The worst moment of the week was Saturday night. When everybody left. The trollies were grouped back into their pens. A few stragglers restocked shelves, but then the lights were turned off and the whole place sat cold and empty.
Sure, Sunday morning they were back and there was life again, but it was only temporary. Come Sunday evening and everything closed again. It wasn’t until Monday morning when everybody arrived and the buzz, the echo started up again that the great hanger came to life and became, more that just a shop, a place to meet up and just hang around. A source of light and warmth and companionship. Open round the clock. Monday through Friday. Night and day.
Evie walked slowly along the magazine section, running the back of her hand along the glossy covers, touching top models and celebs, caressing photos of food and cars and phones. Later she would come back, flick through some of her favourites and see who was doing what, and who with. But for now she just wanted to walk the alleys, check that everything was in its place, in order, and as usual.
She passed Debs but she didn’t stop. Anyway, Debs was busy texting and limping along pushing her trolley, lost in her own little world.
The kid’s clothes alley was completely blocked, the staff were restocking the section with last minute back-to-school specials. She’d have to come back later and check out what had changed.
She walked up Nappies and Baby Food which wasn’t the most interesting alley, but that wasn’t the point, she said to herself, it was all a question of being thorough and orderly. Like now the ovens were heating up and the smell of warm bread and croissants was hanging like a nibble in the air, but she couldn’t just up and wander over there, could she? You had to respect the order. There was still Cereals and the Biscuits, Chocs, Frozen Food and then the Sodas and Soft Drinks to walk through first.
“Boo!” came a voice. And she jumped.
A small kid had just popped round the corner. They were always doing that. She pulled a face, sticking out her tongue at the small, chocolate-stained boy hoping for a giggle or a shared moment, but he ignored her and turned back to run after his Mum.
In Cereals, Jools and her Mum were arguing, their trolley blocking the alley. Jools looked over and flashed a smile that said it all — Mum’s can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.
Evie shrugged her shoulders in acknowledgement and squeezed round the trolley. There were gaps on the shelves like missing teeth in a grin. That wouldn’t do. Someone was slacking off here. Everyone knew that the shelves should always be full. Well, as full as could be. She looked around expecting to see one of the large refill trolleys piled high with fresh new boxes waiting nearby, but there was no-one around. Still, it was early, perhaps someone had overslept, or called in sick. She made a mental note to check back later and walked along to Biscuits. It was funny how they had two alleys, with one labelled ‘Premium Cakes & Biscuits’. What made a biscuit so special it got promoted to ‘Premium’?
Carol and Nash came walking down Premium Biscuits. They were giggling. They were like that. They wandered around with no method or order. Just flitting from place to place. Somedays you could see them ten times, and others, never even know they were here.
“There’s a new boy—” started Carol.
“He’s hiding,” continued Nash.
“Over by the Glasses and Insurance.”
“Comes over all pink if you even just look at him.”
“Not bad really.”
“Just a bit lost.”
“So hands off.”
“We saw him first.”
And they both giggled.
“But you’re right,” continued Nash. Her first name was so long and full of repeating syllables that everyone just called her Nash.
“Good,” said Evie. “See you later.”
And she moved along towards Frozen Food.
A new one, she thought. Well it had to happen from time to time. Wonder how he got here… She’d have to wait until later. The Glasses and the Optician’s corner was after Bread and opposite the Canned Food. Unless of course she could see him from here. She turned and looked up the alley, across the central gap and up the next alley. She stared off into the distance. There was no one else around for the moment. Oh well, perhaps later then.
Frozen Food was chilly. What else could you say? You can never clearly see and touch the packets because they’re all in cabinets and glass fronted cupboards. And quite often the fronts misted up and it was even harder to see inside. Because of that Frozen Food was probably the alley that Evie liked the least. And then there was the chill. It was always a relief to get out to Soft Drinks.
Uh-oh! Big Bob.
He was standing looking at a promotional poster, but standing like hypnotised. That was his thing. He wasn’t dangerous or anything. He had never been the brightest penny before, but now, with a great lump missing from the back of his head, he did creep you out at times.
She moved over to the opposite side of the alley and slid her hand along the edge of the refrigerated cabinets as she walked. She stared straight ahead, doing her best to ignore Big Bob.
She felt the cold move up her arm and shivered.
“Big Bob,” she said. “Yo.”
“Evie,” he said. He was just staring, but that and the cold made her skin prickle.
“Yep, that’s my name. But be careful or you’ll wear it out.”
