I sat there for a moment on Enrique’s couch not believing what I’d just read. I gently slapped my chest a few times. There was a lot more but I’d read enough. I knew enough. I knew too much. I looked around the shit-hole that had been Enrique’s half of my garage and had to blink hard. I looked at where his Belling oven had been, Jesus. I looked at where the neatly arranged jars had been. They were no doubt now neatly arranged in one of the boxes. The poor fucker. What the hell would his dad think if he saw this? I put the lid back on the box and pushed it between my feet and right under the couch. The floor was spotless. I felt like a thief and it wasn’t a nice feeling. I felt dishonest. I felt like I’d stolen part of Enrique so after a few deep breaths I ran to work.
On the way I thought about fate. If those Branchage dicks hadn’t shown up I wouldn’t have been looking for an extension lead and I wouldn’t have found Enrique’s box and I wouldn’t have known what I now knew. I’d be able to steal the sixty pounds in about three days, to cover the fine, there was no problem there, it was just…
I’d planned to ruin his life even more. That had been my intention, the sole reason for holding an Ice Cream Social.
Could I be any more of a dick? I asked myself as I ran, closing my eyes but not crashing. Well, no more. I fucking love Enrique. I do. I fucking love Enrique, I told myself and I wanted to hug him as soon as I saw him but I didn’t. It was weird, I had so much emotion inside me I couldn’t even look at him.
I stepped into the shop and saw him and immediately turned away. I suddenly didn’t want to talk to him. Suddenly I’d rather have been doing anything but be near him. I stood in the doorway and looked down to Paula. Paula was talking to Steve and Enrique was talking to me and I just held up my hand, without looking at him, and started down the aisle.
Enrique was following me. He was asking me where I’d been and I closed my eyes and tripped.
Like when everything goes wrong. Like when you’ve got a cold and your hair suddenly tickles your face. Everything went wrong, was compounded, and I really tripped and the adrenaline coupled with everything was too much. I looked down at what had tripped me and then Enrique was on me.
“Where chu been, man?”
“I had to cut my hedges.”
“Some guy he phone fo-.”
“That was me. I phoned you up.”
“Why chu no at work?”
“I had to cut them.”
“Chu no just come in when chu wan’!” Said Enrique looking serious. “Dis,” he said and I looked at him. He gestured to the shop. “Dis you idea.”
I looked around the shop. Somebody had moved the Slush Puppie machine over nearer the ice-cream cabinet, as per my instructions, to make the Ice Cream Social a night to remember.
“I know,” I said.
“Chu come in two how-wers late?”
“I’m here now,” I said. I wanted to place a hand on Enrique’s shoulder.
“S’not good enough man. S’ba fo Steve to see dis.”
“Fuck Steve,” I said.
“Chu can’t do dis. Chu work here,” said Enrique and he pointed at me.
“You don’t, why don’t you go now?” I asked him.
“Chu no get paid.”
“I no get paid?”
“No, no for two how-wers.”
“I’m getting paid,” I told him. “And you owe me sixty pounds.”
“Where’s my extension lead?” I asked and then looked down at my feet and chuckled. There was my extension lead. I kicked at it. “I got fined because you took that. I was fucking looking for that. That’s where I’ve been.”
“Chu tell me to bring.”
“Fuck off I did!”
“Chu fuckin’ did.”
“Chesterday chu say.”
I just squinted at Enrique and shook my head. What he was saying was absolutely preposterous.
“You did,” shouted Paula and I continued squinting and shaking my head but turned my squinting, shaking head to her before turning my squinting and shaking head back to Enrique.
“You two are nuts.”
“No pay for yo for two how-wers.”
“I was cutting the hedges!” I said and as I said it I realised it wasn’t a great excuse for not going to work. It had seemed like a fair excuse before I’d said it – because it was a kind of work – but when it came out it wasn’t. And I hadn’t even done it, I’d just read Enrique’s life story so when he met my excuse with a confused face I was furious. I looked at him. He meant it. “Don’t touch my stuff.” I told him.
“Chu crazy, chu gotta be careful, man!” Said Enrique.
“Is that a threat?”
“You’re the big boss now? Smelly?” I stared at Enrique’s face as it twitched. Particularly his moustache.
“Chu fucking prick, man,” he said. I am! He’s right! “Work!” He said pointing to the floor and then turned and marched off past the Slush Puppie machine that he probably moved on his own.
“You don’t…” I said after him. He didn’t hear, I don’t think. I looked over at Paula. “I didn’t tell him to take my fucking extension lead, you silly cow.”
“Nah. I’d remember that. Hey, did you learn to roller-skate as per my instructions?”
“Yeah,” she laughed, and, just by the way she laughed, I suspected she hadn’t and then I put a mat over the extension lead so nobody else would have a nice trip.
The Slush Puppie machine next to the ice-cream cabinet looked great, even better than I imagined it would. Sure, it blocked off half of the end of the aisle but it was worth it. People noticed it. A man carrying his white paper bags from Paula’s counter to mine really banged into it and that gave me the opportunity to invite him.
