Spilt milk

Daddy hoists me up. Lifting under my arms, he puts me into the trolley. He grabs the little black strap, pulls it across my tummy and clicks me in – nice and safe. 

I like sitting in the trolley, I can see out far in front of me. I feel like a big person, just like Daddy is. 

“Look Daddy! I’m as tall as you!” I say. 

Daddy smiles at me and then says, “Ready?”

I nod, gripping tight to the metal bar. Daddy hunches his shoulders and leans forward, holding onto the sides of the trolley. He pushes the cart hard and fast, weaving us this way and that. Squealing, I kick my legs wildly to make us go faster. Vrrmm Vrrmm! 

The apples and oranges blur as we whiz past. We near a corner and Daddy tilts the cart to the left making me slide along the metal seat. Shrieking with delight, I hold on tight. He switches direction, sharply pulling our makeshift joyride with his strong forearms. My body leans, the cart balances on wobbly wheels, we’re teetering on the edge. Just when I think we’re going to fall, Daddy shouts “Brake!” and suddenly brings us to a stop. 

I giggle and kick my legs some more. Daddy’s chest is heaving under his blue t-shirt and his breath puffs in my face. I like playing race car with him. 

“Alright,” Daddy produces a paper list from his back pocket, “Let’s get some food.” 

We slowly make our way around the aisles with Daddy checking off items from his list. Once he puts something in the trolley, he scribbles it out, making a horizontal tally. Today we’re getting the usual; fruit, bread, spaghetti, peanut butter and milk. I’m hoping he’ll let me pick out a treat too.

As we head towards the peanut butter, an old lady smiles at me. She has white curly hair and watery blue eyes. She reaches out towards me and pinches my cheek between her knobbly fingers. I try to swipe her hand away; it always hurts when they do that. Plus Daddy says I shouldn’t talk to strangers. 

“Aren’t you a darling?” she peers at me, “How old are you?” 

My eyes search for Daddy. I look up at him to see if it’s okay for me to talk to the lady. He gives me a wink so I thrust four fingers into the air and reply proudly, “I’m four!” 

Daddy chuckles softly, “Amber, you’re five now remember. We had a cake last week!” 

I frown and drop my eyes to count my fingers, “Oh yeah. I’m five!” 

“Such a sweet age,” the old lady sighs and Daddy nods in agreement.  

As the lady shuffles away from us down the aisle, I stick up five fingers this time and wave goodbye.  

We continue through the supermarket and Daddy keeps scribbling things off his list. I count my fingers again on my hands, seeing how high I can go. I can count to fifty when I’m at school but I don’t have that many fingers, so I just count to ten. 

Row after row the shelves tower above us. I have to lean back and tilt my head to see the tippy top. The bright lights in the ceiling beam down on us in a chain of white rectangles. I puff up my cheeks and kick my legs again. Shopping takes a long time. 

“I’m bored!” I declare. 

“Well how about you help me?” Daddy says and he lifts me out of the trolley and down onto the floor. 

“Okay!” 

“The last thing we need to get is milk. Can you help me pick out a carton?” 

“Yes!” 

I round the corner and feel the chill of the open refrigerators blowing cold air into the supermarket. My skin prickles with raised goosebumps. We walk the aisle together, Daddy a little way behind me pushing the trolley, its wheels squeaking against the lino flooring. I see the lines of cartons up ahead and point them out to Daddy. My eyes scan the containers, looking for the one with the light blue stripe on it. 

“There it is!” I say, spotting it. 

I run up towards the cartons and reach out to get one. Just as I arrive, a woman steps in front of me and grabs a carton for herself. 

“Hey!” I pout, “That was our milk!” 

The woman turns towards me, it’s the old lady from before. I instantly take a step back because I don’t want her to pinch my cheek again. I shuffle my feet, unsure what to do. I look up at the lady, waiting for her to give it back, and that’s when I notice something different about the carton: there’s a picture on it. Sitting squarely on the container is a black and white photo of a little girl. There’s something familiar about her face, I step closer to get a better look. The girl’s hair is shorter than mine, cut down to her shoulders and she’s smiling at the camera. Her t-shirt has little flowers on it, I have one just like it. 

Above the girl is a word in big bold letters. I’ve been practising reading at school and I know how to slowly sound them out in my head, adding all the letters together but… I don’t know this word: M-I-S-S-I-N-G. 

The old woman sees me staring at the carton and turns it to look at the picture of the little girl. Suddenly, her eyes start to dart quickly back and forth between my face and the girl on the carton. Her mouth stretches into the shape of an ‘O’.

“Oh!” she gasps, “Y-y-you’re her!” 

My eyes go wide. She’s right! That’s me on the milk carton. That’s so cool! 

“Look Daddy!” I smile, “My picture is on the milk!” 

“Huh?” Daddy says coming closer. 

“Look, look! My picture is on the milk!” 

“No it’s not.” 

“Yes it is! See, look!” 

Daddy picks up a carton and looks at the picture. His face goes dark and cross. His fingers squeeze the carton as he looks at the black and white photo of me. 

“That’s not you,” he says in a low voice. He quickly replaces it on the shelf. 

“Yes it is! That’s my flower t-shirt!” I say, stomping my foot. 

The old woman looks at Daddy and starts to back away from us. Her mouth is open and she’s stuttering.

“You’re her…” she says again. Then, starting to shout, “It’s her!” 

Hearing the raised voice, other shoppers begin looking in our direction. I don’t understand why Daddy says it’s not me. The old lady says it is. I know it is. 

“It is me!” I insist again. “I want one!” 

“No.”  

He grabs my arm and starts pulling me back towards the trolley. Confused, I start to cry, tears rolling down my cheeks. My lip trembles and I twist back to look again at the milk cartons. Rows and rows of black and white images stare back at me. 

“We’re leaving.” 

Daddy hoists me  and puts me into the trolley. He grabs the little black strap, pulls it across my tummy and clicks me in. Nice and safe. 


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