A proper mental Saturday it is, what with New Sue off with her hernia and the Lukes of Hazzard
gone AWOL, so Muggins Here'll have to cover for everyone else's break. Not New Sue and Beverly are still giving me the silent treatment 'cause I can't let them take the bank holiday off, but it's water off a duck's back by this point. By ten o'clock the queues are looping back, and it's like all Greenland's one of those swilling dreams you get with 'flu. Full of eyes, drilling into me. Philpotts can't get close enough to fire off a "What are half your team doing without their name-badges, Pearl?" but I need the loo – no chance, not 'til all the breaks are over. This beardy customer's spitting, "Twenty-three minutes I've been in this queue!" I tell him, "It certainly is a busy morning" so in he leans, breath all pilchardy, and says, "Then hire – more – staff!", like I'm backwards, like Gary used to do sometimes. I ask for his "I Love Greenland" Loyalty Card and while he's fishing through his wallet I'm working out that I've still got three hundred and forty minutes 'til I can go home. Last week I turned forty-five so that's nineteen years 'til I retire, though now they're reckoning we'll have to work 'til seventy. Seventy! Doesn't bear thinking about, does it? I really really need the loo. When I ask the man, "Cash back?" he gives me this withering, "That's exactly what landed the economy in the crappers in the first place" and then, "What's so green about Greenland Supermarkets dishing out fifty plastic bags to every customer?" Up in the staff room the kettle's rumbling to a boil and the microwave's pinging and Not New Sue squints through her glasses at the astrology page in Smiles'n'Stars. "Here we go, Beverly, here's you – Leo." By my usual spot under the health and safety notice board I'm munching my third WeightWatchers' walnut brownie (one or even two leave you hungrier than none) and I'm listening in 'cause my star-sign's Leo too. "'This week'," reads Not New Sue aloud, "'Daughters of the Lion will encounter a Fork in the Road.'" "Careless to leave cutlery lying about," says Yusuf. "Shut up," she says. "'One path leads to Pastures New. But with Saturn's Baleful Influence in your Ruling House, look before you leap. Better to cavort with the Devil You Know?' Make any sense o'that?" "Not a lot." Beverly drinks a bag of pork scratchings. "Quite like the sound of 'Pastures New'." Declan from Fresh Produce sits down and his chair gives off a shriek. "Never say 'no' to a good cavort, me. How about you, Pearl? You're Leo too, aren't you? Got up to much cavorting, lately?" There's this horrible moment when everyone's staring. Declan knows what Gary did. Everybody knows. I should bite back, but my mind's gone blank. If I get up and go, that'll make Not New Sue's day. "Astrology proves one thing," Yusuf pulls the attention his way, "and one thing only. That there is one born every minute." He adjusts his false teeth with his tongue. "She's the real thing, that Erin Silverwind." Beverly pops several NutraSweet into her tea. "The day before my scratch-card win, she predicted, 'Lady Luck will reward your patience with gold.' Six hundred and twelve pounds and 58 pence, thank you very much." "'Erin Silverwind'," snorts Yusuf. "Wasn't that a 1970s sports car?" The day before Gary cleaned out our joint account and cleared off to Spain, Smiles'n'Stars predicted, "A mask will slip from the face of someone close, to your considerable cost." Oh, that cost me all right. Still does.
cackling and snorty. I was going to go back and retake exams and apply for a course in childcare. "Gorillas've got less facial hair than that fugly tub o'lard!" and glides slap-bang into the display of Jamie Oliver's pasta sauces. They leg it. I tell them to cut the monkey business but one shouts back. "Is it against your religion. "Where might the hundreds and thousands be?" I show her to Home Baking where two lads with rat's-tail haircuts are having a trolley fight. Twenty August bank holidays come. hunting for spaces. but then I met Gary – he was tiling the manager's bathroom – and two months later my period didn't come. "Someone has an attitude problem here. Some tilers were coining it during the booms. a student doing science at the university. "Or you'll do what. "Where's that?" so I have to take her back. "why've you been stuck in this shit-pit for the last ten years?" I'm not laughing. twenty gone. "Astrology is against logic!" "If you've got so much rational thought and logic. "What about the glacé cherries?" I tell her they're in Home Baking and she asks. then. Come next Christmas I'll have clocked up twenty. When I started work at Greenland we all smoked up in the staff room. Damien was my childcare course. so I take a twenty to do a swap with Beverly on Checkout 1. Five or six Polish lads from the delivery bays are taking a break with their shirts off and you don't have to speak Polish to guess they're talking about the girls coming in and out. and out came Damien. Cars crawl round the hot car park. but straight away this frail old bird's tugging my sleeve with her trembly hand. with their bellybuttons showing. asks Yusuf. Greenland was only going to be a one. but before I can get there there's a tug at my elbow and it's the frail old bird again asking." It's only Carla who's run