What triggers a story for you?
Certain incidents that occur as part of my daily life can often trigger a story. I find that an insensitive shopper, a kind deed or intriguing meeting will fire my imagination. Before I know it I’m tapping away on the computer oblivious to the world. Some people call it a blessing, others and obsession. I’m not sure what to call it but creative story writing is now an integral part of who I am and who I want to be.
I’ve always liked this quote by Livia Blackburne,
The following story was the result of a simple shopping trip to buy my husband a shirt. The lack of sales staff and the obvious apathy of any I did manage to find meant that I left the store seething with frustration. That night, by writing about the experience I managed to overcome my displeasure and ended up having a good laugh. It turned the whole disastrous shopping trip into sheer fun.
ARE YOU BEING SERVED?
‘That’s what you need,’ Helen says to John as she reads the morning paper. ‘Sports R U are having a sale. Look at all the shirts. Go on, have a look.’ She sticks the paper right under his nose. ‘All shapes and sizes.’
‘I’ve got plenty of shirts,’ John replies. Helen sighs as she visualizes the stack of pilling polos in the cupboard. Why was it always so difficult to get him to buy new clothes? And why, when he did manage to get something, did it have to hang in the wardrobe for months before it earned the right to become part of his life?’
Helen remembers when they first met. She’d been kept in the ‘closet’ for months before he finally took her home to meet his mother. He was always talking about this paragon of virtue and she’d tried everything she knew to arrange a meeting but he’d dug his heels in and wouldn’t budge. Finally, when she’d given up, out of the blue he pulled up outside a solid red brick house with manicured lawn. Helen argued that she wasn’t prepared, didn’t look her best but…to no avail.
‘You want to meet her don’t you?’ She’d patted her unruly tangle of curls into some sort of shape, quickly licked the corner of her hanki and tried to scrub a mark off the front of her old jeans. She felt like an overstuffed bear beside the spotless diminutive woman who opened the door.
‘Please call me Myrtle.’ the woman said.
Helen glances across the table. ‘We’re visiting your mother this Sunday,’
‘You need a new shirt.’
‘Why?’ She wants to yell at him, you ask me why? Your mother, stupid. Remember? The woman that ironed your underpants? That packed your bag for your honeymoon? Everything was placed so neatly in individual plastic bags. Sock bag, shoe bag, toilet bag. Your toothpaste had the bottom flattened and secured with a paperclip, and your hankies were like a stack of neatly packed sandwiches, labelled with J for John on the top.
‘Fifty percent off,’ she says. That should get to him. ‘They’re very cheap.’
‘Cheep, cheep, cheep,’ he mimics. ‘Stop sounding like a chicken. You know my size. You want me to have new shirts? You get them.’ He settles back in the couch, grabs the remote and flicks on the television. The tennis appears and Helen knows there is no chance of motivating him now.
Racks and racks of sports clothes meet her eye as she steps into the warehouse style store. Track pants, tee shirts, football gear, cricket whites all jumbled next to bins overflowing with socks, headbands and multi coloured underpants. There is even a section for frilly little tennis dresses that only a midget could wear. His mother would fit into those. Helen wanders over to a rack of polo shirts and starts rummaging through the sizes. Small, medium, where are the extra large? She finds one but it is bright blue with a large white band just where John’s love-handles would be. She stands there helplessly looking up at a salesman on a ladder but he just glances her way and continues stacking boxes. She wanders over to the cash register. ‘Do you have any other colours?’ she asks. ‘Anything but blue?’ The girl stops filing her nails and points to the other side of the store. ‘Men’s Clothes,’ she says resuming her manicure. The sight of bright pink nail varnish triggers unhappy memories for Helen.
It really was a lovely manicure set so why did she feel so miserable? There was a file, tiny scissors, a cuticle stick, and six different shades of nail varnish. However, being a country girl she’d never worn nail polish in her life. Helen didn’t want to draw attention to her raw boned working hands any more than she had to. Myrtle’s slender fingers topped with poppy pink nails delicately picked out item after item from the set as she painstakingly explained each piece and its function. John thought it a wonderful gift and wrapped his arms around both of them saying, ‘Now I’ll have two beautiful girls.’ Girls? His mother beamed but it had been a long time since Helen had considered herself a girl. Leaving the farm at an early age and making a life for herself in the city was not the stuff of girls. Landing that job at the nursery was the chance of a lifetime and she loved every minute, but it was not a job that embraced nail polish. Even though she’d completed her horticultural degree she still liked to delve her ungloved hands into damp earth. To plant things and watch them grow.
