The Shopkeeper – part III


The kitchen clock stands on top of the fridge, leaning against a dented tea-tin filled with loose change. Julie becomes aware of its patient ticking. She has asked Ali, many times, to hang it on the wall. She’s indicated the space she has in mind, over the door to the living room, but he hasn’t got around to it yet. The hammer and nails are beneath the sink, next to the detergent and dish cloths, and sometimes she’s considered just doing it herself, but she worries about damaging the wall, or not getting the nail in straight, or misaligning the clock. The last time she asked him, he told her that it was too late at night to be banging nails into walls, that the neighbours would complain. She told him it would take a few bangs to get the nail into the wall, and that the neighbours wouldn’t even realise where the noise was coming from. “Two quick bangs,” she’d said. “That’s all I’m asking.” And they’d looked at each other, then both started laughing. And she thought then, that with the mood lightened by laughter, he would grab the hammer and the nails, and do the job, shaking his head and smiling at their joke. But he hadn’t. He’d gone into the living room, and when she’d joined him, he’d fallen asleep.

“There’s more stew,” she says, looking at his empty plate, smeared with sauce. She goes to the stove. He doesn’t say anything, which means that he’ll have some more (she can’t recall a time when he’s ever refused a second helping of anything), and she brings the pan to the table and puts pieces of lamb and carrot and potato onto his plate, and then smaller amounts onto her own. At the last minute, she adds some more to her own plate, then she replaces the lid on the pan. He’s been watching her doing all of this. She’s half-seen him, from the edges of her eyes.

“Is there any more rice?” he says as she sits, and she shakes her head. She would have said if there was. She only made one cup. She pulls her chair closer to the table and it scrapes on the tiled floor. She’s tired of the way the chairs scrape in the kitchen.

“The stew is delicious,” he says, and she smiles at him. But she’s wondering if tomorrow he’ll remember what they are eating now. She thinks he won’t. He’s looking at his food now, and she wonders if he noticed her smile.

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

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