Monday 24 November 2008

Shop Girl Visits the Dentist

I’m not a hypochondriac; I just occasionally think I’m dying.
Lately, I’ve been dying of scurvy.
Scurvy was common among 15th century sailors who didn’t have access to oranges.
I must have it because my gums bleed and I haven’t had an orange in ages.
When I brush my teeth I look like a Vampire.
I consulted a regular customer about it.
“Oh you can’t do anything,” he said, “all gums bleed.”
I told another and she became really serious.
“That’s terrible! You must go for a check up.”
But I can’t stand going to the dentists. I’d rather hope for the best.
I thought about going though. I thought about buying mouthwash too and those mini brushes that my dad leaves around the sink.
Then one morning I saw a bloody patch on my pillow.
This was serious.
“Papa, I think I’m dying,” I said.
He pulled me over to the light and looked into my mouth.
“Yes,” he said. “You have receding gums.”
I was horrified. Half an hour later I’d booked to see the dentist.
It must’ve been the way I walked in.
“You’ve got gum disease,” she said, before I’d even opened my mouth.
I felt confused. Numb even.
“Open wide,” she said, making no attempt to reassure me.
My mind went on overdrive.
I thought about my date who was soon leaving England to visit his family he hadn’t seen for ages. Would he give up his trip to stay by my bedside while I fought to save my gums?
And how would my mum survive in the shop on her own? She didn’t know where anything was anymore.
The dentist began to examine my teeth, calling out my failings in a sharp voice.
“6 missing, amalgam needed, 3, 2, amalgam needed, 4 missing...”
How had I done so badly?
It sounded like I was going to need a mouth transplant. Or at least dentures.
“It all looks fine apart from that,” she said, at last.
I was stunned. How could I be fine apart from being diseased?
She said she’d give me a filling and do as much cleaning as the NHS let her for free.
I closed my eyes as she emptied her tool box into my mouth.
At one point I peaked and saw a syringe.
I squeezed my eyes shut again.
Something cold slid across my neck.
“How do you brush your teeth?” she asked.
“Ugh,” I replied, gagging on all the appliances she’d left in my mouth.
“To counter act the disease you need to...”
Then she started with the cleaning drill and I froze up.
I couldn’t hear a thing.
Ten minutes later I was back in my shop, more than 70 quid worse off, still with gum disease and no idea how to cure it.
I don’t know what had actually happened.
But at least I wasn’t dying anymore.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Shop Girl Caught Out

“I’ll come in a cab next week and collect my stuff,” Mr Roberts had said. “Don’t panic, I’ll give you warning.”
I was relying on the warning because Mum had inadvertently sold one of his wall brackets and I still hadn’t secured a replacement.
Monday morning I make myself a tea, ignore the flashing of the dying fluorescent tube and settle in front of my laptop.
I think I have time...
I switch on....
Mr Roberts storms through the door.
I jump up.
He's on a mission and stinking of booze.
“You haven’t come to collect everything, have you?” I squeak.
“Yes, come on, I told you I was coming.”
A pale-faced man in a flat cap walks in behind him. He’s evidently the cabbie.
I feel the panic rising inside.
“You have done those wall brackets, haven’t you? Here’s what I owe you.”
He starts counting out twenty seven pounds on the counter.
“I... uh... the wall brackets... they...uh... they broke!”
Mr Roberts stops counting and looks at me.
“The...uh...” I’m struggling to get a grip with my story. “The lamp holder... was faulty... we’ve sent them back to the factory.”
“Oh come off it!” Mr Roberts spits.
He isn’t the jolly man he was last week. He doesn’t want to play ‘granny went to market’.
“Look,” I point to a different wall bracket. “I could make two of these.”
“Alright I’ll take them.”
“But I need to put the crystal on them,” I stammer. “Mum could drop them into you.”
“You see this is my mate Danny,” he says, nodding at the man behind him, “and he’s doing me a favour coming down here. I don’t want to mess him about.”
Danny, in the flat cap, stares at me with watery blue eyes.
“Give them to me as they are,” Mr Roberts says. Then he leans in, his breath sticky with drink. “You could come over and put the crystal on for me couldn’t you? You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you?”
The idea of being alone with him in his flat, drunk as he is.... it doesn’t bare thinking about.
“I think the girl will be happier doing them here,” Danny says.
Danny convinces him and carries everything but the bare wall brackets to the car parked outside.
Mr Roberts lingers a little longer.
“If I’m not too drunk later on, I’ll ring you to let you know when Danny is coming.”
“Oh,” I say and before I can stop myself, “are you celebrating something?”
He steadies himself and looks me in the eye.
“I drink every day. I suppose you’d say I’m an alcoholic.”
“I’m not one of those dirty ones who lie about on benches. I shower every day.”
“No, of course...”
“All genius’ are drug addicts or alcoholics. You know why? It’s because genius and logic don’t go together.”
“Uh yeah...Hemingway.”
I’ve never read Hemingway but I think there are lots of bars named after him.
“Genius and logic just don’t go,” he insists. “That’s why. Do you see?”
“Yeah yeah... ” I say, nodding.
He leaves me to ponder that thought under the flashing glare of the dying fluorescent tube.
And I come to the conclusion I’ve never done anything remotely clever, let alone genius, after a bottle of wine.
Unless you count my sudden ability to speak French.
Which is something, I suppose.

