Chain of Command

I watched her from a distance as she cut the ends off of the sausage rolls. The hot food counter is at the other end of the shop but there is a clear line of sight from the till down the grocery item aisle, right to the place where Paula usually stands.

I often think about bowling a hand grenade down that aisle.

I say Paula usually stands there but she doesn’t, I’m lying again, she’s supposed to stand there but seven times out of ten some knob will come in for a sausage roll or a cup of tea and Paula won’t be there. She’ll be out the back smoking or on the toilet. She goes to the toilet too much and I think she has diabetes. It messes up the whole chain of command if she’s not there and a person comes in for hot food. I’ll stare at the back of the idiot waiting to be served for as long I can. I tell myself, fuck it, let them wait for her to come back, but of course my work ethic kicks in and I crack and walk all the way across the shop and serve the person and then together we have to walk back to the counter where I originated from, so that they can pay for their greasy shit that will kill them, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Paula was at her station and I went down to see her. I sauntered down there looking at the shelves and nodding and then I stood at the end. Next to the bread.

“How did it go?” She asked.

“What?”

“Your big date?”

“Oh fucking Hell, don’t ask. It was a disaster. She’s mental.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really, and she’s ugly. Don’t know what I was thinking.” I looked at Paula and saw she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking past me and smiling. I closed my eyes and held them closed. “She’s behind me, isn’t she?” I asked then opened my eyes. Paula was still looking past me and smiling. Yup, Carol was standing behind me. Who else would Paula smile at? I turned around and saw Marcel down by the front door. I looked back at Paula. “What?”

“It’s his birthday.”

“So?” I screwed my face up a bit.

Marcel is beneath even Paula. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with Marcel but there’s something genetic. He’s too small. He’s not a dwarf because that would be cool. He looks more like somebody who should be further away than they are. He’s just the wrong scale and it’s jarring. I hate playing with my kids when they play with their toy cars because they don’t care about scale. They’ll happily race a Hotwheels car against a much larger scale toy vehicle and that stresses me out. To me scale is important and just looking at Marcel makes me uneasy. He’s just the wrong fucking dimensions. He has longish golden hair but it’s very thin and you can see his scalp all over as if he just hasn’t got enough hair, it’s not dense enough. I reckon it’s been like that since he was born. Yeah, it’s like baby hair. He’s always smiling and he has eyes like ping-pong balls and drives a Kia. They stick out a tad too far, his eyes, like a Russian’s eyes, but Marcel is from France and I’ve said about three words to him in my whole life.

“Marcel!” Shouted Paula and waved. I nodded at him.

“Marcel Marcel!” exclaimed Enrique who was now at the front with his arms spread wide. I think Enrique thinks that that mime guy was called Marcel Marcel and that’s why he calls Marcel, Marcel Marcel. Or maybe there’s some other really stupid reason. I don’t care. I watched Enrique hug Marcel. I was going to joke about this massive overreaction to somebody simply having a birthday to Paula but she scampered past me. She scampered like a woman from the Wild West, like she should have been wearing a bonnet. She hugged Marcel too creating what can best be described as a group hug. I thought about going to join them. I wasn’t going to hug Marcel simply for having a birthday but I wouldn’t be at the wrong end of the shop on my own.

Before I could follow them a workman came in. He marched in my direction. “Sausage roll and a tea,” he said to me. Paula was still chatting to Marcel. Enrique was moonwalking in circles and laughing and so I got the man his sausage roll and his tea, even though that’s not my job. Walking down to the front of the shop and to the tills the workman began to slurp his tea, even before he’d paid for it. Asshole.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” I told Paula as I made a big deal about walking around her. As the workman was paying he asked me if I’d found a watch. “A watch?” I responded trying to make my arms shorter and my sleeves longer. That took a lot of concentration. Like the concentration I imagine is required to control a fake robot limb soldiers sometimes have. Lucky it was winter or I’d be wearing a polo-shirt and dead.

“I lost it somewhere.”

“Hmmmm,” I said and bent down behind the counter and removed his watch. I then stood up straight. I put the watch on the counter. “This?”

“Yeah! Thank fuck,” said the workman surveying his watch then putting it on. He had big muscle-bound Pop-Eye wrists. The workman was happy and gave me five pounds for my honesty and then he left. The prick. Nothing good ever happens to me.

The group hugging had stopped. Marcel was back outside where he should be and Paula had gone to the toilet.

That night I burst in drunk. I’d drunk a load of gin before heading over to the garage. They’d asked me if I wanted to go and I said probably not because I could tell they didn’t really want me to go and I had better things to do, but fuck it, I went, it’s my garage.

Details are sketchy.

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