Rose had £30 to feed herself and her two boys for two weeks. Thank goodness for the Valu range at SupaValu. What it lacked in nutrition it made up for in calories and at least the boys had free school meals so she knew they had something good to eat. Rose’s own lunch was usually a couple of rounds of dry toast, as long as there was still enough bread to eke out teas and breakfasts as well. If not, she went without.
Today she needed to take Damon to the dentist so she went shopping early. Rose normally shopped later in the day when price markdowns on items almost out of date were made. She would probably end up with fewer meals but there wasn’t much choice. One of those smaller, shallow trolleys would be sufficient. Rose longed for the day she could use and fill the deeper, traditional shopping trolleys with tasty treats for them all. Maybe even something for herself.
The shopping list included bread and sausage and cheese and ham and spread, all the makings of a Thatcher-lunch-style evening menu for a poor family. Rose wished she could provide hot food more often, aware that toast didn’t really count as hot food. Did beans on toast count as a hot meal? They had that twice a week usually, and often those were the only times she ever ate anything cooked.
When Brad still lived with them and they had a decent income, she never had to think about what she bought. There were always crisps and biscuits and fizzy drinks in the house. Now they were in the small flat and Brad lived with a tart from Accounts and defaulted on her maintenance most months, Rose struggled to pay for all that the family needed.
At the checkout Rose waited for her turn to unload her shopping. She always felt as if the shoppers in front and behind, the checkout operator and even the security guy were watching her, judging her purchases against how much she cared for her sons. Rose tried lumping them into a pile, hiding the cheaper food in the middle of the others.
“My Name is Hazel” scanned everything so slowly and did so want to talk. Rose hated shopping with such limited funds and preferred to look out of the window or up the aisles or at the conveyor. Anything to avoid conversation that might lead to discussions about her food choices, home life or general well-meaning personal probing.
“Good value, these sausages,” said Hazel. “My husband likes them with a nice dollop of red sauce.”
Rose smiled, but a no-eyes smile, “I don’t buy sauces.” She didn’t add that she would love to afford sauce, that the boys often asked for Heinz or Hellmann’s and that the rare treat bottles of sauce she could save for usually tasted of red vinegar.
Outside there was a loud bang, as a red car driving too fast hit a blur car reversing from a parking space. He was driving too fast and she didn’t seem to have been paying attention. The red driver reminded her of Brad. His car was similar and he drove that too quickly as well. Rose began to wonder if it might have been Brad, but when the driver got out of the car it was a young guy Rose had never seen before.
“That’s a palaver, eh love?” said Hazel.
“Yes, awful,” said Rose, “I hope nobody’s hurt.”
Most of the shoppers were now watching the drama unfurling outside. Hazel cut into Rose’s concentration. “£26.40 please love.” Rose tried to hide her delight at being £3.60 under budget by concentrating on the events outside. Especially as she’d had to buy personal hygiene things for herself, and then still had money left over for emergencies or maybe even treats.
Anticipation of treating her boys was almost as enjoyable as seeing them with happy faces as they munched on surprise chocolate, and the thought sustained Rose on her walk home carrying her plastic bags,