THE WHEELS, Victoria Barbara Kanellis

Four-thousand, eight-hundred and thirty-two. Saline water trickled down my spine searing through old scars and worry lines. Naked in the dark, her body flush against mine steered me through the devil’s gate. My feet spurned as small specs of skin splintered off. She led me down the hall, where a rogue shopping basket swung at my side while the Heeled Lady grabbed two loaves of bread and shoved them inside.

The produce aisle was fine. There were sweet smelling strawberries and freshly rinsed herbs whose cool droplets tickled our funny bones. Patrons lined their plastic produce bags with puffs of air to spare their fruit from bruising. The melons packed an awful punch, putting pressure on our chests and starving our brains of oxygen. Brush potatoes were a close second, their soot filled our lungs and constricted our delicate airways. But the butcher’s booth was where the horrors started. Wafts of animal blood seared our nostrils and slimy raw chicken slowly seeped into our pores. The humans waited in droves for their cuts of prosciutto and legs of lamb, all the while leading the horses to water. Our faces to the glass we dissected our designated dance partners every move.

A man in a button-down shirt picked his nose on the way in, wiping his wet snot on the naked spine of trolley Three-Hundred and Nineteen. Meanwhile, Eighty-Six minded a newborn in desperate need of a nappy change. The smell of shit-smeared fabric wafted through the store causing even the strongest of stomachs to heave. And the plucky Two-Hundred and Sixty-Four escorted a blonde haired beauty with perfectly manicured fingernails and a soiled sanitary pad in her purse.

Then came the toiletries. Spearmint toothpaste, mouthwash in every shade and colour and an incessant amount of hair product. My lady ventured off; her high-heels click-clacked off towards a woman in a puce green blouse. While I lay in wait, Two-Hundred and Sixty-Four played a game of cat and mouse with Pad Lady. Her bony fingers played his spinal cord like a fiddle, while her pointed shoes bore holes in his heels. She made blows to his chest and shook him down but with all her bravado the young lad’s feet were planted to the ground, the wheel-brake bending to his every whim. She whined and she kicked, all the while trying to maintain some air of decorum. Finally, she stepped away from the battlefield, averting her gaze long enough for Two-Hundred and Sixty-Four to slide down the corridor and narrowly avoid a slipper-clad man reaching for Metamucil. The cool breeze from the air conditioner kissed his skin as he pranced around the store.

Eventually, Pad Lady noticed her trolley dancing away and marched down the ramparts to claim her corella pears and Bonds underwear. She somehow managed to get him in her clutches, pulling him close and tight. To her surprise he eased into her vice grip and slowly steered her down the corridor. His gradual pace lulled her into a false sense of security, she was so sure their problems were behind them that she failed to notice her trolley – that she was holding much too tightly – was slowly but surely speeding down the aisle. Or that he was taking them that little bit off course. Before she knew it they’d crashed head-first into the aloe-vera tissue display with small orange boxes flying in the air. The lad was a wraith of anarchy, a beacon of hope for future generations and while he waged his war I leant into the clammy touch of my stiletto clad lady who wheeled me towards the canned foods.

We swung into the stacks crashing into Three-Hundred and Nineteen, and the well-dressed Mucus Man. Two cracked ribs, a bruised hip and the serpentine hiss of a snot-sleeved man did nothing to dissuade her. To her the world began and ended with the half-priced cans of chickpeas and sharp-edged pasta boxes that pinched my insides. Then came the tuna; regular tuna, chili-infused tuna, spring water tuna – two of every kind made their way into the arc. With each carefully chosen item I felt heavy, like an iron ball thrust into an endless ocean. My mind was not my own and something evil had taken route in my body, I was possessed by painted aluminum and cardboard. With every step I felt my soul shatter, too exhausted to go on. The sleek strips of metal on the tiled floor shocked me back to life. My only comfort was the thinly veiled hope that Heels managed to get Mucus Man’s gargantuan booger on her silk blouse.

We were going faster now, inching towards that finish line. This is the part where people get impatient. Steps are skipped, turns are sharper and any shred of spatial awareness evaporates into thin air. In all of that chaos, details are missed but in the grand scheme of human experience I am the details. So, I saw how a misjudged turn led to a stumble, which caused a teenager taking two steps too many to knock a stack of peaches. A humble peach rolled down the dirt-lined floor, finding refuge under the slipper of the Metamucil Man. The man scrambled to find his footing, determined to stay upright and in his dance like movements managed to sucker punch Eighty-Six.

Typically, a seasoned trolley could recover from such an assault but she was distracted by the smell of the shit-smeared baby and the wafts of ripe cabbage and stomach acid. Caught unawares Eighty-Six tumbled down the floor crashing into the cool-room dolly; Gala’s, Granny’s and Kanzi’s all fell to the floor with a resounding kerplunk! Their tragic plight fell on the death ears of the Heeled Lady who vented to the store clerk about her especially stressful morning. The boy smiled and nodded while politely placing her Wart-Off into its designated paper bag.

