On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…..groceries! No I wouldn’t be happy if that’s what my true love gave me either but this is a lovely story by Natalie Fergie called Groceries. Natalie is the author of the fantastic The Sewing Machine which I reviewed earlier this year. You can read my review of that here and find more info about it below.
I’ve worked at the store for years. It’s not a big place, but it’s convenient. We have parking at the front and we are open at the times the customers need us. I’m retired now, and widowed since my wife died last year. I live around the corner so I just cover the shifts other people can’t do, like school holidays or Christmas morning.
We have our regulars. They think they are anonymous but I know them, perhaps better than they know themselves. I don’t need the electronic purchase tracking the big stores use to tell me they are having a bad day, or falling in love.
Take Tom Harrison for example. His name is on his credit card. He arrived at the store tonight in his suit, tie loosened, straight from work and parked his car as close as possible to the entrance. It was clearly not a day for racking up the steps on that pedometer he has hooked onto his belt. He often drops in on the way home to pick up fish fingers or freesias but tonight he was later than usual and in rather a hurry. He walked up to the line of trolleys and I saw him put his hand in his pocket to check for change and then he cursed. I’m not going to tell you what he said, but it was definitely not something he’d want his young daughter to hear. Even though we are a small store, we have a few trolleys and you need to put a coin in the slot to release them from the metal snake. He didn’t have a pound coin, and the substitute disc instructing him to be “Level Crossing Aware” which was until last week attached to his keys had broken off, slipping uselessly into the gutter outside the shop. I saw it happen.
The automatic glass doors swooshed open. He came in and looked around for a basket; they are beside the food bank collection box. He lifted the top one and went over to the flowers. Our baskets are plastic, not the sort which get snagged in each other and make the customers cross. They are blue with the yellow company logo and a fold-down black handle and I can fit two stacks of them in beside the magazines, next to the sliding doors. It’s very important that they aren’t too close to the doors or they might fall over.
Mr Harrison went over to the flower display and picked out a Poinsettia in a scarlet pot. He didn’t look at the price. I was checking the sell-by date on the Fair Trade bananas and he walked past me in search of something on his list which was written on pink paper with green Christmas trees at the bottom.
He came back.
He knows me. I mean, he has seen me many times but he doesn’t know my name.
‘Red apples,’ he said. It was a statement, not a question.
‘I’m sorry, the red apples are finished,’ I told him.
‘Yes, the delivery was short this morning. We have green apples. Granny Smith and Golden Delicious.’
‘Right.’ He looked back at the piece of paper and picked up a net of satsumas instead and then he stood in front of the loose carrots, picking up three or four and studying them before dropping two particularly fat examples into his basket. After that he walked away from me, past the apples, out of the fruit and vegetable section and on to frozen foods. I saw him sliding back the cabinet lids and wincing as he reached to the bottom of the freezer for the ice cream. His wife buys two boxes of ibuprofen every week. I think he should go and see his GP but of course I can’t say that.
Vanilla, Chocolate and Caramel went into his basket.
Next he went to Household Goods and picked up a bag of tea-lights. Fifty of them.
And then it was on to the wine department.
He took much longer here and I was a bit worried about the state of the ice cream but he eventually stopped screwing up his eyes to read the labels on the ordinary wines and went for our own-brand Champagne which is on special offer.
He looked at the list again, and then scrumpled it up and dropped it into the basket.
By this time I was at the checkout because Janine was on her break so I rang it all through for him and asked him if he had found everything he needed. He smiled at me and said he was sure it would be fine, and that his daughter was going to be six years old tomorrow so Christmas was always a double celebration in their house.
I saw him getting into his car him from the doorway as I was collecting the baskets. It has a child seat in the back – just the one seat – and a dent in the passenger door.
The baskets are my final job of the day.
I check each one at the end of my shift and separate out those which need to be washed. You wouldn’t think a supermarket basket could get dirty, but a split bag of sugar on top of slowly defrosting frozen peas or a leaking carton of milk can make a real mess – and then they have to be properly scrubbed under hot water and turned upside down to dry overnight.
I keep the shopping lists. This one must have been transcribed, word for word.
6 candles for my cake.
A big carrot for Rudolf
Something nice for Mummy.
I think he did quite well.
A lovely story thank you Natalie. I think Mr Harrison did quite well too!
It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.
Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.
More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.
He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.
Natalie’s website and blog are at http://www.nataliefergie.com
You can also find her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/nataliesfergie
And on Instagram http://www.instagram.com/nataliesfergie