Short Fiction ~ Jonathan Taylor
Here I am again, like usual, sitting behind the till, waiting for a customer to come in to the shop. Lahlahlahlahlah.
Here I am still, sitting behind the till, waiting. Tuesdays are slow days, and today is Tuesday. At least I’ve got some digestives under the counter.
Still here at the till. Mrs Parker says I should always be ready, even if there are big gaps. Mrs Parker’s the manager of Hurt Heads. She’s also my mum, but I’m not allowed to call her that in the shop.
She says it’s the ultimate irony me working for Hurt Heads, after what happened. But she also says I don’t know what irony is so not to worry.
The only thing I’m worried about now is that it’s cold in here. So I’m putting on my coat. Hidden in one of the pockets is a tea-cosy – well, it’s a hat, really, that belonged to someone else once. But it looks like a tea-cosy, all knitted and patterny. I keep it in case the someone else comes back into the shop. If mum found it, she’d go ape, yelling stuff about fair-weather friends and dangerous driving and prosecco. I don’t think that would be irony.
I’m humming a tune: Lahlahlahlahlah. I can’t remember what the tune is. Perhaps when mum gets back I’ll ask her – I mean, Mrs Parker.
Mum says music is good for mindfulness. She’s got the Beginner’s Book of Mindfulness at home. She says that since the accident we all have to concentrate on the moment, not dwell on the past, or worry about the future.
11. 06 a.m.
So here I am, concentrating on this moment: sitting-waiting-sitting-waiting-humming-waiting-not-eating-digestives. This moment’s a bit boring, to be honest. Hope it’ll be gone soon.
I’ll have a digestive at 11.30 if no-one’s around. I know that’s thinking about the future, but it’s only a few-minutes-away-future, so maybe it doesn’t count.
Three minutes till digestive-future.
Oh, a customer is coming into the shop. Boo. It’s kind of like a train announcement: Unfortunately, we’re sorry to report that your digestive is delayed. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
The customer, who’s wearing a tie with helicopters on it, is buying Greatest Hits of Black Lace and a small china dog which nods when you touch its head.
I do all the things I’m meant to: I take Greatest Hits of Black Lace and small china dog off him, look at the price stickers, tap the numbers into the till, press MISC, then SUB-TOTAL. I have to hold SUB-TOTAL down for it to work. It’s an old till, as old as my mum, and not like the high-tech ones they have in Asda.
While I’m holding SUB-TOTAL down, I like to imagine everything and everyone stops for a second – you know, like musical statues. Even the people outside the window freeze. Sometimes, when I’m on my own, I press it down to see what happens, if anything moves. It’s like the world is holding its breath in – concentrating on the moment, as mum says.
As soon as I let go of SUB-TOTAL, I have to do lots of other stuff – counting change and offering a bag and saying thank you, and Mr Helicopter Tie says “Thank you” back and nods, over and over again, like a small china dog.
At last: digestive time.
I haven’t had any lunch, just six digestives, so I’m all tummy-and-headachy. Headaches make my thoughts get all jumbled. Mum says whenever I feel like this, I should focus on what I’m doing now, and the feeling’ll go away. But the problem is that I’m not doing anything now.
Instead I’m remembering this thing from a few weeks or months ago, and the funny thing is that it feels in my head like it’s happening now: a lady is coming into the shop. She’s got what looks like a tea-cosy on her head, with knitted flowers on it.
Tea-cosy lady is picking up a saucer – it’s one of those willow-pattern ones – and looking at the price underneath. She brings it over to the till. She’s staring at me and coughing. So I’m coughing too, cos it might make her feel more comfortable. Then suddenly she’s asking: Do you know who I am?
I’m looking at her face under the tea-cosy, and as if by accident I’m saying to her: I don’t remember your name but I think you’re one of the fair-weather friends my mum talks about. You were driving the car and didn’t visit me in hospital.
Tea-cosy lady’s eyes are all watery and trembly like bubbles. I’m wondering if you pricked them with a pin, would they burst. I haven’t got a pin so instead I ask her: Would you like to gift-aid the saucer?
She shakes her head. Then she grabs my hand and it’s a bit too tight and she’s crying like someone has actually popped her eyes and saying lots of sorries without taking a breath. She takes out a bunch of chrysanthemums from one of her bags and holds them out to me, crying big tears all over them. They are beautiful and rainbowy and crinkly. The flowers, not the tears.
Later, though, my mum comes back and asks who they’re from. And next morning, when tea-cosy lady is in the shop again, mum appears from nowhere. She’s shouting things at tea-cosy lady which don’t sound very mindful or irony-ish. She knocks tea-cosy lady’s tea-cosy off, and pushes her out of the door. Tea-cosy lady doesn’t say anything. She just looks at me with those bubbly eyes through the window, and runs off, leaving her tea-cosy behind. My mum forgets about it, and I pick it up and put it in my pocket when she’s out back. It’s my one and only secret.
No customers. Nothing to do. Lahlahlahlahlahlahlahlahlahlahlah.
I’ve run out of digestives. Boo.
I’ve been here for a year and a half now. I don’t mean I’ve been sitting behind this till for a year and a half – although it kind of feels like that. I mean: I’ve been working in Hurt Heads shop for that long. At least, I think it’s that long. It’s hard to remember when most days are the same. My mum says it’s good experience – gets you back out there. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be experiencing out there, or here, well, apart from sitting and waiting for my mum, I mean Mrs Parker, to come back to cash up. Waiting for going-home-time.
I know it’s bad of me, but the funny thing is I don’t want it to be going-home-time or sitting-in-the-shop-time either. Both are mum-I-mean-Mrs-Parker-times. I think, before the accident, I used to have some non-mum-times. I wish I could remember them now.
I wonder if the tune that keeps going through my head – you know, the one that goes Lahlahlahlahlahlahlah – comes from those before-times.
I’m staring out of the window, and suddenly I’m looking at her: tea-cosy lady – well, tea-cosy-lady-without-the-tea-cosy.
She’s near the shop window. I want her to look in. I want her to stop. I don’t care about fair-weather friends or prosecco or dangerous driving or irony. I want to hold her hand again and give her her tea-cosy back.
Oh no, I think she’s walking past.
I want her to stop.
I am pressing the SUB-TOTAL button on the till.
I am holding it down.
Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, lecturer and critic. His books include the poetry collection Cassandra Complex (Shoestring, 2018), the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. He lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.