I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Schlock of ages

 Why no Tiger Rolls?
Short story: 1148 words

The supermarket was low and long, an overblown ranch. In Mexico a hacienda, perhaps, home to a Hollywood stereotype, pudgy, bald but with pendulous sideburns, clad in an embroidered satin waistcoat, nicknamed El Gordo, given to pointless murder and, when finally gunned down, dying with a lurid passage from the Mass on his lips.

If you want stereotypes they’re on sale here, he thought: the chops juicy, the spinach fresh, the wine supple and the customers variegated. I am an old man of course and may eventually fall down dead on this worn linoleum. But nobody should expect

Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam

since God’s glory is not to be found in Dairy Products or Wine and Spirits. Glory is manifest in an ability to buy all we need in one self-shriving act and then, absolved, return home and re-commit the same sin of running out of supplies. Here we are forgiven, supplicants at the Church of Supply And Demand.

His wife, presently having her perm re-permed, had written out a shopping list, items gathered into groups which would track his geographical progress from Newspapers/Magazines to impulse Tic-Tac at the check-out. Easy-peasy when it came to fruit and vegetables set out in the grubby area immediately ahead, or his lunchtime pain au raisin on healthful wooden shelves just beyond. But even she, his wife, mistress of all recondite skills in retailing, could not say with certainty where crushed chili paste might be found or whether table napkins were cloistered with paper towels or somewhere else completely unexpected. But then she had no need; she would ask an employee. He, a man, believed asking for advice showed lack of moral fibre and was prepared to waste angry minutes shuffling down aisles.

Due to inexplicable marketing ebb and flow, there were no satsumas and he had to make do with unspecific Easy Peelers, citrus yes, but members of what genre? More particularly: with or without pips? Once he had sighed noisily at this and a shelf-stacker wearing a green fleece labelled Fruit & Veg had turned to him

“Looking for sats?” F&V asked.

“Why do they just disappear?”

“Never understood that myself. I like ‘em best.” Then, as if it explained everything, added, “They always have ‘em for Christmas.”

To occupy the toe of the Christmas stocking, he supposed. F&V had been much younger and he had enjoyed this brief moment of male communion.

The Tiger Rolls slot on the wooden shelving was empty. He’d only discovered Tiger Rolls a month or two ago; liked their cheesy flavour and their chewiness which didn’t, however, threaten his loosely mounted canines. Behind the shelving men moved back and forward in the bakery with detached professionalism. All wore white trilbies, adding to their formality. There was no way he would interrupt their liturgical procedures.

Glancing again at his list he was irritated to find he’d jumped the sequence, should have started in the pharmacy. He paused before a sort of horizontal library of toothpaste cartons, trying to control a sudden outburst of horror. He’d often sworn to himself he wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t compare present-day prices with those of his youth, it was a sign of feeble old age. All the same, a fiver for toothpaste...! He’d worked for four years before his pay packet topped that. His grandfather, who’d relished such comparisons, had said toothpaste was a luxury; soot did the job. He shuddered at the memory.

He passed by Meat, careful not to notice even more extreme prices. They needed a small joint for the weekend but this fell outside his remit. His wife trusted him only so far; certainly not enough to allow him free rein for this most specialised form of purchasing. She would pop in, direct from the salon.

Tinned, processed marrowfat peas weren’t anywhere close to the shelves of baked beans – a long shot he’d guessed at, based on similarities of shape. And being tinned. Hurrying round the aisle end he bumped (gently) into Vera whom he had not noticed and would, desperately, have tried to avoid. Vera was said to be of great age (though probably no older than him), willowy, with hair so brilliantly white it looked artificial.  Nothing wrong with Vera who was demonstrably pretty and talked pleasantly. The trouble was she had also started to talk vaguely and he, superstitiously, now looked on Alzheimers as infectious.

It took her over an hour to do her shopping, she said; she regularly forgot which aisles she’d visited. “So I put another packet of Rich Teas into my trolley and find there’s one already nestling. I feel such a fool.”

Just the sort of information he didn’t need; behaviour that carried proof of mental decay.

“Rich Teas? Do they still sell them?” he asked, and that was another vow he’d broken; assuming things he’d eaten as a child would no longer be available. That they’d be too old-fashioned.

Vera smiled flirtatiously. “Of course they sell them. What else would old biddies like me nibble with their morning cuppa?”

It was remarkable that pretty Vera still had confidence enough to refer to herself as an old biddy. He stared at her slender aristocratic nose and felt tiny stirrings. Officially he pretended to be “past all that” but secretly he was glad it could still happen. Here too, in the most discouraging of environments, young people pushing past, older, fatter people supporting themselves with their trolleys.

It seemed pretty Vera wasn’t vague about everything. “Don’t you ever have a bickie with your tea?” Her voice carried a hint of longing; her husband had died horribly of bowel cancer a decade ago.

