Time Till






Time Till

 
 

 

The evening made me a false promise of peace and quiet. Not a customer all day until a soldier stumbled into my little convenience store from the front line. The fog outside made it difficult to know which World War he sought shelter from. But the windows hadn’t long been cleaned, and when the fog stirred in a lonesome gust the trench walls loomed out of the night.

His boots streaked the linoleum with an unusual looking mud, rusty, and slick. I sniffed, ignored the ever-present impulse to clean, and pretended to read the newspaper I’d read every day for eternity. Sometimes I recited it from memory when I felt disenchanted with reading.

The soldier limped down each aisle, wheezing and blinking too much. His grubby fingers caressed every product with care, his face contorted with puzzlement. He wasn’t the first customer to wear the expression. But I had long ago decided to refuse questions pertaining to the products. Ever since the visit of that chatty Victorian aristocrat who had kept me up half the night demanding such explanations. It felt almost worth the hassle to see her disgust when she bit into the Pop Tart I had talked her into purchasing.

A few laps of the shop floor seemed to ease the soldier’s confusion. He stood, bathed in the angelic glow of the drinks cooler for some time, nose almost to the glass. Like a rare moth content to gaze without a flutter.

He patted his pocket with a bloodied hand, and upon hearing the reassuring clink, reached for a packet of cigarettes. His thumbs pressed the packet, kneading the cardboard, eyes glazed.

“Just the cigarettes please, sir,” he mumbled, after a long shuffle to my till.

Sir. As respectful as if I was his own commanding officer. I rang it up. The beep startled him, and he cast a glance over his shoulder. Stubble’s dark shadow had taken his jaw, the youth of his creaseless face offset by the recent horrors that lay dormant in his eyes. Aging him with each jarring flashback.

“This is some crazy shop you’ve got here, mister,” he said, with a glassy stare at the neon advertisement flashing on the wall.

“You wouldn’t believe how much I hear that.”

The couple on their way home from a roaring 20s party last night mentioned it. The 1670s Scottish farmer who got lost on his way home from the market might have said something too. If the caveman I’d shooed out with a broom two weeks could have spoken, he might also have remarked.

My little convenience store was not unlike the others of its era. Out of balance with the notion of health, fruit stuffed into cans and candy stealing centre stage. The milkshake machine and my trusty till were the greatest spectacles, sometimes striking awe into my customers, and other times horror. ‘Witch’ had become my new name, spit through the teeth of the most devout.

“Am I dead, sir?” he asked, casting another cautious glance around.

“Not yet. Comes to us all in the end though, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yessuh. Yes…sure does.”

I took the shilling he offered me, stashing it amongst the Soviet rubles, escudos and other obscure historical currencies I collected in my till.

“No smoking in the shop, thank you,” I said, as he made to strike a match. “Gives me a headache.”

Cigarette clamped between his pale lips, the soldier’s gaze was snatched by the sparks of gunfire peppering the mist. The carton shook in his hand, cigarettes rattling within. Daring not to look again at what awaited him, he waved his thanks and trudged back into his own world.

The trench quivered, and disappeared. Time rushed by outside in a cacophony of colour, launching me to my next destination. I hurried to the storeroom in search of the mop, with the hope that my next customer might wipe their feet.

 

Rosanna Bates
 

Rosanna Bates was born in Worcester, England at the height of baggy jeans and boy band popularity. Her childhood was spent reading and writing stories she was too embarrassed to show anyone. To date she has had short stories and flash fiction published with 101words.org, The Fiction Pool and Anti-Heroin Chic. In addition to preparing her debut novel for future publication, she also writes articles for Unwritten magazine.

 

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