The aisle stretches forever. Kim clutches a crumpled shopping list in her coat pocket. Removing the list to look at her own scrawled necessities is close to impossible, so she stands and leans against the cart. She should know what she has to buy. She comes to the supermarket so often, too often. She should know what she eats. This shouldn’t be so hard. The longer she stands, the longer she’ll have to be in the market. She leans her body forward and the cart moves a few feet. Something yellow on her left—Aubrey shampoo—all-natural botanicals, gentle, nourishing. Kim takes the bottle from the shelf and unscrews the cap. Rose and honeysuckle float from the container, and she is dripping in chlorine, standing under the showerhead’s weak drizzle, glancing at the lady’s nipples. She is eight. Her swimming lesson has just ended. Wash all that chlorine out of your hair, her mother told her in the car. She squeezes the yellow shampoo bottle, and that sweet smell drifts out. The knuckles of her toes unclench and spread across the slick tile. She massages the thick liquid into her scalp and begins to work out the snarls.
She hates the locker-room shower stalls at the YMCA with the curtain that only covers most of you. She hates that someone could stand in just the right place and peek in. Like those ladies who walk around naked. Maybe they want her to be naked, too. There is one lady who always swims in the pool when she has her class. She wears an orange bathing suit with green straps that crisscross her back and dig into the skin. When the lady takes her bathing suit off, Kim can’t help but stare at her nipples—they are so large and dark. Kim hopes she never has nipples like that. She doesn’t want to look at the lady, but she can’t help staring whenever the lady takes her bathing suit off. When she stops staring, she feels the lady staring back at her. She doesn’t want the lady to see her naked. But Kim can’t help being curious. Maybe that’s what she’s supposed to do—be naked so it’s fair for everyone. Kim stares, so she should probably let other people stare at her if they want. Not today, though. Today, she’ll keep her bathing suit on while she washes her hair.
Kim brings the bottle to her nose, hoping no one in the aisle notices her, and inhales again. She catches a deeper, muskier note. Her tongue is heavy, coated. Her molars grind grittily. They need to be brushed, badly. They need to be brushed NOW, but getting out of the bathtub is impossible. Her skin prunes. All of the water has been sucked out of her body and combined with the bathwater. A few stray clumps of bubbles float around the tiny islands her knees make on the water’s surface. She sips again from her glass of wine that rests on the edge of the bathtub. It could fall and smash into countless shards. They could fly all across the room and lodge themselves into cracks of the tiling. She could clean it all up and still find shards days and weeks later, lying in wait to stab her heels and wedge under her toenails. She places the wine back carefully next to the yellow shampoo bottle. It drips beige liquid down the side. She inhales that sweet scent, and it calms her a bit. She rubs the shampoo between her fingers, trying to make the slick feeling the only feeling in her body. For a few moments, that is all, and she can just soak. But then loss reaches back. Her chest tenses. Her mother has been gone five days. She has been soaking in the bath for approximately five days. She has yet to wash her hair. It’s a gnarled mass gathered into a bun. She shifts in the murky water. She sways in the aisle and places the bottle back on the shelf. She pulls the list from her pocket and smooths it out as best she can. Most of the items are already crossed out with a thin, black line.
Alice Maglio is a writer living in New York. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and her work is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review