She cringed inwardly. It was a terrible put down and Big Bob never understood anything much anyway.
“Evie,” he repeated. His mouth hung open. He seemed to be looking at something on the top of her head. She felt an irresistible desire to reach up and touch herself there, to check that everything was normal. But of course it was. This was Big Bob. He was capable of looking at a spot on the wall for hours on end.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “You good?”
She glanced up and down the alley, willing someone else to appear.
“Evie. Yeah. Good,” said the boy, still towering over her. “Pizza. Good.” He pointed over at the poster where an obscenely laden slice dripped chewing-gum like cheese as it was lifted by an invisible hand from the rest of the steaming pie.
“Don’t worry about it, Big Bob,” she said. It got to everyone after a while. “They never turn out like the picture on the packets. And it’s probably not good for you anyway.”
“Not good?” wondered the colossus. Overhead the lights flickered.
“Don’t let it get you down, Big Bob.” She looked around for something to distract him. “Why don’t you go see the biscuits? Change your ideas like..?”
“Nah,” he half moaned.
“The magazines then. There’s lots to look at there…”
“Yeah. Good.” A smile broke onto his face. “Yeah. See you Evie.” He shuffled off down the alley.
She sighed. He’d probably make a mess of the arrangements there, but he should find plenty to keep him occupied.
She waited until he had turned away at the end, only then did she feel she could get walking again.
She set off walking at a brisk pace. She felt the cold all over now, and once it set in, sometimes it could take all day to feel normal again.
When had everybody started meeting up here? Evie didn’t really know. It was just the way things worked. It was so easy. You didn’t even have to take a trolley, you could just come in and wander around and there was no one to worry you. You were out of the cold and the rain, and because everyone did it, you were sure you’d see all of your friends sooner or later.
She finished the Soft Drinks and moved onto Cakes and Bread. Before she knew it she was in with the Canned Food and the really short space for Speciality and Exotic Goods. Fancy bottles of olive oil were lined up above soy sauce, arrabbiata and rice cakes. The packagings were gaudy and lively, somehow rustic and amateur. And where the other shelves had long rows of identical boxes and tins, or nearly the same, here everything was pushed up together. It was like finding a small corner shop hidden away inside the great hanger of the supermarket. This section even smelled different. The other alleys smelt of plastic and disinfectant and floor wax, but here the fragrances seemed to hover in the air, overflowing their cramped space: dried tomatoes and fresh herbs, musty spices and a hint of seafood.
She paused and closed her eyes as she drank in this special little corner.
She opened her eyes again and saw Pete staring at her from over the alley, peeping round a stand of brochures on Financial Information and Insurance.
What a stupid place to hide. It wasn’t as if you could even pretend to be interested in that stuff.
Then it dawned on her. Pete was the new boy Carol and Nash had been talking about.
She looked around and sure enough there they were, watching her from the mouth of an alley just at the end of Canned Fruit and Puddings.
She waved her hands at them, shooing them away then sticking her tongue out when they made to ignore her. They pretended to be offended and walked away, noses in the air and giggling.
Evie looked over at Pete. She lifted her hand, made a small wave and strolled over. He was blinking, with a slight air of panic.
“Hi Pete. When d’you get in?” she asked.
“This night… I…” He swallowed. “You’re..? I mean…”
“Yes,” said Evie, and she put her hand on his arm. “Take it easy. Gets to you at first…” She looked him up and down. His white tee-shirt was soaked in blood on the right-hand side. The stain continued on his pants.
“Stabbing?” she said, as much for herself.
“I mean… But you’re…”
“Take your time. It’s different now. Just take it slowly.” She stepped back. “Perhaps you should get changed first…”
“But… But how..?”
“Stop it, worrycat. Just come along.”
“Carol and Nash saw you first. Probably when you arrived. You remember them don’t you? Drunken driver about a year and a half ago.”
Debs limped by with her trolley, still texting. She nodded, then raised her eyebrows as she looked at the screen on her phone, and was past them, and back into her own little world.
“Debs — don’t think you knew her — kidney failure. No donors, and she died from an infection.”
“You’ll get used to it, Petey,” said Evie, taking his arm. “We’re all dead here…” She pulled him to her side. “C’mon, let’s go and get you some new rags.”
This story was suggested by Ludivine.
I suppose I should mention that I have nothing against Tesco, and this story should not be taken to mean that. It was just a place where the kids wanted to go and meet. Could have been anywhere, but they chose Tesco.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 France License.
Last edited: Thursday, October 15th, 2009blog comments powered by Disqus