out of pound coins. "Well where is Frank then?" and I say. "How am I s'posed to know?" and Philpotts says. "Do you know the difference between a 'free-range chicken' and 'farm-fresh'?" For a second I'm too miserable to even say "No. astrology?" "Astrology is against rational thought!" Yusuf pecks his finger against his grizzled head. "You'd better scuttle along before you say another word. so I slope off for a quick smoke and a bit of air. Damien actually phoned last week. Six months later my waters broke in the staff toilet. That's what he claimed. but Frank's door's locked and no one knows where he's gone. I catch a snatch of George Michael. Mrs Gorilla? Sit on me?" and the other says. and I remember being sixteen and spending the day at Russell Bolger's instead of going to my English exam. Passing through Meat and Poultry these beanpole girls with pierces and tattoos ask me. I asked about the "serious pile" he said he'd made in Dubai. but he just
. anyway." Declan sprinkles bits into his Pot Noodle. but Gary never did. and Philpotts says.Wendy. Thought he'd remembered my birthday. Pearl" and it's just as well that Yusuf rolls up with a mop and a bucket of soapy water and a CAUTION SLIPPERY FLOOR sign. Least it's a lovely afternoon. Back on the floor I'm ambushed by Philpotts who asks me why I'm fannying around when Jamie Oliver's sauces're bleeding their guts out? I tell him I went to get Frank but Frank's not there so Philpotts says. from Sydney. Yusuf. but he wanted a "loan". My knees are hurting. The buzzer goes at the customer information. but now there's signs saying "Smoking On Site Is A Disciplinary Offence" – that's Brussels for you – so now those of us left've got to puff away under the side entrance. After the 3 to 11 shift come on I'm freed up to do my duty supervisor bit. and I've never been able to afford to give up Greenland." Fat chance of a proper break.or two-year job. so I go to fetch Frank to clean up the red gloop before people start slipping on it for compo. It goes everywhere and several jars smash.
"Better call the police. Large as life." I asked about his barowning father in Gibraltar." "Not the 'They Are Everywhere' Clive?" "How many other Clives do you know?" "But… we were told he was moved away. smirking: "Off for a cavort?" Philpotts says this: "I want you back in –" he checks his watch "– 15 minutes. Pay it into my Visa card like last time. Clive?" He says. ready to rugby-tackle Clive. like he's reading Braille. I tell him." I take that as a Yes. "Like it says?" "They're all much of a muchness. shall we? Before they wonder where you've gone to?" Brian's tensing up. "Don't let me down." Philpotts warns me. "He wouldn't hurt a mouse. but it was. "Go on. "their senses I'll restore…" Philpotts walks towards us with Brian the security guard. "Let's head back." "He's standing in Detergents now. Ariel." Next Clive studies a box of Persil Powerballs. Clive. Like broken windows in an empty house. Clive mumbles "…and they shall be themselves. same dead eyes.. when it's on offer. like the answers really matter." Same puffy face. but Clive lets me take his sleeve and lead him gently off. I'm stubbing out my cigarette when Beverly's rushing up like someone's had a heart attack." I ask him. He's tracing his fingertips over a bottle of Ariel Non Bio." says Beverly. No magic markers. then. Clive?" He turns to me. this time. "Your average nutcase can turn without warning. I go up and say. "Do you use Ariel? Personally?" I do sometimes. Declan passes by. "Does it really make your whites whiter than white?" He asks his questions like a kid. I make a sort of Just give me a moment gesture. "Is that a poem you wrote. "Dad's always in meetings." Clive says. "Your nutter friend Clive's back." "Greenland won't accept liability. "Are you living back at Beech Grove now. right?" What I think he says is. or I take this matter higher. "Hello. "Delivering premium care in the community.." I said I'd paid the last of what I had spare after he phoned from China but the beeps went and Damien said. "My charms I'll break. "talking to himself. if you ask me. Mum – just a couple of grand. it goes a long way here. like Clive's not there." "Don't be soft." I tell him. same shaven head. D'you remember me? I took you back last year. "Go release them.said. Had to borrow it from the Credit Union." Not New Sue's making a totally bonkers face. Mum" and the line went dead." Brian tells me. Greenland
and glass doors leading into a courtyard thing." Past the bridge. under a big sycamore. thanks – that'll buy me at least half a bag of M&M's. By the entrance there's a sign saying THE BEECH GROVE TRUST – DELIVERING PREMIUM CARE IN THE COMMUNITY." Clive doesn't answer but he's listening. sweetheart? Why don't you step inside. "No. and photos of a visit to an amusement park. would he?" Clive acts like he hasn't heard her. Clive's frowning at the goldfish. "and iris in the eye. Then I brought him back during my break. "Nice and cool. you'll be the death of me! You agreed with Dr Hayes – you must register before you go out. and homemade mobiles dangling from the ceiling." "Iris the flower. and she says all sarky." I sort of see what he means." Words. The warden tells him. didn't you. my new cats who the couple upstairs abandoned when they left." I let go of Clive's sleeve