A Closing Counter of the Hot Food Kind

Greg stands in the fruit and vegetable section of his local supermarket. He gazes forlornly at the variety of salads from which he must choose, flicking back to his phone for any further inspiration.

“Need salad for lunch tomorrow!”, the text message read and not one word more.

His partner had resolved to eat healthily this year which implied that Greg should share in this commitment. It sickened Greg to relent to it. Yet here he stands, diverted from his commute home to pop to the supermarket for fresh salad, looking at the selection with a combination of desperation and bewilderment, hoping against hope that someone will come along and advise him on which salad it is that he should choose. As he looks around him, Greg realises that no such assistance is coming. The decision rests with him. Picking up two packets at random, Greg surveys his finalists. In his left hand, Italian Bistro salad – even to the untrained eye, that sounds like a reasonable option. In his right hand, Watercress, Spinach, and Rocket salad…

How dare they, Greg whispers to himself. How dare they name something as dull as a leafy green salad option after something as exciting as a rocket. There’s contrast and then there’s simply taking the piss. It’s all well and good encouraging people to be healthy, but… Rocket? Greg feels like he’s being mocked, as though this is one insult too far in an already deplorable set of circumstances. All for tomorrow’s lunch. Here he is, an adult, responsible for his own decisions and well-being, coerced into spending a portion of his finite after-work evening time choosing from salads in an endless pursuit of healthy living. “What’s the point, anyway?” Greg says, slightly louder than he intended. The bag of Watercress, Spinach, and Rocket salad gets tossed back and Greg places the Italian Bistro salad into his basket.

With the essential items he actually went shopping for all in hand, Greg zig-zags the aisles. Overhead, there’s a brief crackle and pop as the intercom broadcasts a grainy voice throughout the supermarket.

“Attention customers: the hot food counter is now closing. All items have been reduced to clear and are available from the hot food counter now. Thank you.”

Greg pauses for a moment and considers the basket in his hand. For a moment, the Italian Bistro salad pleads with Greg and advises he should have no interest in what the hot food counter has to offer. And yet, through no conscious effort, Greg’s body is already moving in that direction. There is a hunger inside, an empty pit of a thing with no known depth, directing as though the belly button is a magnet and gravitating Greg’s whole body to the hot food  counter. It may be magic. It may be witchcraft. It is almost certainly an insatiable, primitive desire to eat more and more in order to survive. Not that Greg was going to grab, say, a bag of potato cubes if they were still there, for example. He certainly had not already worked out a route home that would allow the optimum amount of time to both consume the potato cubes and finish an orange juice in order to mask the potato scent on his breath. Sure, it was a longer walk home, but if Greg maintained a steady pace, the difference would be indiscernible.

Greg approaches the hot food counter and sees that other shoppers pass by without regarding the reduced items on display. He moves in and begins to sort through the bags. Some have breakfast items, black pudding slices that appear closer to crushed lumps of coal, hash browns that could as easily be cardboard cutouts, and rashers that seem to only have two dimensions. At another end of the display, there is a cooked chicken slowly but steadily acquiring a shape of utter deflation. However there are options of potato cubes. Pocket change could acquire the lot, Greg thinks, immediately scolding himself for considering it. But the items are just there. And Greg is hungry right now. He doesn’t want to wait until he gets home only to start preparing dinner. Where would be the harm in one little snack? Might as well get the best value one… he settles on a bag of potato cubes that is almost overfilled compared to the others. Greg grasps the hot food bag by its tiny handles and heads toward the checkout. All of his items paid for, Greg gets outside the shop and wastes no time in mashing a handful of cubes into his mouth.

“Come to me, you beautiful little potato cubes! You starch-laden fluffy angels! You…”

The potato cubes are either dry or soggy with no in-between. Even when chewed together, the textures fail to combine. Greg feels an immediate sense of buyer’s remorse. In his imagination, these would be soft, delicious lumps of happiness. Instead, these potato cubes are a physical manifestation of disappointment. Nevertheless, Greg continues to eat each and every little one until the bag is empty. He can deal with disappointment. He can even deal with buyer’s remorse. Yet, Greg can not deal with the alternative of probably no potato cubes ever again, only salad. As he sips from a bottle of orange juice on the long walk home, Greg makes a mental note of what time the hot food counter closed.

“Knowing my luck,” Greg smiles, “I’ll need to pop in again tomorrow…”