Picture by Etactics at Unsplash
They have kept them. The origami stars made from the brown paper dispensing bags. Hung above the information leaflets about dementia and chlamydia. You remember the chemist hanging them at Christmas and now they’re relics, dusty and out of time.
You sit, the blackness of your dress like nightfall against the red plastic chairs. The pain nibbles your insides, and you wince against the possession of your body by these sudden aches. In comes Leroy, with his body worn thin as altar breads. Yet his step has that lithe playfulness to it, like a jazz scale floating across the floor. The chemist comes to the side of the counter and passes him the brown beaker. The ritual Leroy and the chemist must perform daily. The 5pm mass. The chemist reminds you of that earnest young Rabbi you knew, who said of the Holocaust, we must learn to forgive God, otherwise how could we continue to believe in him.
Leroy leans against the counter, swirls the beaker and swallows. Blessed and sanctified. His sinewed body lifts itself upright and he smiles at the chemist,
“See you tomorrow chief,” he says. The chemist nods and returns to his shelves of pills. You think of the astonishing faith these two men must hold between them. The belief they will see each other again.
Leroy pauses by your chair. Usually, he bobs his head in greeting but today he looks at you with appraising eyes,
“Bruv, the way you look at those stars, it’s like you expect them to shine.”
Your mouth is empty of all the things you want to reply, but as Leroy moves out into the Spring chill, you sense something has returned. Something lost since the diagnosis. You realise you must believe Leroy will return tomorrow, the sway of his body gracing the chemist and not the trap house. You must believe the paper stars will remain, that both they and you will see next Christmas.
Across from you, a baby curses with hunger and is put at the breast of his mam. There is something of the Madonna about her, despite the Greggs bags sticking from her pram and the greasy roots of her hair. She winces as the baby guzzles at her, the trickle of warm milk flowing over the cheek of the wean. She catches your eye and you see the depth of her discomfort and relentlessness of her love. You think how the intimacy of the chemist shop feels confessional. How these tenuous and tender connections to semi-strangers must add up to something like grace.
“Father McBrian?” the chemist asks from behind the counter. He issues you a brown paper bag. Unstarred and plump with pills. You look once again at the stars, their folded fragility almost glimmers in the late afternoon sun and a prayer utters itself. We’re doing ok God, without you. You thank the chemist. Bless the Madonna and child. You will be back next week to see Leroy dancing across the floor.
Fiona Dignan is a UK based writer and poet who took up writing during lockdown. She has won The London Society Poetry Prize, The Plaza Prize for Sudden Fiction and third place in The Propelling Pencil’s Spring flash competition.