Standing in Shop Doorways
Seems like folks turn into things
That they’d never want
The only thing to live for
‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’ ~ Tom Waits
My horoscope says a ‘new me’ is emerging, whatever that means. It also says I should be more optimistic but prepare for disappointment. I sigh and drop the magazine into the waste paper basket. It’s so quiet today; hardly anyone has been into the shop all morning. I tap my fingers on the counter and stare at the door, with its cutesy sign and little bell. It really needs repainting, I think. I’ll put it on my to do list.
I’ve been here three years now. I used to think it was an ideal location for a toy shop. At least, I did until about a year ago, when the place across the road reopened. The building had been empty since I moved in and I was hoping for a bookshop, or something selling health food and homeopathic remedies. But no, it had to be a betting shop. That wasn’t too bad really, not on its own, but a couple of months later the so-called ‘top class’ sauna opened next to it, boasting massage and ‘extras’. So here I was, trying to sell teddy bears and robot dogs, while gamblers and perverts skulked around opposite.
I’ve begun to recognise some of them as regulars. There’s the chain smoking dolescum who sit on the pavement every afternoon, drinking cans of cheap lager and picking out horses from the newspaper. The woman in the posh frocks – never the same one twice – who places a bet every Friday. The various businessmen who creep in and out of the sauna, always on the alert in case in they see someone they know, never quite able to conceal the guilt in their eyes.
Mothers who have been coming into the shop since I first opened tut and ask if anything can be done. The children don’t really notice (or if they do, they pretend not to), not with the displays I put in the window. I arrange a new one every month; at the moment it’s an eighties theme which is attracting a lot of students and people looking for kitschy gifts.
At midday a young girl comes into the shop. She is around ten or eleven and looks very nervous.
‘Hello, can I help you?’ I smile encouragingly. She’s one of the kids from that swanky private school, she must have loads of pocket money.
‘I’m not sure. I found this. I was wondering if it might have come from here.’
She produces a Magic 8 Ball from her bag and holds it out to me.
‘Careful,’ she says as I reach out for it, and places it very gingerly in my hand, as though it is a bomb that’s about the go off. She glances around, like she is worried someone might be listening in, then looks at me very seriously.
‘I think it’s cursed.’
‘Yeah, like it makes people do things, bad things, sends them mad.’ She frowns and shakes her head. ‘No, I don’t mean cursed. More like possessed.’
‘By the devil?’
‘Maybe. Or some kind of demon or evil spirit anyway.’
‘I see. Well, I do sell these things so it’s very possible it came from here. What would you like me to do with it?’
‘Could you … destroy it?’
‘Sure. If that’s what you want.’
‘No problem. You leave it with me.’
‘Thank you.’ She gives me a relieved smile, then lingers in the doorway for a moment before returning to buy a Bagpuss keychain and a slinky. I tell her not to be late for school and she hurries off, waving through the window as she passes.
I throw the Magic 8 Ball into a drawer underneath the counter – on top of a load of other stuff I haven’t gotten around to throwing out yet – and shut up shop for lunch. I’d have put it in the display but I’ve already got a whole pile of the things and I’m afraid another one might topple the whole lot over.
When I’ve locked up I go to the cafe around the corner for some soup and a roll. I pick up a magazine someone has left on the table and turn to the horoscopes. This one says I have many admirers and should expect a blast from the past. Honestly, why do I even bother? I give up on the magazine and finish my lunch, then order a cup of tea and watch people walking past outside. It’s starting to rain quite heavily so when I’ve finished my tea I go and pay at the counter, then hurry back to the shop. The rain seems to send people inside and I am busy for the rest of the afternoon, locking up later than usual.
I am just pulling the shutters down when I see a man getting out of a car across the road. There is something very familiar about him and when he turns our eyes meet. He looks surprised, which makes me think he must know me, but I can’t place him. He looks in the direction of the two buildings opposite, then back at me. He examines his watch and makes a show of having been expecting to meet someone who has not shown up. Then he gets back into his car and drives off.
It’s only when I get home that I realise where I know him from. When the posh school opened I was invited to give a talk (I was working for a big toy company at the time, a job I hated) and he had introduced me to the class. I remember his friendly manner, and the proudness in his voice whenenever he mentioned his family. When we first met he told me his own children were pupils at the school, and how embarrassed his little girl was to be the daughter of the headmaster. She had been sitting on the front row, her eyes focused firmly on the floor. That was four years ago, so she’d have been around six or seven years old. I remember, I went round the class and asked them all what their favourite toy was and what they wanted to be when they grew up. When it was her turn she simply smiled shyly and pointed to a cuddly pink cat on her desk.
‘I love Bagpuss too,’ I whispered, then I stood up straight and faced the class. ‘My name is Sarah,’ I told them, ‘and when I grow I want to own my own toy shop.’