Go to Episode 1
‘Why now?’ Lisa said as she and Martin stood outside the supermarket doorway, watching Sam trying to wrestle a trolley free from the, seemingly welded-together, rest of the trolley herd. Martin held up the list so Lisa could re-read the message at the beginning of it.
**URGENT SHOPPING LIST**
It is vital you get the items
on this list today, as soon as possible.
It will be necessary for Martin, Lisa and Sam
to all go in order to carry the necessary quantities.
Repeat: the shopping is both urgent and vital.
Sam will have to spend some money,
so be gentle with him.
Lots of love,
‘I think that machine has got it in for me.’ Sam wrestled the shopping trolley into moving in roughly the direction he needed it to go. ‘I don’t see how this has anything to do with me at all.’
‘Your name was on that list, and you came along here,’ Lisa said. ‘Aren’t you even a tiny bit curious about what is going on?’
Sam looked up at the clear blue sky above the car park for a moment. He lowered his gaze to stare at Lisa. ‘Not if it involves me having to spend some money.’
‘Let’s just get on with it.’ Martin set off towards the shop. ‘At least, once we have done it we won’t have to go shopping again for several months, judging from the size of this list.’
Once inside, Martin looked up at the first aisle, down at the list and then back up at the aisle. He frowned and then smiled. It was something that had never occurred to him in all the years he had been going shopping. The list was set out with the goods in the same order as they appeared in the aisles. Martin was astounded.
Of course, he had tried experimenting with shopping lists when he was younger, but they had never done anything for him. No matter how carefully he wrote the list, or how much detail he went into, his trips to the supermarket always resulted in him standing confused in the car park afterwards, clutching a tin of anchovies and a damp, wilting, lettuce.
‘Look at this!’ Martin showed the list to Lisa and then pointing up to the rows of shelves. ‘It’s all in the right order.’
‘Oh,’ Lisa said. ‘I used to try to do that. But it never worked.’
‘Because every so-often they change the things around on the shelves.’
‘Do they?’ It was beginning to make sense to Martin now. He had always put his confusion over where to find anything on his shopping list down to his complete lack of interest in the shopping experience. To discover it was a deliberate act by the supermarkets occasionally to put packets of tampons where Martin thought the tins of anchovies ought to be, made him feel marginally better about it all. Maybe, he thought, he was not such an incompetent shopper after all.
‘Apparently, they do it because it makes people pay more attention.’ Sam dropped several bags of crisps into the trolley. ‘Otherwise people just go to the usual shelves to buy the usual things.’
‘But doesn’t it annoy people?’ Martin ticked off crisps on the list.
‘Apparently not.’ Sam picked up a packet, saw it was supposedly healthy, sighed and put it back. ‘It seems most people enjoy shopping, at least according to the surveys anyway.’
‘Do they?’ Martin said. ‘How strange.’
‘I never trust surveys anyway.’ Lisa examined several brands of corned beef before picking the cheapest. ‘I mean, would you tell a complete stranger, who stops you in the street and asks you all sorts of personal questions, the truth?’
‘Of course not.’ Sam dumped an armload of breakfast cereals into the trolley.
As they took it in turns to push the increasingly heavy and unwieldy trolley around the aisles and load it up with more and more stuff from the list, Martin puzzled over the apparent fact that people enjoyed shopping. To him it was the one obvious omission from the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. Nevertheless, as he admitted to himself, he was constantly puzzled by how people entertained themselves. Soap-Operas, for instance: To Martin they were little more than a series of catastrophes separated from each other by periods of misery and petty bickering. Music festivals mystified him too: sitting in a large muddy field listening to some even muddier sound reproduction of a moderately good tune being played poorly from a devastated memory by some incompetent fifty or sixty-something eternal adolescent. Instead, he could be sitting at home in comfort and hearing the song as the performer had, more or less, intended it, which seemed a far superior entertainment experience to Martin. At home, you did not get every word of the singer’s right-on between-song ranting applauded, nor the burst of applause whenever the audience managed to almost recognise the introduction to some song from ten, or even twenty, years before they never listened to any more because they found the lyrics too embarrassing.
Then there was why anyone bothered with any sport other than football. To Martin anything but football was but a pale shadow. Football as far as he was concerned was the Platonic ideal of sport. Although, Martin admitted to himself, he might have to change that attitude since Sam had explained some of the finer points of the techniques and tactical finesse of All-Nude Female Mud-Wrestling to him a few nights before as they were watching a late-night German satellite channel.
‘Well, that’s it,’ Lisa tried to wedge several more four-packs of baked bean cans into the almost-overflowing trolley.
‘Is it?’ It shocked Martin how well it had gone, hardly as traumatic as his normal supermarket expeditions at all.
‘Where’s Sam?’ Martin turned to Lisa as they stood in the queue at the checkout.
‘I sent him to buy tea, coffee and beer,’ Lisa said. ‘He’ll enjoy choosing the beer.’
‘Are you all right? You’ve been very quiet for a while.’
‘No, I’m fine, really. I was just wondering what we are doing here, meekly going where that computer – Hermione – sitting on my desk sends us. I’m also wondering where it, that, computer, came from, how I came to create her… it… and, most of all, why the thought of those juggling balls keeps niggling away at me as though I’m almost capable of grasping something lying just out of reach.’
Martin felt as if he should know the answer, which was somewhere in his mind, hidden and waiting for him to find it. He felt all he needed was one more clue, one small item of information, and then it would all make sense. However, he had often thought that about his life. All he needed was one item, one small clue, and then he would be like everyone else, he would know what was going on in his life, in the world. It would all – somehow – suddenly make sense, but he had never found the secret everyone else possessed, but he lacked.
‘Do you think Hermione went a little over the top in the amount of beer on this list? There seems enough here to give the entire population of China a bad hangover,’ Lisa said.
‘Doesn’t any of this worry you?’
‘Yes, of course it does. But I’m a trained – well, almost – psychologist. I know the best way to act in these situations.’
‘And how’s that?’
‘Act like any other normal person. Ignore it all, pretend I do not know it is happening and hope it will all either suddenly make sense, or just go away soon.’
‘Oh, I see,’ Martin said.
They were now at the checkout. Lisa bent over the trolley to start piling their stuff on the conveyor belt. As she bent over, Martin noticed the top of her arm.
‘What’s the matter?’ Lisa turned to face him.
‘That mole on the back of your arm.’
‘What about it?’
‘I can remember, vaguely, a dream I had weeks ago. It was… er… a woman who looked a bit like you. She… well… she had a mole in the same place, exactly the same place. I don’t know why but I couldn’t get the image of that mole out of my mind.’
Lisa dropped the toilet rolls back into the trolley and stepped over to Martin. She took his hand. ‘This whole thing is getting too weird. I don’t know how much more of it I can stand. It is starting to frighten me. Even I can’t pretend to ignore it for much longer.’
‘I don’t know what we can do about it though,’ Martin said. ‘It seems as though everything we do, or try to do, has no effect.’
‘I had a dream a few weeks ago too,’ she said. ‘Before I’d even met you.’
‘You and me….’ Lisa said. ‘At our wedding.’