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Vivian sees them as soon as she steps onto the escalator. Charity collectors. Chuggers. Bright yellow t-shirts, iPads in sturdy protective cases, dangling lanyards.

It’s a little after 4 pm and it seems like every single person in Wollongong is two-stepping their way through the lower food court to avoid these big-teethed, tanned-skinned teenagers.

She just needs a few things from Coles before her doctor’s appointment this afternoon. Trouble sleeping, weight gain, a bit of spotting, definitely not pregnant.

She steps off the escalator, adjusting her stride to walk close behind an old guy in high-vis to use him as a shield, to avoid confrontation.

She’s making a shopping list in her head. Evie is coming over after school tomorrow and will be disappointed if there isn’t popcorn for popping, if there isn’t a pile of pancakes for breakfast the next morning. It’s not that Evie’s spoilt. Evie would probably notice the empty fridge and offer Vivian all her pocket money.

It’s that Vivian knows she keeps letting Evie down, in the smallest of ways, and can’t seem to help it.

Vivian knows she keeps letting Evie down, in the smallest of ways, and can’t seem to help it.

A few steps ahead a woman with a baby strapped to her chest gets stopped by the female chugger.

Vivian sticks close to old mate in high-vis.

‘Excuse me, sir! Can I have a moment of your time?’ A guy. Some kind of British accent. Of course.

‘Fuck off, mate,’ says High-vis, shooing the guy and accelerating.

The chugger steps into Vivian’s path.

Mole on his right eyelid. Sleeves rolled up just enough to reveal a ring of waves tattooed around his bicep.

She would love to tell him to fuck off, to shoo him and barge past—but she can’t, because for a moment she feels sorry for this guy. His shitty tattoo. He has bills to pay, just like her.

And besides: she’s flanked by the baby-wearing woman to her right and a pair of pensioners on her left. She’s polite.

‘I’m sorry, I really don’t have— ’

‘Don’t break my heart! Just one minute? Pretty please?’

To her right, the girl chugger talks on and on while the woman with the baby rocks from side to side on the balls of her feet. The baby looks about two months old: wide-eyed, rubbing its tiny fist along its gums. Its legs in the yellow jumpsuit kick its mother’s thighs.

‘Do you care about animals?’ the guy asks, pointing at her with his stylus. His fingernails are short and clean.

Vivian reckons that baby will be screaming soon—needs a feed and a sleep by the looks of things. The mother jigs a little more aggressively but the girl just keeps hair-flicking, oblivious. Vivian would like a feed and a sleep too. Her dreams last night—all this week, actually—have been vivid and violent, jolting her awake each night with a shot of adrenaline, making it almost impossible to go back to sleep.



‘Do you care about animals?’ The guy smiles, all teeth.

The baby is fussing now. The mother pats its bottom through the carrier. Vivian looks back to the guy, his mole, his patchy facial hair. ‘Bum fluff’ they used to call it at school.

The hungry baby is crying now. She can’t stand here a moment longer.

‘Do I care about animals? No, not really,’ she says. Vivian tightens her grip on her handbag and pushes past him. The tip of his stylus snags on her cardigan sleeve, but then she’s free.

She detaches a basket from the stack at the entrance to Coles. Don’t break my heart! Please.

‘Sultans of Swing’ is playing on Coles Radio and she’s struck homesick for some experience she doesn’t know whether she ever really had: being small, three or four years old, walking beside her mother in the supermarket at Dapto, her mother humming along to ‘Money for Nothing’.

Vivian weaves her way through the fruit and veg section, feeling like she’s the props mistress for a stage show. She usually gets by with very little, but Evie’s visit is special and her nostalgia is replaced by a feeling of abundance. I have enough money, she tells herself, willing it to be true. And suddenly it is true. She has enough money for full-price strawberries. For shiny pink apples. For bananas—but apparently Evie hates bananas now. When did that happen? Vivian would mash banana after banana for Baby Evie. She couldn’t get enough of them back then.

