“You didn’t really think you could avoid me, did you?” asked Lynette.
“I didn’t see you.”
“Oh really George, you’ve been deceiving your wife for eight years. You ought to be able to lie better than that. I saw you scuttling away from the freezer aisle the moment you saw me.”
“George. No lying. And no scuttling either. If you’re going to play covert ops, lose some weight so you can run away like a man.”
She laid a hand on the pushbar of his trolley, not quite touching his. A teenage shelf-stacker was righting her trolley, apologising as though it was all her fault. Neither George nor Lynette looked at her.
“What do you want, Lynette?”
Lynette must have spent ages practising her eyeroll in the mirror, adjusting the mascara to dial up the effect to crushing scorn. “I want the same thing I want every month. The same thing you’ve given me every month since I showed you those photos of you having your wicked, wicked way with me -”
“Shh.” George’s response was purely reflexive. As soon as he’d made the sound, he knew how absurd it was to care what she said in public now.
“Did you just shush me? George, masterful doesn’t suit you any more than scuttling. Stick to what you’re good at: paying. I was going to up the price to three hundred for making me come and embarrass you in a public place.”
She leaned into him with a smile that told anyone watching that she was whispering words never before spoken beside a shelf of cat litter. “And we’ll add a one-off payment of fifty pounds just for that shush.” Her voice turned hard. “Three fifty. Now. There’s a cash machine by the entrance. Let’s go.”
George became aware that his mouth had been opening and closing silently while Lynette spoke. Did she think this was going to go on as normal? Hadn’t she noticed the sky falling in on him?
A syllable croaked from the back of George’s throat.
“No? I did I hear you right? No?”
“No.” It wasn‘t as firm as George would have liked, but that was unmistakably a ‘no’.
“Oh, have I hurt your feelings?” No one mocked like Lynette speaking words of sympathy. “OK. I admit it. You were wonderful. Best I ever had. Now I want my three hundred and fifty quid.”
George rubbed his eyes. Lynette wanted. Wanting was the essence of Lynette. Be sensible, he told himself. Last month, she’d been the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. This month, she was fifty kilos of well-groomed want with some curves in the right places. She hadn’t even noticed her transformation.
He tried to tell her, but his voice still wasn’t behaving itself. All that came out was, “seen news?”
“That’s the worst piece of stalling I’ve ever heard. Come on. Cash.”
He waved at his trolley, but she didn’t understand he was trying to tell her something. He picked out a pack of frozen spaghetti bolognaise and held it up. She looked down at the stack of ready meals.
“So you can’t cook.” Lynette broke off.
For a glorious moment, she looked less than sure of herself. George noticed he was actually taller than her. He was so used to feeling withered by her that he’d forgotten he had to look down to watch her wither him.
“Oh.” Lynette’s voice was flat. “She hasn’t gone and left you?”
“With the kids. I’m plastered all over the internet.” George’s voice still sounded thin, but at least he was managing full sentences. “Me and a few million other poor idiots. Someone hacked that Ashley Madison site you found me on and decided to strike a blow for, I don’t know, morality? Fidelity?”
“Perhaps they’re marketing consultants for a ready meal company. Looks like their sales just jumped about a thousand percent.” Lynette was trying to rally but she didn’t sound sure of herself.
“Funny. That’s funny.” George’s voice was under full control now. “Shall I tell you what’s really funny? You’re out of business. Cheaters and blackmailers go down together. No three hundred and fifty quid for you.”
“I’ve still got the pictures, George. You want your kids to see them? You might be able to talk your wife round now, but not when she sees where you put your -”
“Don’t you get it? I’ve got nothing to lose anymore. You do anything with those pictures and I’ll go to the police. I doubt I’ll be the only one, if you’re planning to keep throwing trolleys at your…whatever you call us. I won’t be the only idiot up for a bit of revenge, and you’ll have trouble running your little business from prison.”
“But…what am I going to do?”
“I suggest you stop shopping in Waitrose now you can’t afford it. There’s an Aldi down the road.”
George relished Lynette folding in on herself.
“I’ll have to start all over again.” She was talking to herself rather than George. “More sweaty old men. Like…”
She looked at George and shuddered.
“Well find a site with proper security this time. Just stay away from me. Um. Before you do, I don’t suppose you know how to heat one of these up, do you?”
George brandished the spaghetti bolognaise, but Lynette’s heels were already clickclacking down the rice and pasta aisle.
(Utterly unrelated to current events)