Caroline Moir (Glasgow University, Scotland)
She banged the door behind her.
Dad’s house stank of fags.
He was always going on at her.
‘You should’ve done better at school. You should’ve gone to college. Your room’s a mess. If you don’t like it here Leanne, go and live with your mum.’
Mum had said to go tonight. To get the Christmas presents.
Late shift. Mum’d be pissed off at having to wait up for her. Why couldn’t she bring them round? See Kevin and Wayne, maybe Darren.
Now she’d missed her bus. She’d have to walk along the dual carriageway, past the Abbey.
The leisure centre. People coming out. She could smell the chlorine. They’d got their hoods up. The rain was icy, pricked her face like needles.
At the traffic lights she took the short cut. She climbed over the fence and jumped across the stream. The water was really high and the bank was slippery. In summer it stank of dog shit.
She went round to the side door. She changed into her uniform and put on the flashing Christmas tree earrings they made them wear.
No meal, straight down. Carole told her to relieve till twenty-six. Till twenty-six fussed around logging off, getting her fat bum out of the booth. She hated these crumblies talking about their health and giving her good advice. The place was rammed, mums and dads shouting at kids. Café was full to bursting, people eating tea.
She was starved.
Pass the items over the eye.
‘That’ll be fifty-two seventy. Cash back?’
On and on.
Another one was waiting to load her stuff on the conveyor belt. Middle-aged. Streaked hair but it didn’t cover the grey. Looked as if she’d got teabags under her eyes. The latest style jeans.
There was a massive pile in her trolley. Stupid cow, thought she could do her shop in one go. She’d never get it all back in once it was in bags, then she’d have to get another trolley and push both at once otherwise one would get nicked.
Brandy, whisky, wine, butter, cream, cheese, satsumas, dates, nuts, biscuits. She slid them through really fast.
The woman started to get panicky.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I’m being slow, it’s been a long day.’
‘Need help packing?’
The woman looked pleased, as if she’d been given a present.
‘Thanks,’ she said.
They crammed the things into the carriers. She started checking things through again.
The woman said, ‘Do you like working here?’
What else was she to say? Carole was hanging around putting up closed signs and she didn’t want her to get any ideas.
‘Is the pay good? How do they treat you?’ the woman asked.
‘Like anywhere else.’
‘But it’s not like being your own boss.’
Why had she said that?
‘Do you want to be your own boss?’ the woman asked.
‘Wouldn’t mind, one day.’
‘What do you want to be boss of?’ The woman asked. She was sort of smiling.
‘I want to run my own old people’s home.’
That shut her up.
‘That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.’
It was too. She liked really old people. Work experience, one of the women bit her when she was feeding her, ’coz she thought she wasn’t going to get any more cake. Made her laugh. Tooth marks on the bottom of her thumb. They liked her too. They asked, ‘Leanne, what’s a lovely girl like you doing in a place like this?’
‘Why don’t you get the peeled ones?’
‘I prefer to do them myself, or get my children to do them,’ she said, ‘I don’t really approve of pre-packed.’
‘How many kids you got then?’
‘Two,’ she said, ‘they’re grown up, but they’re coming home for Christmas.’
’Course they were, the amount of food she was getting.
Christmas. Last Christmas Kev and Wayne woke up and opened their presents at four. Dad shouted to them to go back to bed. Darren was wasted Christmas Eve and slept all day.
Crisps, salted nuts, smoked salmon.
‘What do you do?’
‘I’m a teacher,’ she said, ‘that’s why I’m shopping late – we had our carol concert tonight.’
Last year she and Tanya went to their one to get their own back at Miss Whittaker for chucking them out of choir. They hadn’t wanted to be in her crappy choir anyway, but she’d made them. The school secretary wasn’t happy about giving them tickets. Drinking that vodka in the toilets. Shouting out ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ until the head got to where they were and made them leave the hall.
Him saying, ‘Leanne Wilson.’
