Today’s story features crochet hooks and dodgy zips. What more could you want on a busking blog on a Friday evening?
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Retail Therapy – by Fiona Dorchester
‘Have you got googly eyes?’ she asks.
I bite down the urge to tell her that I’m just a wee bit short sighted and only squint when I’m tired. She doesn’t look like a woman with a sense of humour.
‘Fourth aisle on the left,’ I say. ‘Beside the soft toy stuffing.’
She wanders off in the wrong direction and I pretend I don’t notice. I pretend I don’t notice a lot of things these days. I pretend I don’t notice when my daughter comes home smelling of teenage boys and cheap cider. I pretend I don’t notice when my husband rolls over in bed every night and says he’s had a long day. Most of all I pretend I don’t notice the lump.
I carry on unpacking a case of crochet hooks, sorting them by size, checking off the delivery note, and popping them onto the display stand. I can’t imagine why anybody would want a 10mm crochet hook but we seem to have an adequate supply if there’s a sudden demand.
‘I can’t find them.’
I turn and there she is again, hands punched into her pockets and brows knitted under her headscarf. I suspect she could easily find a use for chunky crochet hooks if I don’t take her to the googly eyes myself.
‘Do you want me to show you where they are?’ I flash my best customer service smile.
‘If you’d done that in the first place I’d not have wasted my time looking at buttons,’ she says. I stick a couple of spare hooks in my pocket and lead the way to the fourth aisle on the left.
I hover, picking up a 16mm flock nose that has fallen from the display and try to find the right place to hang it.
‘Have you not got the self-adhesive ones?’ she asks.
I forget the noses and move over to where she’s standing, staring at twenty four variations of googly eyes. ‘Here they are,’ I say, and somehow find myself discussing the individual merits of the sew on, stick on, three, five, eight and fifteen millimetre eyes that we have available for the amateur toy maker. She’s making gonks for the Cancer Research coffee morning.
‘Just doing my bit,’ she says, tweaking her headscarf. ‘And it gives me something to do when I’m having my treatment.’
I open the bottom drawer in the spare bedroom and pretend not to notice the buttons, the beads, the safety pins, embroidery silks and goodness what else that is threatening to spill out onto the floor. I take two 10mm crochet hooks and a deluxe flock nose from the pocket of my work trousers, squeeze them into the drawer and shut it again.
I pretend not to notice the worried look on my daughter’s face.
‘Are you going out tonight?’ I ask.
She gives me the look; the ‘what business is it of yours what I’m doing’ look that my own mother accused me of wearing when I was just a bit older that Katie is now. I wish I’d talked to my mother more. I wish I’d taken the time before it was too late.
‘Make sure you have something to eat before you go,’ I say.
She rolls her eyes and nearly cracks a smile. Nearly is a good place to start.
‘I love you,’ I say, then I lock myself in the bathroom, turn the taps on full flow and have a right good cry.
‘Is Mum okay?’
I’m half way down the stairs with a towel wrapped round my damp hair when I hear my husband and my daughter in the kitchen.
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘She was a bit weird earlier.’
I hear him get up from the table, fill the kettle and open the tea caddy. ‘What kind of weird?’ he asks.
‘She said she loved me.’
‘Well, she does.’ He starts rattling about in the cutlery drawer and I take a couple of steps closer to hear what he says next. ‘Pass me the milk,’ he says. I know without seeing that he’ll drink it straight from the carton.
‘That’s disgusting,’ says Katie. ‘Can you not use a glass like civilised people?’ Oh, God, she sounds so much like me I can hardly breathe. I grip the banister to steady myself.
‘You sound just like your mum,’ he says and I can’t listen any more. She’s turning into me and I’m turning into my mum and I don’t know what to do to make it stop. I go back upstairs and pretend I didn’t hear anything.
‘Have you moved the toy stuffing?’
I hang another beaded angel onto the display I’m working on and turn round. It’s Sandra, my googly eye lady. She’s been coming in every Monday for the last few weeks for wool and stuffing and googly eyes for her gonks. I don’t know what she’s wearing on her head; some kind of turban thing with ear flaps.
‘Do you like it?’ she says, tilting her head for effect. ‘I made it myself.’
‘It’s interesting,’ I say. ‘Did you use a pattern?’ She laughs. It turns out that she’s got a sense of humour after all.
‘So,’ she says, ‘are you going to tell me where it is?’
I know she’s talking about the stuffing, but I find myself reaching for the lump. Sweatshirt, tee-shirt, and padded support from M&S’s end of season sale and I can still feel it.
‘Come on, I’ll show you.’ I lead the way towards the back of the store. ‘We’re making room for the Christmas stock.’
‘It’s only October,’ she says.
‘This is retail,’ I tell her. ‘The clock’s ticking.’
I’m sweating and giggling, and I don’t know if it’s the heat in the changing room, the exertion, or just sheer blind panic. I don’t even know why I tried the blooming thing on. I’d never wear it. I don’t go anywhere. And it shows far too much cleavage for a woman with a lump the size of a peanut in her left breast.
I peak through the curtains. The surly teenager who grunted at me on the way in is flirting with a male colleague and there’s no way I’m going out there like this. I try the zip again. I know it’s not going to shift but I try again and again and I keep trying and I’m crying and it’s not funny anymore.
I pull my sweatshirt over my head and pick my work trousers off the floor. A beaded angel falls out of the pocket. I shove it into my bag along with my tee shirt. Grab my jacket from the hook beside the full length mirror. The face in the mirror tries to smile.
The surly teenager is smiling when I walk towards her.
‘Are you taking them?’ she asks.
I hand over a selection of inappropriate outfits that I didn’t try on and tell her they didn’t suit me.
‘I’m scared,’ I whisper into my sleeping husband’s back. It’s been another long day and I’ve been lying for hours watching him sleep. His shoulders rise and fall with every breath he takes and I savour the familiarity of him.
‘Me too,’ he says. ‘I think I’m losing you.’
Neither one of us moves. I squeeze my eyes tight shut and pretend I’m asleep. I pretend I didn’t say anything and I pretend he didn’t answer. I don’t want to know why he thinks he’s going to lose me because I’m scared that he’s right.
‘Tell me what you’re scared of,’ he says.
What am I scared of? I’m scared of the lump. I’m scared it’s Cancer. I’m scared of surgery and chemo and going bald. I’m scared I’m going to lose my breast and I’m scared my husband won’t love me anymore. I’m scared that it won’t make any difference; that I’ve left it too late. I’m scared I’m going to die and Katie’s going to have to grow up without me. I’m scared of everything and I don’t know where to start.
‘Talk to me,’ he says. ‘Tell me what it is. Please.’
‘I got stuck in a leather mini dress in Primark this afternoon,’ I say, and he turns round to face me in the dark. ‘Well, it wasn’t real leather.’ I start babbling on about broken zips and surly assistants and how scared I was that the alarm would go off when I left the shop. I try to laugh but it comes out as a sob and he pulls me into his arms.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asks.
I reach out and switch on the bedside lamp before I tell him. ‘I found a lump.’
Sandra’s dressed as Mrs Claus; selling googly-eyed Santas and snowmen at the hospital Christmas Fair and I go over to say hello. She’s looking well.
‘I like your hat,’ I say.
‘I like yours,’ she says and she knocks half her stock on the floor as she lunges round to the front of the stall and pulls me into a bear hug. ‘I’ve missed you,’ she says. ‘I asked your boss for googly eyes and he said you were taking a break.’
We step back and look at each other. She takes her hat off and I want to cry. Her hair’s growing back.
(Retail therapy won first prize in a Writers Forum short story competition and was published in the magazine in June 2014)