“You coming tonight?” I asked as he looked at the Slush Puppie machine with confusion and no little anger.
“Coming? Tonight?” I pointed at the blank back of the poster in the window. “Ice Cream Social.”
“Half price Slush Puppies and Twisters!”
“No!” Shouted Enrique from the drinks aisle.
“They are,” I told the man quietly and rang in his sausage rolls. “Tell your buddies.”
The man left and I found Enrique. “Half price, yeah?”
“No, no, no, no,” he replied, waving his finger but not looking. He was counting something on the shelves. I looked at what he was counting. Bottles.
“It’s a loss leader, this is marketing 101. They’ll end up spending more.”
“Don’t you even know that?”
“No! S’full price.”
“Who’s going to buy Slush Puppies in the night? In fucking October?!”
“Don’t be a dick.”
“Hey! Chu say,” Enrique turned to me and dropped his clipboard to his side. I hate it when he tells me what I said. Because he’s foreign it always surprises me slightly that he remembers things. I expect him to forget things I tell him in English pretty much instantly. He doesn’t though. “Chu say we sell a lot of Sloosh Poppy.”
“For full price, no hav price.”
“Well… can we give away snacks?”
“Out of date snacks?”
“This is going to be great, isn’t it?” I said and headed for the stock room. My big fucking production ruined and then, just as I was at my lowest, Paula lifted my mood. I looked over at her and she was wobbling about. Arms flailing, going backwards. She grabbed the counter. Could it be?
“Oh, it’s so hard to stand still in roller-skates!” She sighed and I went over to her. I was smiling as I leant over the hot food counter and looked down at her feet that were shod in her normal shoes.
“That’s really funny!” I said and then walked back to the stock room and looked around for anything that looked out of date. Everything looked out of date. I looked at the jacket I’d commissioned that was hanging on the wall. It was an American style college jacket. Brown with yellow sleeves and 58 on the front. I took it down, slid it off the hanger then slid my arms into it. I smoothed down the front with my hands. I felt better. I was in the mood again. And I knew exactly what would get the other two fired up. I wasn’t going to ruin their lives, I’d decided that, but we were still going to party.
My plan was to do a running slide. I’d run out of the stock room and then try and slide, upright, as far as I could along the floor. That seemed like a Ice Cream Social kinda thing to do. That would get everybody in the right frame of mind. I took a run at the door but there wasn’t much room for a run up and I stopped at the door, nearly falling into it. I went back and kicked a box out of the way so I could get a longer run up. I’d have to run and also open the door without losing too much speed so I walked over to the door. I tried the handle and went through my actions. A slow-motion practise.
Run, grab the handle and turn it and open it, in one movement and then speed up and then stop my legs moving and slide.
I ran at the door and grabbed the handle and it didn’t turn first time but it did the second time and opened and I was through the door but only at just above walking speed. I stopped. Nope. No momentum at all. Paula laughed.
“I like it,” I told her. “I think it looks cool.” Enrique, who I would have slid right into had I managed to slide about ten metres, nodded at me. “Put yours on.”
Nobody turned up that night. Fucking Carol. I’m done with Carol. She didn’t know I’d called off my plan. Steve finished at five and didn’t want to stay. At nine Enrique turned the lights off and we sat on the floor in front of the Slush Puppie machine. Our backs against my counter. Me in the middle. The Slush Puppie machine lit up. I didn’t know it did that. We watched it, our faces bathed in its half blue and half red glow as we chatted.
“And you, Enrique. How did even get here? I mean, why did you come here?” I asked him. I spotted a piece of paper under the rack and kneeling forward I grabbed it. It was the flier that Carol and her sausage fingers had used to try to prise up a dropped coin with. Moon Trip. I scrunched it up and threw it back over the counter.
“Yeah, Jersey. From Colombia.”
“Well, I come…” He began. I looked at Paula’s legs stretched out straight in front of her. The cheerleader skirt did her no favours, didn’t think that was possible. She kept flattening it. “I come here because in Colombia I was ha bad keed. Always fighting, chu know? Playink out, chu know, In trooble or playing football and es better for me to get away.”
“You can’t play football!”
“Si, si, I good, maybe I play for Colombia youth.”
“No shit,” I said and smiled. “What about your parents? And you had friends?”
“Friends? Si, many friends. Parents fine. All fine.”
“You don’t miss them?”
I was glad Enrique was lying.
“Will you ever go back?”
“Si, h’maybe nes year.”
“You’ll miss this, though, yeah? The shop?”
“I come up, s’no problem.”
The whole shop lit up in bright white halogen light for a moment as Wellington’s truck pulled into the car park. With some effort Paula got to her feet. “Well, see ya later alligators!” She almost sung.
“You’ll miss me, right?”
“I can see your fanny.” She held the back of her skirt to her legs. I turned to Enrique. “I just saw her fanny,” I told him. Enrique nodded while looking up at Paula. He looked weirdly handsome when lit by a Slush Puppie machine. I didn’t really see her fanny, it was too dark. I just said I did.