One Reply to “1.22.2014 Journal Prompt”

  1. There’s a late night Chinese supermarket at the end of the street. Lit up like a fairground with lights in all colours; and music, all tinny and shriek, leaks from inside onto the road; and everything is packaged in red and yellow and gold and everything like a prize or a gift. There’s a couple who work there and they are called Mr and Mrs Li.

    I first went to the Chinese supermarket in the middle of the night when my wife, Agnese, was expecting our child. She was at that time in the pregnancy when she had a fancy for the unusual and she sent me to the end of our street. She said she wanted steamed dumplings filled with pork and sweetened red beanpaste. Then she couldn’t get enough of them, so I became a regular and they got to know me there, Mr and Mrs Li – she winked and smiled at me and he tapped one finger against the line of his nose and they gave me dumplings at a special price.

    It was at the Chinese supermarket that I met Padma. She was buying dumplings, too, and we got to talking. I told her all about Agnese and the cow-heavy she’d become and licking sugar from doughnuts and scooping the pork and beanpaste filling from dumplings with the point of her tongue. Padma laughed and she touched my arm and wished us luck. But the thing is, I never told Agnese about Padma. I kept her a secret.

    We met again, by chance at first. Sometimes weeks stretched between meetings; sometimes only days. Even after the baby was born. And Padma always asked after the family. By then I was buying shrimp-paste and beansprouts and double happiness candy. We stood for an hour once, me and Padma, next to the shelves of spices where the air was fragrant and sweet, and we talked about this and that and nothing.

    Then we took to meeting by arrangement. Like a date, I said the first time, and Padma laughed and she said I was silly to think so. Mrs Li winked and smiled and Mr Li tapped one finger against the line of his nose, and we both got a special price for the things that we bought.

    I told Agnese it was a works night out. I said I’d be late and not to wait up. I promised not to drink too much. I kissed her cheek and the baby’s cheek, too, and I did not understand how Agnese did not see the lie.

    Padma was waiting outside the Chinese supermarket – all lit up like a fairy or a queen. She’d bought a bottle of rice wine and two tiny porcelain cups, all at a special price. She was pleased to see me and I was pleased to see her.

    We broke into the park. One of the railings was loose and we squeezed through. We walked hand in hand across the grass, just where the signs said to ‘keep off’. We danced in front of the bandstand, and barefoot we paddled in the boatpond. Then we laid our coats down on the ground and Padma poured the rice wine into the cups. It tasted sweet and strong and dangerous.

    I don’t know why we did what we did, there in the park where anyone could see. She said it would be our secret and she said afterwards that we had made a good memory. She kept putting things into words, like we were a story told on the radio: the moonlight on the water of the boatpond like broken silver; the bandstand where the whisper of music still lingered on the chill air; and the sky peppered with pinprick stars, a hundred thousand of them, and the moon a witness to everything we did.

    I never saw Padma again, not in the park and not anywhere. I kept shopping at the late night Chinese supermarket hoping that chance would favour us meeting again. I asked Mr Li once if he had seen Padma. He tapped the side of his nose with one finger and then shook it in the air as if he was warning me against doing wrong. I nodded and I said I understood. Mrs Li scowled and she fixed me with her eye. They charged me full price for everything after that.

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