The Shopkeeper – part II

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Shopkeeper Part II

Ali says: “He started coming in a few weeks ago, and after a few days I assumed he was going to be a regular customer, and that he was going to buy the same thing every time. We smile at each other, and he tells me about simple things, like the weather.”

This is reminding her of when they first met, when he would talk while they waited for infrequent late-night buses to take them home. He would deliver accounts of the events that pressed on his mind, talking hotly, and close to her ear at times, while around them the clamour of the city fell into a muted hum. On-board the crowded bus, they would find seats as close together as possible, and if she tried to pursue something that they had been talking about earlier, he would mouth a “shush” to her, and place a finger to his lips. In those close, observed confines, he was conscious, she  knew, of sounding different. It bothered him. So, she’d have to wait. Thus captivated, her journey would relentlessly drag.

She watches him spear a piece of lamb: he looks at it, and turns it on the fork. He’s always eaten this way, examining what he’s about to put into his mouth. Once, after arguing, they ate dinner in a sour mood, and she thought about how difficult it would be to poison his food, how he’d sniff it on his fork, pull a face, ask what was in it, then lay it down uneaten.

“Do you know what he buys each day?” he says, scrutinising a pile of rice grains that he’s shovelled up, as if trying to count them.

“Let me try to guess,” she says. She enjoys this kind of game. “First though, what does he wear?”

He holds an index finger up in the air as a hang-on-a-minute, while he chews his mouthful. He swallows the food. “He wears office clothes,” he says. “Shirt and tie, black shoes. His trousers have creases from sitting for long periods. At a desk, probably. He comes in at about the same time every day: around four o’clock.” He thinks, then says, “I say every day, but that’s not quite true. Almost every day. When he doesn’t come in, I notice.”

© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2013.

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11 thoughts on “The Shopkeeper – part II

  1. Bryce, Jennifer

    Love this, Barry. Remember it from ages ago. I love the detail re the eating — his way of examining the food . . . The only thing I’d query is ‘talking hotly’ — that could have another meaning that I assume is unintended here. How about: ‘talking close to her ear, making it hot’ — or something like that? Keep writing! Jenny ________________________________

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting Jenny. I’ll have a think about ‘hotly’. I use it here to describe the physical sensation of someone talking close to your ear, but also to mean emotionally. But this other meaning… hmm – I quite like the ambiguity in this context. I guess he could have been talking about car parts and she might have thought it hot at that stage in their relationship!

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  2. hjmcd

    This works so well as a ‘serialised’ short fiction piece Barry. The attention to detail is terrific and I love how we track the change in their relationship. Will be tuning in for more of The Shopkeeper! Helen

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  3. Yes, I want to know what he buys!

    The first two par’s are in past tense, then jumps to present. Maybe a word or two at beginning of 3rd par to help us orient back to present?

    Love it!

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