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A Short Story
By Barbara Gill
I looked at the kitchen clock. It had gone three already. Just time to pop into the supermarket
before collecting the children from school. I mustn’t be late today. Miss Jackson was getting
most annoyed that the twins were always the last children left in the playground, today would
be different. The cake was out of the oven, the cooker off, Suzie was fastened safely in the car
seat and I was ready. Now where did I put my purse? Great! My purse, my keys, two plastic
carrier bags and we’re off.
As usual the parking space outside the supermarket was full. I just managed to squeeze my
little Mini in between a new red Volvo and a very large delivery lorry. The lorry driver looked
down on me and winked. Cheeky monkey, but still I smiled inwardly. At twenty nine, married
and three children it wasn’t often a man winked at me these days. I put Suzie in the shopping
trolley and started down the avenue of shelves. Damn! I had forgotten the shopping list.
Frantically I searched my brain alphabetically for the items on the forgotten list. The clock said
3.15 p.m. I must hurry. Almonds for the trout. Tomorrow night Geoff and Fay were coming to
dinner. Cornflour, cereals, sugar, tea….. At last we’re at the checkout. Suzie kindly offers me a
plastic carrier bag she has been clutching possessively since we started our journey, and then
we are heading once more for the car. Plenty of time, no sarcastic remarks from Miss Jackson
today. Suddenly a mighty hand, as if from above, clutches at my shoulder. “Excuse me Mam, I
must ask you to accompany me to the Manager’s office”. Oh my God, something has
happened to the twins and they are trying to find me. Oh don’t be so stupid, how would they
know where I was? Maybe I have been overcharged or maybe I am the 100 th person to buy tea
bags today. My mind in a whirl I followed the man with the hand mechanically back through
the store, Suzie on one arm my groceries on the other, until we reached the Manager’s office.
A little fat man with dark hair and bushy eyebrows sat behind an over large desk. “Now
Madam”, he began, rather nervously I thought, “may I see your checkout slip?” I foraged in my
bag and produced the necessary. “And now your groceries”, he held out his hand attempting a
rather sickly smile. In silence I handed him the carrier bag. Embarrassingly it did not display the
name of his store but that of another, two doors below. As if in a dream I watched the two
men check off each item from the list. Whatever was wrong, were they looking for a product
that had been banned from their shelves? Suzie was getting wrestles and I looked at my watch
3.35 p.m. Oh please hurry, I mustn’t be late today. “No Madam that seems to be in order but
what about the other bag” “The other bag” I asked stupidly. “Yes Madam, the one your little
girl is holding”. Suzie gave the man with the hand a big smile and offered her bag. At that
moment I knew what a little fish must feel like when being swallowed by a big fish. Out of
Suzie’s bag came one jelly, one packet of soup, one box of oxo’s and last but not least one
packet of crisps. “And you have of course paid for these” the manager’s voice reached me as I
regained consciousness. Oh Suzie what have you done to me? The two men were speaking in
lowered tones “why is it they never take anything worthwhile and she looks so respectable
too”. My mind now made a leap into the future, the headlines of tomorrow’s newspaper
able to show his face at the bank again. After what seemed like two hours I giggled and tried to
explain the obvious. Suzie had done her own shopping, she had never done this sort of thing
before and that I would of course pay for them even though I didn’t use Oxos. My captors were
not amused. “I’m sorry Madam, but we have cases like this every week and it is our duty to
call in the Police”. “The Police”, I shot off my chair almost dropping Suzie as I did so, “that’s
ridiculous, I have to collect my children from school at 3.45 p.,m. and besides I haven’t done
anything”. “That’s what they all say”, once again it was the man with the hand. As the
Manager picked up the telephone, a loud knock sounded on the door of the outer office and a
rather loud voice boomed “Sorry about that Miss, but it’s me duty, I’ve gotta do it” and in
strode the lorry drive I had seen sitting in his cab outside. He looked straight at me and winked,
now what, they’ll have me for soliciting next. Uncontrollable fear swept over my body. “It’s
O.K. missus”, he said. “I’ll soon put em right” and with that he sat me solidly back in my chair
and began in great detail to explain how he had watched Suzie doing her shopping, from his cab
“This er lady didn’nr know a fing abart it “he said, “as Gauds my witness”. He turned to me,
“Not like some buggers train the little devils from the cradle”. His face held the widest grin I
had ever seen and if I didn’t believe in guardian angels before, I did now. Ten minutes later I
was on my way to pick up the twins. Mr Jones, that was the lorry drivers name, had made a
signed statement explaining the whole incident, which would then be filed “Just incase it
should happen again” said the Manager. Obviously he thought Mr Jones and I must surely be
in league together and were going to split the oxo cubes 50/50 when we got outside. All the
‘loot’ was returned to it’s original place and we were allowed to leave. On my journey back
through the store, which seemed like the golden mile, I remember saying a little prayer asking
God not to let the Vicar’s wife do her shopping this particular Thursday afternoon in this
particular store. I pulled up outside the school, it was ten minutes past four. Katie was
skipping obliviously in the playground and Jonathon chin in hands, was leaning on the school
wall watching the antics of an army of ants. The dreaded Miss Jackson was nowhere to be
seen. “Sorry I’m late” I said as they jostled into the back seat, squabbling over who should sit
by Suzie. “That’s O.K.” said Jonathon, “Miss Jacksons’ away and Mrs Barter doesn’t mind how
late you are”. The conversation ended. “Had a good day?” I asked. “Usual” said Jonathon,
“Mm” said Katie “have you?”. I looked in the rear view mirror Suzie was fast asleep, her head
lolling precariously on her shoulder, Katie and Jonathon were reading an old comic they had
found on the back seat, I smiled “Usual” I said. If I hurried I might just catch the butchers for
some lamb chops for tea.