puts me off. It suggests a taciturn, agrarian quality, concealing a sort of D.H. Lawrencish predilection for coarseness in the bedroom. So I turn my attention to a grey haired man whose crisp checked shirt is pulling tightly across his shoulder blades. He lingers over the rump, the rib eye, the fillet, the minute, the marinated and the three for two offer. I enjoy both the care with which he selects his steak and his carelessness of the ethics surrounding red meat consumption. Perhaps he’s a director of a pharmaceutical company. In my fantasy life we married in our early thirties and our children are starting prep school. I’m getting my figure back, returning to work full-time and he’s keen to take the kids to rugby on a Saturday morning. He coaches the team; I shop in Waitrose. He drives an SUV; I train for a marathon, raising money for the local air ambulance.

A clean-shaven, six foot Anglo-African brushes past as I swing into fresh desserts. He’s wearing red ankle-grazing jeans and a blue padded jacket. He sizzles with privilege and class – maybe he owns a yacht moored in a sleepy seaside village where he plays cricket on the beach with our children and our labradoodle, Mags. I think of my actual children blessed with neither privilege nor class, or even a dog, who are probably not awake yet, dozing amidst the hormones and unwashed clothes that lurk on their bedroom floors.

My husband too will be in bed. He’s got depression which is a real illness, like flu, but left untreated festers into narcissism. I allow myself these thoughts in Waitrose: there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thoughts in Waitrose – it’s all just ‘thought’.

I pick up the coconut crème brûlée he likes. I’d pick some wine too but I daren’t since he took a viticulture course. We hoped it would help him to make friends (it didn’t) but it did give him another area of expertise with which to improve me. I drink prosecco in secret now. My Waitrose husband is a cheerful philistine: he thinks wine tasting is for sissies. Or sommeliers.

The other thought I ponder in Waitrose is how to leave my husband. I have three options: the affair; the adult and responsible announcement; or raiding the joint account and escaping to South America.  The first and third are by far the most appealing options but I worry about the emotional cost for the kids.

I made a spreadsheet:

Time scale Children Moral High Ground Financial Net Gains Net losses
1 An affair 1 year Will blame me. Big trust issues Low Screwed in divorce by angry husband Romance. Kids money
2 Leaving like an adult 2 years + 30 being polite Will blame me. Child psychologist advised High Screwed in divorce by angry husband. Some freedom, kids. Money kids
3 Disappearing Immediate Will hate me. Lifelong anger and trust issues Low ? Freedom Kids
4 Staying Maybe 30 Will like me then hate me Average dysfunction Mid Comfortable Money, stability, kids. Some freedom

I’m currently working with option 4.

He was my age when we met. I think about that a lot in Waitrose too. I’m thirty-eight; the thought of pursuing a romantic liaison with a sixth former makes my stomach turn. And yet that’s the great romance of my life. He was my English teacher: wise, benign, ironic and smokin’ hot. What was he thinking? Actually, I know because he wrote a novel about it (still no publisher – Zoe Heller had already written it: “Better connected, a woman”). Here’s how it starts:

I’m not going to pretend that falling in love with Sophie was my finest hour as a teacher. I would have been the first to condemn this sort of predation in a colleague who was exploiting the craven naiveté of a student. But such are the vagaries of the human heart.

Craven naiveté.

When my hour of Waitrose is up, I head to the bike trailer into which I pack the groceries. I pour the dregs of the coffee into my upcycled cup which declaims: “Eat pussy, it’s vegan!”  – a humorous birthday present from my husband.

On the way home, I always detour into the beech woods where I spend a few moments transferring the precooked meals into containers from home and removing any plastic packaging from fruit and veg: we’re a supermarket free household.

Today, after I’ve disposed of the rubbish, I lie on the ground and look up through the trees. Sunlight filters through a rough tessellation of leaves which skitter in the breeze. Each leaf is haloed with soft fronds.

I lie there until I’m interrupted by the sound of laughter. A middle aged couple are passing through the gate. The man grapples with the woman and she pretends to enjoy it. It takes me a moment to understand what I’m seeing, but then it becomes clear.

A sun eclipse spills out from behind a cloud and floods the wood with light: the man is my depressed husband.

Everything is birdsong.

I climb onto my bike and freewheel down the hill.