“I’m a coffee man,” he said and immediately regretted his bluntness.

“Ah,” she said with commendable grace. “Too expensive for me.”

Feeling crass, even ugly, he wanted to amend what he’d said. To say she looked well perhaps even pretty. But he lacked the vocabulary and the necessary phrases, especially the lightness of tone. His goodbye was clumsy and fell away into silence.

At the check-out he inserted his credit-card upside down into the slot, a frequent blunder. The youth operating the till opened his mouth to tell him, then, instead, reached across, took out the card, and re-inserted it. At that moment he felt just as lonely as pretty Vera.

Outside, at the far end of the car park, he turned to look back at the supermarket. Much too large for a hacienda. But then these days, El Gordo whose peons had no doubt made him rich by rustling horses would no longer be Mexican, would live in an armed fortress in the jungles of Colombia and would carry a Glock rather than a Colt 45. Horses would have been a logistical challenge, drugs were mere industry.

Aging, ancient. Changing but only retrogressively. A host of disinclinations. His arm ached at a carrier bag heavier than he would have liked. His soul ached with embarrassment and futility at his inability to be nicer to Vera.


  1. Please, no, it can't be an auto-biography!

  2. Ellena: What's your beef? Even if we suppose it is autobiographical I can't help it if my life's duller than yours. I had in mind to write a story in which visits to the supermarket were the only social occasions in an old man's life. And to suggest that such socialising is all we need at extreme age. That got lost along the way.

    But is it any good? It was ostensibly written to entertain: me in the writing, you in the reading. Sounds as if it didn't. Next I'll do a story about Rasputin.

  3. Well I was entertained. For one thing it gave me a sudden desire to watch a spaghetti western. And then squirmily recalling embarrassing meetings with people you only just know and that futile conversation. Ageing is dreary - everybody of similar dotage to myself seems to talk about their illnesses and those of all the other people they know. Sometimes I announce that the subject is forbidden (in as jocular way as I can muster). One area where I, and your character ("your" deliberately ambiguous here) differ is in the reluctance or willingness to ask. I ham always willing having learnt from experience on my walks - better to ask and feel a bit daft than walk a mile in the wrong direction.

  4. Yes, entertaining. More in this vein please!

  5. I'm so afraid of saying much because it opens the door for lots of grammatical and other mistakes. Saying too little seems to be just as bad.
    Of course I enjoyed reading your story and understood what you are getting at but I did not think that you could describe grouchiness in so many ways unless you were a super crabby old biddy.

  6. Sir Hugh: Your willingness to "ask" is perfectly rational. But this is fiction, not an instruction manual. Besides which there is an element of truth in this; men frequently behave irrationally in supermarkets. A typical example being that they often choose baskets rather than trolleys and then struggle to manage an overloaded basket. For one reason or another women are less inclined to do this.

    Fed: What vein does this story belong to?

    Elaine: Never worry about grammatical errors; the only people likely to point them out are those who have grammar and nothing else. As I have said many times before you own far more than mere grammar; you have an individual tone of voice and a pawky (you'd better look that one up) view of the world. These combine to make your stuff irresistible.

    Actually I'm not any kind of biddy since biddies are feminine. But I'd willingly own up to "crabby old sunuva". Glad you enjoyed the story.

  7. Several 'laugh out loud' moments here Robbie; I read it twice and really enjoyed it. I had to explain my outbursts to Mr B2. My favourite giggle - "...believed asking for advice showed lack of moral fibre..."

    I wish it were a whole novel, I like this guy; or a play, it would be a fabulous play.

    A challenge for you. All of your male protagonists seem to be a bit down in the dumps, or worse for wear. Men are pretty fantastic you know, and should be celebrated ... a short story doing just that please.

    My name is Blonde Two and I am not a robot!

  8. Good brushwork, and very moving.

  9. Blonde Two: You have hit the nail on the head - a cliché if ever there was one. Landed a telling blow and the ref has already counted up to eight.

    Halfway through my first novel in which the lives of two engineers (one female one male) are interwoven I discovered that I wanted all subsequent leading characters to be female. Women are simply more interesting, have more potential. But someone had to a price for this: guess who? In the three subsequent novels many of the important male characters have an absolutely miserable time. Similarly, as you point out, in the short stories

    Encouraging me to invite all future fictional males to a party, have them don silly hats, is proof of your generosity of spirit. But I stand firm.

    Men don't deserve parties. Or at least not from me. I am doing my best to compensate for the sins of Adam and the way he got Eve to take the blame. I've got a long way to go and may lack the moral fibre to do the job.

    You didn't say whether Mr B2 giggled also. Why do I doubt he did?

    MikeM: Another candidate for the tombstone.

  10. Guess I'll save "Missed Calling" for myself.