(Long time no write here. Been busy with life, no time or desire to write. Here’s something anyway, just a start, based on a real moment. Well, the opening four lines…)
‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, forgot my gloves too.’
‘Remembered mine, but I was still freezing.’
‘If you get cold, at least you got a choice of clothes to wear here.’
I nodded towards the racks of women’s coats strung like dead turkeys along a metal bar.
Can you fall in love over such a banal conversation?
The shop assistant checked her screen. Blue eyes flicked left, right, up, down, wavy light brown hair braided at the sides, purple tipped fingers stabbing. She looked up, saw the coats I’d indicated.
‘Oh, they’re too expensive for me.’
A light chuckle crept nervous up her throat. Her eyes glanced mine. I waved a hand at the racks of clothes.
‘Choose one, I’ll buy it for you.’
Her chuckle broke surface into a quiet laugh. Saturday 9.10 a.m. it wasn’t ready for head back raucous.
‘I mean it, choose one.’
She folded her arms, looked more direct at me. Movement to her right suggested a junior had found my click and collect order in a backroom.
‘Sure, choose one and you’ll pay for it?’
‘Yes, then I’ll give it to you. Be quick, the offer expires in about one minute.’
My heart was calm. Strange, it should have been stretching the fabric of my jacket to its limit. Half asleep still on a weekend morning? Still daydreaming the reckless character I’d read about the last two days in a hard boiled crime paperback?
The young woman stepped out from behind the desk, half halted, low heeled loafers scuffing the vinyl tiled floor. She moved on, more determined, fumbled coat hangers, found the size she wanted, slipped off the fake fur collar coat from the hanger, put it on.
I held out both hands like a seasoned salesman.
‘Perfect fit. Would madam like it gift-wrapped, or in a bag, only 20 cents extra?’
That gravel chuckle coughed up again. She stuck her hands into the pockets of the suede coat, pouted in doubt. At the coat choice or my offer, I wasn’t sure.
‘Here’s your order. Perhaps we should deal with that.’
She walked back behind her screen, took a bright yellow bag from a colleague who eyed up the coat with a quizzical look, and typed fast as she studied details on the package’s label.
‘Here you are. Robert?’
It was a curious routine of this store that they checked you were the right collector of a delivery by querying your first name not your surname or email address or card number.
‘That’s me. You are?’
I screwed up my eyes at the woman’s badge which hung on her chest. She probably thought it was part of my feeble act of chat up, but truth was I needed to, to make out the small print on the white shiny piece of card.
‘Lilly, is that?’
‘So, you want that coat? The offer’s close to expiry…’
‘If you’re serious, that’ll be $99, please.’
I took out my wallet, thumbed a credit card, passed it over. I’d felt Lilly’s eyes on me as I did this. She was still looking at me as her small fingers accepted the card.
‘You absolutely certain?’
She passed the card machine across. I placed it on the desk, tapped in my numbers.
‘You can change it for another colour, or another style if you want?’
‘And you can cancel your card payment too.’
‘No, the coat’s yours. It’s my good deed for the day.’
‘Oh, I’m a charity case now, am I?’
I gave a half-laugh.
‘No. It makes me feel good. And, you’re pretty and charming and, and, just nice. I, I, just felt it was the right thing to do.’
Lilly slipped off the coat, folded it into a bag and hung it on a peg behind her. She turned back, her face more serious.
‘That’s it? No follow up, no, ‘well, let’s have a drink later’ or ‘what time do you finish today?’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘Coat’s yours. No catch.’
She crossed her arms again. It seemed to be her standard stance; maybe at work, maybe in life.
‘You bought me a coat. I’ll buy you a drink. Okay?’
‘You don’t have to.’
Lilly’s eyes moved to the right, she nodded to acknowledge someone’s words or gesture.
‘I got to go. I’ll be in the Pink Feathers, Cambridge and 222 Loxx, tonight, around 8.’
‘If you want a drink, that’s where I’ll be.’
‘Sure. I can, can probably make that.’
I had an image of me standing like a fool, holding a glass of iced orange, alone in a crowded bar of couples, waiting for the no-show sales assistant.
‘Have to check with the wife first?’
‘Don’t be late. Offer expires at 8.30.’
Her eyes flashed. She scooted around the desk and disappeared among the hanging jeans and jackets.