The sky opened itself up to me, it’s warm tears kissed my forearms. Heels led me down the loose pavers and into puddles deeper than quicksand. Her own flimsy feet struggled to find their footing, clinging to my fragile frame for safety. It was in that dreary carpark I saw glimpses of fallen friends, buried in bushes, or fashioned into makeshift waste-bins. Some could be cleaned, brought back through the automatic doors to spend their nights in temperature-controlled rooms, wrapped in their brothers and sister’s arms. While others fell prey to warmongering pre-pubescent neanderthal’s. These rebels without a cause who pitted brother against brother, while cortisone dried on their spotty chins. For as much as we craved freedom, the human world provided no surety for our kind. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The rain trickled as the last paper bag made its maiden voyage to the car boot, everything was going according to plan, when a reminder sounded on her phone. The clicking of cicadas – the first trumpet from Revelations. Her eyes veered from left to right, checking the terrain, and dodging the withered glances of passers-by. When the coast was clear, she spun me into the neighbouring car-spot and with a click of her heels drove all the way home. Hers had been the first face I saw that day, she was the first to touch my skin and all the disinfectant in the world could not clean the marks she left. Heels took her pound of flesh and sped off into peak-hour traffic leaving me to fend for myself.

The trolley rack was empty and the carpark was stacked. This meant two things. No one would be out to collect me for ages and I was in the worst place possible – the coveted empty parking space. I considered using the wind as leverage, soaring over the asphalt like Icarus fleeing Crete. With cars coming from every direction, I thought the better of it. My only other option was staying put, to sit idly by hoping that some Samaritan would lead me home. But I’d seen too much of the cruelty of man to hope, at best they would push me into the shrubbery or spin me towards the street. All around me people packed their cars with fabric softeners and broccoli puffs while I faced my own catch twenty-two.

It wasn’t long before the hordes came in, like vultures to a carcass. A woman with beehive hair spun out of a Suzuki Swift, a man with thick rimmed glasses crossed the way, and a gentleman who moments ago tried running down an old man at a pedestrian crossing, made very intense eye contact. His piercing green stare was enough to instil the fear of god into the most stout-hearted trolley. He would sooner crown me ‘King of the Concrete’, grind my bones into scrap metal and leave me in the dust, then steer me to the designated trolley-rack.

My moment was nigh! This was to be my final stand, my swan song, all there was left to do was … A young man took the wheel. His firm grip kept me and One-Hundred and Twenty-Four from harm. I eased into his touch; his oatmeal infused hand-cream soothed my irritated skin. He gently manoeuvred us up the pavement, past the gargantuan puddles and a spot of spilled coffee. A valiant effort, a moment of human connection. It was these minute acts of kindness that almost gave our days a shred of meaning. He steered us all the way home planting us like pieces in a puzzle. I bathed in the light of his warmth and kindness, taking but a moment to wonder if maybe it was all a matter of perspective. When you’ve done this for so long you only see the bad. But before I could catch my breath, the rough hands of the prospective hit-and-run driver yanked me from the rack and tossed me back in the fire.  My day had just begun.

At the end of each day, I make a list of all the days injuries big and small. I add that number to an existing total, todays marked four-thousand, eight-hundred and thirty-two. Four-thousand, eight-hundred and thirty-two; cuts, sores, and blue bruises that no one ever seemed to notice. People played at my skeletal system like a xylophone, instinctively knowing which keys to tepidly tap and which to bash. Trolleys never recover we’re an endless raw nerve. Our days are a Sisyphean pursuit with no end in sight – there’s no sweet kiss of death or promise of eternal rest. One day an Oklahoma store owner in his infinite wisdom built us to serve and suffer and not much else, save for the excruciating envy.

That egregious green eyed monster that eats away at you on the long hard nights. It’s true our callous captors leave a lot to be desired. They’re fatally flawed, consumed by their own self-interest and yet they enter this world with something my kind can only dream of – possibilities. It varies from person to person but there are humans who can go outside as they please, feel the free air and bathe in the warm rays of the sun. They can rest for more than two hours at a time allowing sleep to wash over them and cleanse them of the day’s ills. The lucky ones change their occupations, move across countries and dictate the course of their own lives. Humans fall in love, and form connections we simply do not have the time for. There are bonds that can’t be broken and fierce friendships that span entire lifetimes. Age shows on their skin like a map of all their days spent on this floating space rock. Their cuts bleed, their bruises show and their bones are given time to mend. Their injuries are almost always acknowledged either through scraggly markings on a plaster cards or get well cards.

Our lives are so entangled, we spend more time with our captors than our own kind. They live their lives with the things we break our bones fetching for them. They leave traces over every square inch of our fragile frames. But we’ll never be close. There is no bond of fellowship between man and their shopping trolleys. Even if we could communicate, discuss the details of our lives it wouldn’t be enough. There otherness will never wash away, for while their lives have some sense of purpose ours are empty shells. Trolleys can’t move around without drawing attention or traipse the great outdoors in metal wolf-packs. This is it. Four-thousand, eight-hundred and thirty-two, and counting.

Victoria Kanellis is a Sydney based writer who attempts to document the awkwardness of the human experience. Her inspiration stems from the lived-out histories of those that surround her as well as the extent to which mental illness colours an individual’s perception of the world.