Monday, May 12, 2008

Small Talk, Big Issues

(published '8th Issue' 1990)

The girl turned out to be seventeen, but she looked younger to me. She was working in a bread shop until her first University term began in October.

I had been staring meaningfully for days now, ever since first spotting her behind the crusty loaves and jam doughnuts. However, she had not met my eyes fully with hers, until one day I attempted small talk with her. I think it must have been on the subject of the amount of traffic in the High Street, since I always avoided mentioning the weather to anybody. In fact, I always think that people who hang a conversation on whether the sun is shining or not, are cheating somewhat. That’s mainly because, I suppose, the sun is ALWAYS either shining or not shining. Come to think of it, the sun is always shining, whether it’s behind cloud or not (or even when it’s night time).

She merely smiled half-heartedly and plopped the macaroons one by one into the brown bag, crunching up the saw-edged opening into a tight fuse of paper.

I think I must have bought more bread and its accessories that holiday than I would eat for the rest of the year. Eventually, she responded to my prattle with a willingness I would never have previously dared to expect. Her voice was as pretty as her face, although I do think it was the way that the bakery overall made her body strangely sexless which attracted me most. It was as if she had no pretensions to flaunt her charms, keeping them hidden like a surprise parcel for Christmas. I suppose she had no choice really, since all the girls in the shop had to wear such overalls. But the others seemed to be more careless with their top button or had bigger busts anyway as a result of nature rather than anything else.

I couldn’t see much of their legs behind the high counter, so comparison could not be made with my favourite in this regard.

One thing I could not explain was the fact that whatever time of day I arrived to buy bread, however long the queue was when I arrived and the speed it went through dependent on its demands, I was ALWAYS served by my favourite. She ALWAYS seemed to be the one who had just finished serving another customer when it became my turn. It was not intentional on her part, nor mine for that matter (how could it have been?), but this is what ALWAYS happened - without exception. And I visited the bread shop twice a day for a fortnight.

When my stay in the area was fast approaching its end (a particularly sunny one as it turned out to be, spending most of my free time lying on the beach), I decided I would need to pluck up enough courage to ask her out.

I had debated whether to wait until the bread shop closed of an evening and follow her home. Then, at least, I would be afforded a glimpse of her without her overall, thus, perhaps, releasing me from my obligation to ask her out. Whatever the reason, I did NOT want to tarnish her innocence. That was the last thing I wanted. Still is.

In any event, I did ask her out and she said yes straightaway, filling me with wordless excitement and surprise. During our little chats over the bread exchange, we had never reached anything more personal than that she was going to University in October (so she must have been at least seventeen, I suppose) and that I was on holiday, whiling away fourteen days until work started again. I don’t suppose she guessed how old I was.

Of course, she never turned up for our date. And on the Saturday, the last shopping day for me in the area, she was not to be seen behind the counter. I asked after her, but one of the brazen hussies merely shrugged and said she was off sick.

I was off sick, too, the first few days after my holiday. The doctor said it was constipation resulting from too much starch and carbohydrates, next to no green things and lack of exercise.

As far as my emotions were concerned, they were left relatively unscarred, since, if I am honest, I had been relieved she did not turn up for the assignation. I know she exists somewhere or other on the face of the Earth, even if I never see her again. And because of our relative ages, that will be for at least as long as I shall live. The thought unaccountably gives me enormous pleasure.

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