Vivian sings along with Mark Knopfler. When she went grocery shopping with her mother they’d have to go to the bank first and take cash out to pay with because EFTPOS wasn’t around back then. When they were done, her mother would open the Tarago’s boot and Vivian would help her load it up with plastic bags, excited to get home and unpack them all to see what was inside. There was a magical transition from things being groceries that belonged to the store to the things that Vivian’s mother would cook for dinner, or the soap they kept in the shower.

Hand soap. She’s been stretching it out for so long now that she just pumps out water whenever she washes her hands. And she’s been using a roll of toilet paper instead of a box of tissues. Tissues.

There was a magical transition from things being groceries that belonged to the store to the things that Vivian’s mother would cook for dinner.

She passes the dairy case. Yes, she should get a tub of organic vanilla yoghurt. She should buy a package of Cumberland sausages. She’ll fry them and make mashed potatoes, or maybe cook them up in the morning with scrambled eggs to go with the pancakes.

It seems like everything is on special and everyone is happy, pulling packages from shelves, filling up their trolleys and baskets, thinking about the meals they’ll make.

She consults her list and weaves through the other shoppers. She gets the hand soap and the tissues but they’re out of cocktail umbrellas.

A song comes on that Vivian doesn’t recognise: something half electronic, half-Bollywood soundtrack. The feeling of abundance evaporates. The overhead lights are bright white, not some nostalgic sepia.

Her basket drags on her arm, digs into her elbow crease. It’ll be tight getting this stuff home and refrigerated before her appointment. Trouble sleeping, mood swings, erratic menstrual cycle.

She lines up behind a young couple, both with dreadlocks, both barefoot. She checks her phone—4.25. If she goes home now she won’t make it back in time for her appointment. She’ll have to lug it all with her and hope it stays cool. Sausages. Yoghurt. Milk. Caramel & honeycomb ice cream.

The clean-cut kid on the checkout smiles and asks how she is and she says she’s fine but her lungs suddenly feel too big for her ribcage. She tries to focus on her breath while he scans and bags her groceries.

He has a wide blue Band-Aid wrapped around his thumb like it’s a birthday present.

Her card declines.

Blood rushes up her back and neck, into her face. The kid smiles through his braces with sympathy.

‘Happens all the time,’ he says.

She fishes her phone from her handbag and logs into her banking app. She doesn’t have enough for the abundance: sausages, yoghurt, ice cream, hand soap.

‘Can you just take off a few things?’ she asks. ‘Sorry.’


‘The sausages. And the yoghurt.’

He rescans the items like a movie in rewind.

‘And the hand soap,’ she says.

She leaves with four plastic bags and $2.58 left in her account. It’s heavy enough without the extras anyway. Her neck is sore. She tilts her head from side to side to stretch it out. She’ll get paid tonight.

She leaves with four plastic bags and $2.58 left in her account.

The chuggers are still there but she’s determined to barge past them now. They shouldn’t stop her again.

But they do.

Bum Fluff calls out, ‘Hey, pretty lady!’

Vivian keeps walking.

Then she sees movement in her periphery. She’s dropped something. Heat flooding her face, she stops. Turns.

But of course, she hasn’t dropped anything.

He’s there, unfolding from his crouch, smiling up at her. That smile—like nobody’s ever said no to him before. Those fingernails.

In one swift motion, Vivian launches a fist into his face. It connects with his eye socket. Her grocery bags swing and bash into his chest.

She strides away, hot and fast, without looking back. She rides the escalator up and exits the mall. She’s like a charged battery. She doesn’t stop walking until she gets to the traffic lights. Nobody is looking at her. Nobody is chasing her.

It isn’t until she jabs the button at the lights that she feels any pain in her hand—it looks sunburnt and swollen. She peers into her bags and locates the carton of eggs, opens the lid. None are broken.

She carries everything in her left hand, the plastic bag handles cutting into her palm.

This is an edited extract from Thanks for Having Me by Emma Darragh (Joan Press, an imprint from Allen & Unwin), available now at your local independent bookseller.