and we walk down the steps to the old canal from the back of Greenland Car Park. "Each day. There's the sound of wind chimes. Clive was just browsing. A radio's burbling away quietly. Down on the towpath there's a fisherman. I s'pose – are working away. A black lab's barking through a wire fence but I tell him to shut it and he does. the path forks." Clive doesn't answer. so I talk about Rizla and Spliff. and thanking this kind lady? Your group's at four – you'd have missed it if she hadn't brought you back – and Dr Hayes would not have been best pleased. "Oh wow. "Clive Pike." The big black warden from last time opens the door. around her. "How about dropping the Butter-Wouldn't-Melt-in-My-Mouth act. to my bus stop. I can't just stand by and let that happen'." I say. "You escorted our mystery wanderer back the last time he graced Greenland. "Specially pansies. "under these trees." Clive mumbles. "Someone's been busy. I steer Clive to avoid a roller-blader. I tell him I've never noticed that. 'No. Clive. The right-hand path goes to what used to be the main shopping street. "Got any spare change? I haven't eaten all day." All I've got on me is 50p so I give her that." Clive mumbles. doesn't he? That floppy hat. not moving. The hanging baskets've got purple daisies and geraniums and I tell Clive. just to make sure he got home OK." says Clive. but I thought. but me and Clive take the left path into an alley. A pale girl steps up asking.Supermarket's not a charity and you're not Florence Sodding Nightingale." Clive just sighs and steps inside. I do this walk every day. just for a second?" Reception's got goldfish in a tank with a fairy castle. but that's OK." "Flowers look like eyes." Crossing the bridge. "Two lovely cats! Our housing association was going to have them put down. "Looks like a garden gnome. and we come out into a sort of cul-de-sac of linked-up bungalows. "Please tell me he didn't write anything on the walls this time?" She means me." She recognises me. "Unblinking. "is a trail of breadcrumbs. In the courtyard garden some men – patients.
" Someone's playing some drums somewhere. "No. I'm all sweaty and worried and wishing I'd just delivered Clive and gone straight back. up seventy steps. There's interviews. Why'd you ask?" Sandra shrugs it's obvious. If I hurry. I mean. plotting his lines: Both Mr Matthews and myself are frankly stunned. you're tempted. looking at his watch. is she? That Sandra must've been out of her crust to offer me a job on the spot like that. on the bridge?
. "You've a gift is why. but I've got a staffing crisis so we can do the formalities later. Up ahead." Hurrying back to the sycamore. our therapists need help during the sessions – music." I tell the warden. And just by being your cheerful capable self. "You're wearing your name-badge." Then he's off through a swinging door. but the woman who started Monday lasted a grand total of a day and a half before quitting. Thump-thump-thump goes my aching feet over the wooden bridge. on the inside. So how come I've stopped here. Greenland sits like a UFO that's sucked up all life from the neighbourhood." Sandra gives me a funny look." I'm so surprised that I just look at him. Pearl?" "Me? I only ever worked at Greenland. down the hill. for spillages." She purses her lips. Why's this big stupid grin taken over my face? "He's there. sweetheart. that's the truth of it. "Thank you. "Cheeky of me to head-hunt you." "Just treating people like you'd want to be treated if the shoe was on the other foot. If. and I was out of my crust to listen to her."No trouble. Supermarket work's all I'm good for. Now it's not a glamorous job. thank you for returning our lost sheep. that's hardly a gift. "All our residents are. answering the phone and whatnot. They're too afraid." says Sandra. you'll help our residents no end." Clive suddenly speaks up. by the way. thanks. craft and so on – and then we need willing hands in Respite. just because she calls you "sweetheart". "Call it what you like. I'm Sandra. it's rare." "Yes. Golden Girl's not so golden now. but…" "'Nough said. really. here?" "Well. "Fancy an application form?" I'm a bit slow on the uptake." "So where did you train as a carer. Look. and finding a suitable replacement…" "I do the rosters at Greenland. She's only just met me. "You mean." I say. We're always understaffed. Pearl. I mean. and you need thick skin sometimes. Not New Sue'll have a field day. and one to cross the car park. usually. Clive's enjoying the look on my face. Pearl. and for one or two or three or four brilliant seconds." I'm gobsmacked is what I am. Pearl. Nightmare. to work here? Isn't it all qualified doctors and nurses and that. Philpotts'll be hovering. "It's a nice stroll. of course. but it's never boring. but people don't see that. all too rare. Yes he is. that you saw fit to waltz off on one of the year's busiest Saturdays. Pearl Bundy. "isn't he? I mean. I'll make it back just before Philpotts' deadline: two minutes to climb the steps. Something like that.
Slap-bang in the middle.
. mucking out the funny farm? The critchetty sound of the reel unwinding… Just two grand. You. A quiet splosh. …the line whipping the air. I'll pay you back. Gary's voice echoes. Down on the towpath. says Damien's voice. Like my legs're on strike. the fisherman's casting off.