Monday 10 November 2008

Shop Girl Does It Old School

My Shop is like a village shop.
We do village things, like chat with the postman and make tea for upset locals.
In the upmarket estate agents where I once worked, such things were not tolerated.
I used to exasperate my boss because I was too friendly to the telesales callers. She once sat me down and tried to give me a lesson in being abrupt. The lesson was interrupted by a lost elderly tourist.
“Turn left,” my boss barked, not even looking at him.
“There,” she said, once he’d gone. “You see how I dealt with that.”
“Wasn’t it right?” I mumbled.
“You said left. Didn’t he need to turn right?”
She looked like she wanted to hit me.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s left or right! The point is you must block out any interruption!”
It soon dawned on me that Life is made of up of so many interruptions and fighting them all day was making me miserable.
I didn’t want to feel I could only smile if I was getting paid for it so I handed in my notice and went back to the shop.
The shop isn’t anything as efficient as the estate agents.
We’re old school. We let customers pay off for things and keep count on a handwritten receipt.
Mr Roberts keeps adding items to his; it gets so messy we have to start a new one.
“Now come on, what do I owe you?” he says.
“I’m not sure anymore,” I say.
“If you don’t know how am I supposed to know?”
“Don’t you have your receipt?”
“I don’t know but I’m here now.” He takes a wodge of cash out of his pocket. “Come on, what have I got to give you?”
I fumble through a drawer in search of a carbon copy.
Another regular customer comes in for a bulb. Mum jumps up to help him and lets him in on her low-energy lighting conspiracy theory, for free.
“It says sixty,” I say, when I find the copy. “But then you transferred your wife’s deposit.”
“So what is it now?”
“Thirty,” I say, scribbling the amount in.
“But I want another picture frame.”
“So it’s forty two.”
“For my cat.”
“The picture frame is for my cat.”
“So tell me what I’ve bought.”
I run my finger down the page.
“A brass bell, a coal skuttle, two picture frames and two wall brackets.”
“Have you counted the other picture frame?”
“Oh, no...”
“Start again then.”
My mum’s customer is visibly amused by our retail version of ‘granny went to market...’
“A brass bell, a coal skuttle, THREE picture frames and two wall brackets.”
Mr Roberts frowns.
“Is that all?”
“And you’ve got the chandelier.”
“I don’t have it.”
“I mean I’ve got it but you’ve paid for it.”
“So who’s got it?”
“I have.”
“Right...So, start again, what have I got?”
Mum and her customer are now both laughing out loud.
“See him,” Mr Roberts says, nodding in their direction, “he was miserable before he came in here.”
In which case, I’m glad I didn’t learn my lesson in abruptness.
It wouldn’t have had the same effect.

Monday 3 November 2008

Shop Girl and her MaAAH

I wouldn’t have put a light bulb in any other vegetable. Perhaps I trusted in the spirit of Halloween; the same spirit who tells you it’s alright to open the door to a local hoodie carrying a plastic axe.
After one glowing night in the shop window, I discover the pumpkins are half-cooked.
The fiercer of the pumpkins has morphed into a toothless old man.
Another night and they'd have been puddles of soup.
I have no choice but to send them to landfill.
I put them in a plastic bag, jump on the bag and stuff it in the bin outside.
Halloween is, as ever, just another normal day.
A regular comes in wearing orange eye shadow.
“That’s an interesting colour,” my Mum says.
“Yes, everyone says that. They don’t do it anymore.”
Veronica always comes in on a Friday because she visits the antique market up the road.
I don’t really understand what people get out of buying old broken things that anywhere else they’d expect a refund for. People bring lamps in here for re-wiring. Vintage, they say. Yes, I want to tell them, Vintage Ikea.
Veronica wants to sell us second hand jewellery. She holds up a necklace; it looks like a glittery thong.
“It’s very you,” she tells my Mum.
My mum holds it tentatively around her neck. It doesn’t matter if she wants the thong or not, Veronica has closed in on her and there’s no escape. She’s like a human headphone the way she presses in so closely to talk to you.
A familiar couple come in and I make a move to help them. But I can’t get away from Veronica’s voice.
“It was a heart necklace with a green stone in the middle,” she says, “You know, like an emerald but not an emerald, but like an emerald. And I thought, do I want a heart necklace? I already have one heart necklace, but then I thought well, if they have little heart earrings to match, you know...”
More customers come in and it’s feeling quite busy. Mum makes no attempt to dash past Veronica and I feel irritated.
“Do you think I should've bought it?” Veronica is saying. “Maybe I should've waited, or maybe I should've bought a different shape, they had some little silver dogs, you know, like dogs but not quite wolves.”
The husband and wife decide on a chandelier and I bring it over to the counter to pack up.
Veronica isn’t too happy when my Mum switches her attention to the wife, who yesterday slipped on a half-eaten sandwich in Tesco and now has a stiff neck.
“I bet that really hurt,” Mum says.
“I fell once,” Veronica says.
“I’m all bruised down one side,” the wife says.
Veronica homes in on the wife’s neck. “Oh I was much worse than that.”
The couple don’t stay around long, unlike Veronica.
My mum is so patient.
Like a saint, I think.
At the end of the day we link arms and make our way home in the cold and dark.
Mum’s puffa jacket looks like a king size duvet; her huge rucksack only just fits over her arms when she wears it.
Ahead of us a group of face-painted teenagers stand at the corner preparing to pounce on some unsuspecting passer-by.
As we approach Mum suddenly lifts her arms up and runs at them.
“AAAAAAH,” she cries.
By the time they’ve got over their shock and screamed back, we’re a good few steps away giggling our heads off.
My mum’s like that. Like a saint but not quite.