In the Men’s Clothes department two girls stand chatting.
‘Excuse me,’ interrupts Helen, holding up the shirt. ‘Have you any other colours?’ The girls look at her as if there is a neon sign flashing ‘needy’ glued to Helen’s forehead. One points a bright blue fingernail with a tiny gold star on it back the way Helen has come saying, ‘Golf department.’ Helen raises her eyebrows. The finger waggles. ‘By the tennis rackets’ the girl says and turning away continues, ‘And did you know that…’.
John loved his tennis. Nothing stopped him from going to tennis every weekend. He and his mother often played together and he’d tried to get Helen interested. Insisted she take lessons. ‘You’ll love it,’ he’d said. ‘You like the outdoors, it will be good for you. Get rid of some of that weight.’ He hadn’t minded the weight when they had first been married. Cuddly, that’s what he’d called her. She’d tried, really tried to like tennis but why prance around on a hard clay court chasing a yellow ball when you could be doing something interesting. John would get so annoyed when she trailed off to look at an intriguing flowering shrub poking through the perimeter wire. ‘Try and keep your mind on the game, will you,’ he’d grumble. But she never could.
Helen finds more shirts in the men’s golf department but not in extra large. She stands there, shirt in hand, looking for some one to attend to her. She wanders to the back wall and peers down towards the stock room. No one. ‘Hello?’ she calls. No answer, so she wanders back to the two girls in ‘Men’s Clothes’. The girls are still talking.
‘Excuse me,’ Helen says. ‘Who is serving in Golf?’ Two pairs of eyes look her up and down. The starry finger points. ‘As I was saying…’ the girl resumes. Helen glares and wanders back towards the legs up the ladder.
John was up the ladder fitting the new curtain tracks. Helen could see he was placing them too low. She kept telling him that they would have to be higher or the emerald green draped velvet she’d chosen would be hanging on the floor. Avoiding her eyes, John said, ‘Mother wants the tracks here. I’m not supposed to tell you but she’s giving us curtains for our birthdays.’
‘I don’t want her curtains,’ Helen cried. ‘I want my curtains. This is our house, John. Not hers.’
‘But she has such good taste, and she’s paying for it. You know we can’t really afford it at the moment. Be sensible. You can get others later if you like.’ So she’d given in and the blue chintzy curtains had arrived.
‘Are you in charge of Golf?’ Helen calls to the man up the ladder. He nods.
‘Have you any other colours,’ she calls. ‘Brown, or even a dark green?
‘Only what’s on the rack,’ he replies, and keeps stacking.
Helen had always liked earthy colours, brown, ochre and green. She especially liked green. Why then had Myrtle given them a bright blue bed set for their wedding present? Blue sheets, flounce, four pillowcases and a doona cover emblazoned with shells, starfish, and seaweed. She felt as if she was drowning every time she entered that sea of blue. She feels as if she is drowning now. Drowning in a sea of indifference. Who did they think they were to ignore her like this? They had no right to treat her this way. She was a person. With her own wants and needs. It was time to stand up and be counted. Damn their shirts, damn their neatly stacked boxes, damn Myrtle.
Striding over to the nearest rack and summoning every ounce of strength in her solid frame Helen shoves. It crashes to the floor. Every head in the store pops up like a bunch of kangaroos in a wheat field, ears turned to the source of danger. Her chest heaving, Helen upends the closest bin, underpants spilling in every direction as she screams, ‘Now do you know I’m here?’ With a wild sweep of her arm she sends every tiny tennis dress onto the floor. ‘Have I finally got your attention?’ she yells as she jumps on them. The manager rushes over waving his arms, spluttering ‘Are you being served, Madam?
‘Served? I hate tennis. And I hate blue, Helen cries waving the shirt in front of the manager’s nose. ‘Those curtains are coming down today.’ The manager’s bewildered eyes focus on the shirt in Helen’s hand. ‘Another colour?’ he guesses.
‘I want extra large. I want green. And I want it now.’ Magically a dark green extra large shirt appears and is thrust into her hand. ‘Game, set, match,’ Helen yells as she slams the door.