shoppers juggle packets of toilet paper ─ scatter tidy stacks to the floor ─ empty shelves gleam ─ Josie from the checkout ─ arms out wide like a traffic cop ─ No! One packet per trolley! ─ and to the air around us ─ What’s happened to everyone? ─ I don’t know I say ─ watching the older couples lurch away behind their walkers ─ why do I only notice them now that I’m encased in this older skin ─ how do they get their supplies if there’s none here and no-one to help? ─ family? ─ online? ─ I blink away that rush of worry ─ grab my to-do list ─ a technique I gleaned from Sylvia Plath’s diaries years ago about how she coped with depression ─ another tick ─ See you can do it! ─ back then I fell from a steep height after the birth of my third child ─ picture almost perfect ─ then this tide would switch off the lights inside me one by one and I’d know ─ tomorrow couch-bound ─ I swerve into the baking aisle for flour and currants ─ a few years ago ─ that first puff of anxiety clutched at me ─ fear of the worst family Christmas ever ─ had my list too ─ trolley loaded up ─ I was cooking a new recipe ─ why oh why? ─ my brain locked underwater ─ arrived at the checkout ─ the new person ─ Josie ─ asked what I was cooking ─ hefting the bag up ─ told her I had the wrong recipe ─ had to put things back ─ no worries ─ take your time darl okay? ─ since then I often pass through her checkout ─ during lockdown she told me about her breast cancer ─ meds in short supply ─ the new ones had to be taken every hour ─ she mimed a frantic checking of her watch ─ Are you alright? ─ No! I’m on medication! ─ I smile about her remission ─ head for her checkout ─ grab a large jar of Vegemite ─ resist the urge to buy ten ─ chat with Josie instead ─ replace that burrowing fear ─
Alana Kelsall lives in Naarm/Melbourne where she writes poetry and prose. She has won the Ada Cambridge and Sheila Malady prizes, and, prior to the recent lockdowns, performed at spoken word venues including La Mama Poetica. Her writing has appeared most recently in StylusLit and Teesta Review.