Her saying, ‘Yeah?’ and breathing on him like a dragon.
Tanya wetting herself.
Him saying he was going to suspend them.
Mum moving out the next day. Said she couldn’t be bothered anymore.
‘How will you get to own your old people’s home?’
Was she taking the piss? She put the last bits through – chocolate coins. The woman put them in her hand-bag.
‘Any cash back?’
‘No thanks,’ she said.
Carole was hanging about again.
‘Log off,’ she said, ‘closing time for you. You can help the lady take her trolleys out to her car and then get on home.’
‘There isn’t a bus for another half hour – I’d rather …’
‘Where do you live?’ the woman asked.
‘Top of Falcon Estate,’ Carole said.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I live at the bottom.’
The posh bit. Not like her end of Falcy, with broken glass from the bus shelter, and sick in the road after they’d been to the Club and to the Chinese.
‘Tell you what,’ she said, ‘if you come with me and help me unload my shopping. I’ll give you a lift home. I’d be very grateful.’
‘Go on Leanne,’ Carole said and smiled at the woman, ‘you’ll get home much quicker, and it’s a horrible night. I’ll cash up for you.’
She had to interfere.
She sucked her teeth at Carole to tell her what she thought. Carole looked as if she’d bitten her tongue.
‘I’ll get my coat.’
When she came back down the woman had pulled the two trolleys to the doors. She took hold of one and pushed it outside. The woman followed with hers; she couldn’t make it do what she wanted and she went right into a puddle. Her feet were soaked.
They loaded the bags into the car. Then they got in. It had leather seats. The woman offered her a mint.
‘No thanks, my Mum says I shouldn’t accept sweeties from strangers.’
The woman raised her eyebrows, but didn’t say anything and drove off fast.
She didn’t know teachers were like that, beating other cars at the lights. Showing off.
They drove along the dual carriageway.
‘That gives me the creeps.’
The woman said, ‘What does?’
‘That old church. It’s scary.’
‘It shouldn’t be,’ she said, ‘it should be really peaceful. I expect it’s all the films you’ve seen.’
The woman was sort of smiling again while she said this. What did she know about what films she’d seen?
She turned up the hill to the estate and stopped outside one of the big houses. There was a Christmas tree in the front window covered with silver balls and silver tinsel.
They lifted the bags from the back seat. The woman started carrying them to the front door.
She followed, carrying another lot.
The tree was shining from the street lamp.
‘You want to know why I’m working at Asda? Because teachers like you got me chucked out of school.’
That was in January. The school said they’d ‘overlook the behaviour at the concert’ and ‘the other incidents’, and would let her and Tanya ‘back in for a fresh start’.
Then Shelley Keefe said that about her mum leaving.
And they said, the head of Year Eleven and the Head, they said hitting Shelley was ‘the last straw’.
But it was Shelley’s fault.
She stood behind the woman handing her the bags.
‘Didn’t you get to take your GCSE’s?’
The woman was dumping the bags in the hall, not looking at Leanne.
‘Yeah, but it wasn’t any good. I couldn’t do them properly on my own with just some stupid supply teacher coming to see me a few hours a week.’
She straightened up. ‘I’ll take you home now.’
‘I don’t want your crappy lift.’
She raised her eyebrows again. Then she went in and shut the door. Locked it, bolted it. The security chain rattled. Closed the curtains on either side of the Christmas tree.
She could see a pile of rocks like big potatoes by the side of the path.
‘I don’t want to run an old people’s home now.’
She picked up a rock and threw it at the tree. But the window didn’t break.
Caroline Moir was born in Africa and has lived and worked in South America, North America, Europe and the Middle East.She gained an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2007, and has published stories in Muse, Transmission, and BRAND.
Her first novel, Jemillia, is set in an arid future in the New Forest, and explores the effect upon the eponymous protagonist of her belief that she may be a clone. Currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, Caroline is writing her second novel, Brockenspectre.