“Hey, Paula, it’s your mum!” I shouted. The fucking state of that, I thought. I was looking at the wreck cross the car park. The wreck was Gertrude the Whore who should really be dead by now. Holy moly, what a mess! It was windy out there and she was battling it in her struggle to get to the shop. The battle was evenly poised on a knife edge. It was unclear who would win, nature or the bundle of clothes and bones. “Your mum!” I said again pointing outside. Paula glanced outside and nodded. She thought I’d done a good one. “Fuck me, she’s clinging on to life, eh?” If I’d have been closer to Paula I would have insisted on a high-five but I was at the other end of the shop and instead I just gazed out. “Why don’t you go and kiss her?” I asked. “After all, she is your mum!” After I said that I tried to remember which one of Paula’s parents had cancer. It was her dad, I thought, so what’d I’d said was okay.
I heard Enrique’s door open. “Hey, Enrique!” I shouted. I turned and saw he was counting wine. He had his clipboard. “Your mum’s outside,” I said.
Enrique turned. “Mi mama?” He asked.
“Yeah, she’s co-“
“Mama!” Shouted Enrique, his face was worrying, his whole body language became worrying. He started squeaking. He was freaking out. He looked around and threw down the clipboard and dashed to the window.
“Nah, I’m only joking,” I said as he dashed past.
“Mama?” Enrique said looking out of the window.
“No,” I replied.
“Where mama?” He asked.
“It’s… nah, I was joking,” I told his back. Gertrude the Whore came in, she’d won! In your face nature. “‘Sup, Gert?” I asked but I said it quietly and into my shoulder so she wouldn’t hear me. There’s something about Nazis, even incredibly old ones, that frightens me. Gertrude still seemed to be fighting an invisible force as she moved around the shop. She was ancient. Enrique was still looking outside and I didn’t know what to say to him. I looked at Paula, she was looking at Enrique and then she looked at me and I did that face where you screw up your chin and it makes your neck go all tight and your mouth go like an upside-down smile. The ‘uh-oh’ face.
Enrique turned and looked at me and I just shook my head slowly. I mean, ‘no’ was the only message I could convey to him. Whatever he thought, whatever was going through his mind – no. Enrique’s shoulders slumped and he walked back towards his fallen clipboard.
“I didn’t even say anything,” I lied as he passed but I made a mental note that Enrique flips out if he thinks his mum’s outside. Could have fun with that and then Gertrude was before me. She somehow hauled two six packs of cat food which were dangling at the end of each noodle arm up onto the counter. She did this by using whatever core strength she had rather than any muscles that may still cling limpet-like to her arm bones. I think she also went up on tip toes. Her arms didn’t bend but she got the cat food onto the counter, fair play to her.
I scanned the cat food easily. For me the cans weren’t heavy. I am strong and when I looked at Gertrude and told her the price I hoped I’d never get like that. There was no point to her. She was too old. It was ridiculous.
Because she was still probably female it took her a while to produce payment. I waited patiently as she rummaged in the pockets of her long coat but instead of producing her big fat juicy credit card Gertrude produced a selection of buttons, green Waitrose tokens and shells mixed with a few coins. The coins had that green rust on them. She flung them onto the counter and some bounced right over and hit my feet. I stood back and looked down and then I looked at Gertrude. She was gasping, licking her gums and leaning an elbow on the counter for balance. I looked at the medium of exchange she had produced and back to Gertrude. Gertrude was really leaning on the counter and smacking her chops and so I picked up what was on the floor and swept what was on the counter into a pile. I picked out two twenty pence pieces. The rest wasn’t even money. Not even close.
“Erm,” I said. Gertrude muttered something in what could have been German, but not to me, she was just muttering. “This isn’t…” Gertrude turned her head to me. “This isn’t… where’s your card?” I asked.
“They take it,” She said, waving a hand and then twisted and started leaning her other elbow on the counter, her first one must’ve got tired. She was now twisted more towards Enrique. She was breathing like our old dog was before we got him put down.
“Well, this isn’t enough,” I said and chuckled. Gertrude looked down on the pile on the counter.
“Ja, that’s enough,” she said.
“No, it’s not… it’s not money,” I said. I picked up a shell. “This isn’t money,” I said. “Not here.” I looked through the pile. I didn’t want to touch it so used the end of my pen. “I don’t even know what that is,” I said pointing at an ominous lump, “it’s not money though.”
Gertrude closed her eyes and her breathing slowed and I thought she died. I thought about shaking her shoulder but I didn’t have to, she didn’t die, or maybe she tried and Hell wouldn’t take her. She opened her eyes.
“I have no more, please,” she said, “take the money.”
“Yeah, I would but it’s not money, that’s the problem.”
“Bitte,” said Gertrude which is the German for please.
“I… Enrique!” I said. Enrique came over, I noticed it looked like he’d been crying and… fuck! “Enrique, this isn’t money, right?” I asked him pointing at the pile of not money on the counter.
Enrique looked at it for too long but he finally came up with the correct answer. “No, s’not money,” he said.
“It’s not money,” I told Gertrude. Enrique wandered off.
“You want me to beg?” Asked Gertrude.
“No, I really don’t, where’s all your money?”
“You want me to get down on my knees and beg?” She asked. As if you could? I thought but having thought that she was now standing up straight. Strength seemed to be returning to her. Like she’d just eaten a can of spinach.
“I just… you need money,” I told her.
“That is all my money. All my money is there for you.”
“It’s, like, sixty pence. Forty actually. Forty-seven pence. You need, like, eight pounds.”
“Give me cat food,” She said. Strength had returned to her face. She had bones under that skin that gave her face definition.
“I can’t,” I said. I could’ve but I didn’t want to. She didn’t give me all her stuff. What goes around, comes around.
“Give me cat food,” she hissed.
“No,” I replied. “You still got the big hou-“
“I caress you!” She shouted.
“You caress me?”
“I caress you!”
“What?” I asked, chuckling, but I tried not to look disgusted. I would not hit that.
“I cur-rerse you.”
“She’s cursing you!” Shouted the ever helpful Paula.
“Curse?” I asked Gertrude.
“Ja, I currrrrrrsess you.”
“Why?” I asked, hurt, but Gertrude didn’t answer me, she mumbled more shit in German or whatever. It was some kind of incantation that rose in volume. She wasn’t even German.
“Oi!” I said trying to stop her but it didn’t work. When she finished Gertrude started laughing. She laughed for ages. I tried to join in and laugh along with her but she was laughing for too long. She finished laughing and looked at me. She was standing bolt-upright. She nodded at me through narrowed eyes.
“S’cuse me,” said Enrique, tapping Gertrude gently on the shoulder. “Chu no curse me, h’okay?”
“No, you’re cool,” said Gertrude. She then turned back to me, “you will be on your knees begging me!” She warned and I saw her once dead eyes were now blazing. Gertrude spat on the floor and then marched out. Actually marched. Outside the wind didn’t seem to even touch her. I watched her go. We all watched her go.
“Busted!” Shouted Paula after a while. “Your life’s fucked now! Cursed!” She added, helpfully. I tried to look calm but the mad old woman had shaken me up.
“Bah, I bet I won’t be able tell the difference,” I replied, feeling sorry for myself. I tried to chuckle but couldn’t.