‘Change Due’ is a series of flash fiction inspired by receipts I’ve swiped from the self-service checkouts of my local Tesco Express.
#001 – CAT FOOD
Gordon hadn’t cried at his father’s funeral – a fact his sister reminded him of when she called at 6:45pm every evening to ask about his day, and react with increasing enthusiasm even though the answers were always the same. She cried a lot the day of the funeral. Gordon remembered how her eyes and cheeks became red and bloated, like someone had slapped her too hard and for too long. She cried so much that their mother had felt compelled to pull her aside and ask if anything else was the matter. Gordon had been upset too, of course, but his feelings towards their father were so complex he thought it was better not to disturb them. He suspected his sister still cried a lot, though he never asked. The phone calls had become a strain on both their lives.
In order to avoid the phone call, Gordon got a cat. He didn’t give it a name. Since he only kept regular contact with a handful of souls, he felt no particular need to identify the one that was a cat.
Every day, at 6:43pm, he would get up and walk to the shop and purchase a single tin of whichever cat food was on offer. Today, it was Felix with Chicken and Turkey in Jelly. He noticed they had started putting nutritional information on the front, like they did with frozen meals for people, but didn’t think about the possible implications of that. He took the tin to the self-service checkout and paid with a fifty pence piece. After placing the item into a carrier bag, he instinctively waited a few seconds to receive change, though he knew there wouldn’t be any.
Gordon arrived home to three missed calls and a voicemail. The cat, aware of the routine, was waiting for him by the back door. There was no cat flap; Gordon didn’t like the idea of the neighbours cats being able to come into his house if they felt like. He also didn’t like the idea of his own cat coming and going as it pleased, as though its actions were irrelevant. Unlocking the door, he let the cat in. It trotted directly and in silence to the empty area next to the food waste bin, which was where its own food usually appeared.
To listen to your messages, press one…
“Hi Gordy, I know you’re really busy these days but I haven’t heard from you in a while…”
Gordon dug the wet chunks out of the can with a sterling silver dessert fork and heaped it all onto a small plate. The cat chewed the meat carefully, its head bobbing up and down like one of those stupid car decorations, constantly agreeing with everything and nothing.
“Anyway, so I was just wondering how you’ve been. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Some days are hard, but every day is a new day, you know? Call me back. I love you.”
End of message. To listen to your messages again, press one. To save, press two. To delete, press three. Message saved. You have seventy one saved messages. To listen to your messages, press one…
The cat cried to go out, as it always did immediately after eating. Gordon opened the door and watched it disappear up the concrete steps, across the lawn, and over the wall without looking back. Once it was out of sight completely, Gordon closed the door and retreated to the living room, where he would sit with the TV on mute and his teeth clenched until it returned.
“What a fucking piece of shit,” Gordon thought to himself, “What an ungrateful, spoiled, piece of shit fucking cat.”