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  • Guest Writer

Crushing

Words by Jemma Richardson


I see him at the checkout, adorned in a khaki apron. Under the harsh fluorescent lights he waits for me, like Heathcliff on the moors. My heart beats in time with the barcode scanner.

It’s the way his tawny arms move the produce. It’s his broad shoulders and wide, lopsided smile. It’s The Hair. Caramel-coloured, overgrown, falling into his eyes. The Hair that could launch a thousand ships. 


I bet he’s into astrology and homeopathy. I bet he sleeps with women who wear a lot of hemp and own too many houseplants. (I bet those women have also developed a Pavlovian response to the beeping sounds of checkouts.) I bet his bedding is organic cotton. I bet he plays guitar badly, but endearingly. I bet instead of joining a gym, he stays in shape by going on long nature walks. I bet he stops to feed birds from a pool of seeds in his hands. I bet he gets the seeds at a discount from the health food store. 


Whitney belts out I Will Always Love You which feels a bit on the nose, but that song is always playing in supermarkets, so I try not to read too much into it.

I watch as he packs my groceries, reading the side of my ‘I Stand With Ukraine’ tote bag. We start chatting. We start connecting. We both love oat milk and democracy!? It’s kismet! It’s written in the stars!

He hands me my receipt and oh! I think of a cartoon dog nudging a meatball with its nose. I hear the romantic swells of an accordion, like we’re in Pa-ree, being serenaded by a Frenchman in a striped shirt. I look at the shelf of herbal tonics, and what’s this? They’re all wearing berets! The essential oils next to them are are smoking cigarettes! The avocados are holding roses between their teeth! And the celery, well, the celery is swooning at the whole charming scene…


*


You have a crush, my boyfriend tells me, you have a crush on the guy at the health food store.

It’s his favourite story to tell friends when we go out to dinner.

Liv has a little thing for him, he’ll say, topping up the wine glasses.

It’s not a thing, I’ll say, mock-offended, I’m in love.

 She gets very giggly, he’ll say, her face goes red as a tomato – an organic tomato, of course.


Our weekly shop starts to become more vegan. 

Doesn’t it just feel better for your body? my crush asks. 

Oh god yes, I say. 

He tells me which of my items can go in my non-existent compost.

I add a pot of organic, cruelty-free sunblock at the last minute, saying I don’t need any more freckles.

I like freckles, says my crush, running a hand through The Hair. 

I think about it all the way home. 

When I stop at an intersection, a man raps on my window.

You left some shopping, he says, pointing to the roof of the car.


I catch strep throat over Easter, and I can’t get a doctors appointment for three days. I look online for natural remedies to help me get by. I gargle ginger-infused water. I chop a garlic clove in half and wedge it in my ear. That’s how my boyfriend finds me. Ginger-breathed and garlic-eared, entombed in our sweat-soaked bedding. He feels my clammy forehead, checks my temperature. He brings me water and Nurofen.


*


Our usual supermarket was out of leeks. I was making my boyfriend leek soup, which I don’t even like, but he’d been having a tough time at work. I tried three different supermarkets before I remembered the health food store, a last ditch attempt. The store smelled like incense. The other shoppers were all Pākehā women with oversized beaded jewellery and dreads. The vegetables were pale and misshapen. I reached for a leek and the whole pile came tumbling down, drumming against the floor. A man appeared at my side. He smelled like a freshly sharpened pencil.

Do you need a hand, Miss?

That’s how I met the health store worker.


I’m watching cartoons with my niece and nephew. When I was their age, I thought the biggest challenges in my life would be avoiding falling anvils, avoiding quicksand, avoiding dynamite sticks. Not arguing about chores and errands, arguing about late bill payments, arguing about that job opportunity he won’t take. 

I thought relationships would be saying things like I love you and Darling! and I’m yours. Not you’re selfish and lower your voice the neighbours will hear you and what’s even the point in this anymore? and fuck you.


My flatmate had been in a play at BATS. She’d invited me to the afterparty where I drank too much, danced terribly, and spilled half my drink down the back of a man’s shirt. He was nice about it. He wore glasses. He was chatty. 

I take it you’re one of the actors in the play, I said at one point. 

How’d you guess? he said. 

Because you’re tall, handsome and extroverted, I said, making him blush.

Well, he said, you’re right about two of those things. 

Yes, I said, leaning closer, on second thought, you’re not actually that tall.

That’s how I met my boyfriend.


*


My boyfriend rushes to me when he hears the front door slam.

Did you remember to get onions? he asks, scanning me for grocery bags.

He cut The Hair! I say, dazed, slightly irate.

He puts a placating hand on my shoulder. 

Nevermind about the onions, he says, I’ll heat us up some leftovers.

After a second helping of microwave butter chicken, we stand together at the kitchen sink, me washing up, him drying. He touches my hips absentmindedly as he moves around me, putting things away. 

Afterwards, we sit on the sofa and watch our show. We share the last beer in the fridge, passing it between us, taking sips. I stroke his hair, tell him he’s going grey. So are you, he teases, kissing my shoulder. I lean into him, listening to his heartbeat, marvelling at its rhythm, perfectly in sync with my own.

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