I sent this one off to Everyday Fiction and they liked it, but I couldn’t quite sort out the ending to their satisfaction. Tell me what you think (incidentally EF is an American site, hence the dollars).
When I was a kid I used to take the word shoplifting literally; I used to imagine Superman lifting up our local Woolworth’s and all the people; the counters, the sweets and dolls and trains and everything, all lurching to one side like a boat in a storm. Then later as a teenager, I thought shoplifters were edgy – a group of girls as far ahead of me in cool as they were behind me at school – but then before I knew it I’d hit adulthood and shuffled on that coat of responsibility my folks had been saving for all my life. And now I know exactly what lies under a shop, under all that shiny chrome and plate-glass; and what life-forms scuttle away from the daylight: I know, because I, too, am a shop worker.
Like Superman, we shop-workers have super-powers – or so we tell ourselves. Powers like super-speed; we can scuttle to the store-room and back in the crossing and uncrossing of a pair of fat ankles. Take today: I’d been on my feet all morning when along came a disciple. (That’s what I call the customers: it makes me feel better.) This particular disciple was a bulky, middle-aged woman encased in vivid purple. I could see her feet were too fat for our shoes – we don’t do extra-wide – but I just watched as she placed her two plump buttocks on one-and-a-half of our chairs.
‘Can I help – ?’ I began, but she interrupted me: ‘I need some personal trainers,’ she wheezed.
You certainly do, I thought, looking at the way her purple dress was straining at the seams. Still, I guessed she was just looking for regular ‘trainers’.
‘What size, please?’ I was trying not to laugh as I looked at her bloated face, the features sunk in it like steam-vents in an iron. For answer, she wiggled a foot in the air; so I fetched a measuring-stool and with difficulty peeled off one of her brogues. It was far too small; you could almost hear her foot exhaling with relief.
5, D. I made a note of the size, then I took my pad and walked over to Denise.
‘She wants personal trainers,’ I said, my voice shaking. Denise gave a snort and turned it quickly into a cough.
I took the lady a couple pairs of trainers in her size: she gave a deep, disappointed sigh. ‘How much are these?’ she said, fingering a pair in hideous pink-and-white.
She inhaled, causing the purple dress to strain alarmingly. ‘Fifty, in other words,’ she retorted. ‘And what about these?’ – pointing to some purple ones.
‘54.99,’ I said.
She inhaled again. ‘I’ll try these,’ she said, grabbing the hideous pink ones. The purple trainers sat abandoned on the half-chair next to her.
I knelt down to help but she had already wrestled her left foot into its shoe and was trying to do up the laces. They weren’t designed to be done up, but I didn’t tell her that: I could just imagine the look she’d have given me. I waited for her to put the other one on, but she was now out of breath, so I grasped the other shoe in both hands, spread the sides and pointed the tongue right at her. She poked her toes in and wriggled her foot like someone crushing a cigarette on the sidewalk. I started to tie the laces but she bent over to do them herself, puffing hard. I wondered if she smoked: a lot of fat people do. They think it keeps the weight down.
Eventually she heaved herself up off the chair and clomped around like a giant on our carpet. Then she sat down again. ‘All right,’ she said grudgingly, as though I’d talked her into it, ‘I’ll take them.’
No way was she going to find them comfortable; I could practically hear her feet screaming at me not to let her buy them. But now it was time to use my legendary super-powers: I packed her personal trainers neatly back into the box, took the others to the store-room in the crossing of a pair of ankles, and indicated to her, my disciple, that I would meet her at the altar where our transaction would be sanctified by cash. When she got to the till I punched the numbers in and waited: but she just stood and stared.
‘Is there a problem?’ I asked.
‘How can it be so much?’
‘Fifty dollars! I’ve never heard of such a thing.’
Resisting the temptation to scream, I pointed out that I had already told her the price.
‘No, you didn’t,’ she snapped. I just gaped at her.
‘Fifty dollars!’ she said again.
I was about to call the manager, but she stuck her hand into her purse and pulled out a fat roll of notes. I gaped again – there must have been a thousand dollars there in her pudgy paw. She tore off a fifty and threw it across the counter with such violence that it fluttered to the floor at my feet.
I’d never seen such rudeness. But as I bent down to pick up the fifty I saw there were two of them! Using my super-quick powers, I peeled the two notes apart and silently slid one down my sock. Then I rang up the total and put her change on the counter. One cent.
And that was that.
A few weeks later, after the buses were awake, I saw the fat woman walking past the shop. It was the shoes I noticed first: there was no mistaking that hideous pink-and-white; the fat instep, the bloated ankles. My feet did a little dance, happy in the purple trainers I’d bought with the extra fifty. I’d thought of it as a tip – but really, I decided, it was just karma. Good karma.