She was supposed to call at ten, and it was already 10:26.
Tara sat at the kitchen table, her gaze locked on her phone. A full cup of tea was growing cold on the bench beside her.
When the screen lit up, she snatched the phone.
“Hello? What did they say?”
“They said we should all come now.” Her mother sounded groggy. “We can have until this afternoon with him.”
Tara pushed back the chair and moved to the window. Outside, the sun bounced bright off the white picket fence.
“He’s been asking for flowers – could you get some? Bright ones. The nurses gave us some extra vases.”
At the supermarket entrance, the flowers stood in steel buckets under a Fly Buys Special sign. Chewing a thumbnail, Tara surveyed her options. Daffodils that sulked, stale-looking, their cellophane wrappers stickered with orange dots. Snapdragons with petals curled and scorched around the edges. Roses in tightly wrapped greenish buds that wouldn’t blossom in time.
Her throat constricted. Nothing here was beautiful enough, bright enough, and she was running out of time.
Tara grabbed a basket, loaded it with daffodils and headed to the express lane, dripping a trail of water behind her. One by one she unpacked them onto the conveyor belt.
“How are you going today?” the cashier sang in a well-worn melody, tapping a plastic talon against the screen. Her name tag read ‘Marion’ and below it, ‘you can count on me.’
“Fine thanks and yourself?”
“Good thanks.” She started scanning the bouquets and arranging them in plastic bags.
Her lips pressed tightly together, Tara studied the artillery of breath fresheners and chewing gum in front of her. Extra, Double-mint, Tic Tacs, Fisherman’s Friend, PK.
“Nice day isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
His favourite gum had been PK – he’d always kept a stash on the cut-crystal change tray beside his bed. He’d slip her a couple of pellets when Nanna wasn’t around, smiling that secret twinkly smile.
“Twenty-nine fifty thanks.”
It had been years since Tara had chewed a piece of PK. She couldn’t remember what it tasted like.
“Do you have a Fly Buys card?”
What else would she eventually forget? Those big fix-it hands, cool and leather-dry, or the smells of car oil and fresh mint on his shirt? His crinkly smile, his salt and pepper hair?
“Wait, I’ll take this.” Tara grabbed a stick of PK and handed it to the cashier. The woman sighed and jabbed at the screen again, then pushed the pin pad towards her.
She peered into the bag.
“They’re nice and bright, aren’t they?”
“Yep.” Tara whispered.
“Have a nice day then.”
Her vision swimming, she snatched up the bags and hurried out through the mezzanine, past the bottle shop and the cafe with its smells of freshly-baked bread and coffee. She weaved around shoppers, prams, baskets and rattling trolleys, all a neon-lit blur. She was a stranger, an alien, out here in this otherwise normal day.