Labels

This was my entry for a 500-word flash fiction challenge on WriteOn. The theme was about the perils of ignoring warnings.

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1. Labels

It was the day all the labelling went wrong, or anyway, a few days later when all the mislabelled items were on supermarket shelves.

I bought a pair of shorts: "may contain nuts", and a banana: "not to be used internally".  Also, a plain white tin standing alone among the alleged "peas" (which could have been anything). Its label had only one line of text in red: "be careful what you wish for", so maybe the design was intended for a fortune cookie. These items would all add a bit of fun to tonight's party. I'm theoretically capable of talking to girls, but I need something to start the conversation, you know?

Fortunately, I'd bought the snacks and drinks yesterday.

I got everything ready, put a tray of starters in the oven, and had time to kill. I looked at the white tin. This would be opened later after everyone had guessed its contents. It was surprisingly heavy; impossibly, it seemed heavier than it had in the shop. I gave it a shake, listened, tapped it, shrugged, went for a shower.

When I came back into the kitchen, wearing only two towels, a girl I didn't know was standing there. She was pretty, middle-eastern looking. Maybe Daveed had invited her?

"Sorry, I didn't hear you come in. You're a bit early. Help yourself to a drink." That was all the conversation I could manage at short notice. I ducked out to get dressed.

I had only got jeans on and was doing up my bra when she followed me into my room. "Can I help you?" she asked. Normally this might have been scary or exciting, but she spoke like a bored shop-assistant.

"No, I just need to get ready."

She shrugged and left.

People started to arrive. The party started out well, but went sour quickly. I couldn't find the mystery tin for my game, and when I thought things were really going well with Alyssa, she suddenly said "Sorry, Karen. I'm straight." Normally, in such an awkward moment, I can go home. But I was home. I played cheerful host instead, and toughed it out.

At the end, it was just me and the new girl, whose name was Jin. She had followed me around and hadn't talked to anyone else, so I began to wonder...but I was getting no signals from her at all and had risked enough embarrassment.

"I just wish," I said, as she helped me tidy up the glasses, "I could see labels on people, saying what they were like. You know, like on food. It would be so much easier." There was a weird noise, and when I looked, Jin was gone. The mystery tin lay open on the kitchen floor, sand spilling out on the lino.

I wish I had picked a better day for that wish, whenever I read the faint backward lettering on my forehead in the bathroom mirror. It says "peas".

But I have no more wishes.

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