Lost in the Swaying Corn: Part 10
The afternoon wore on and the empty beer cans built up on the table. When Lizzie finished eating and put her feet up, several empties rattled together before toppling. Once Mark finished his sandwich there were also two plates in the mix and Emily’s half finished wine.
‘We’ll have to tidy some of this.’ Even with his parents absent Mark was conscious of them and what they’d say to the scene in their garden.
‘We need more beer too,’ Lizzie said, full of food and drink, ‘and cigarettes.’
‘Well if we’re getting them before tonight we’ll have to sort it now before it gets late.’
‘I can get the stuff, if you all have the money,’
‘What? You collect and we pay? I don’t think so,’
‘Don’t be stupid, I meant your share.’
‘Ok fine, how’ll you get it?’
The three looked at her with disbelief. Mr Hartford was notoriously harsh with those younger than Beta-max. None of them used his store unless necessary for his eyes bore into the young like a corkscrew. His greying, combed over hair, betrayed the un-even shape of his skull, his eyes were enhanced by his thick glasses, and his teeth, which seemed set far back into his mouth, were small but sharp, ready at a moment’s notice to snap.
‘Hartford’s is a no go, you’ll never get served.’ Jack spoke as though he knew first hand.
He didn’t, not really, not when it came to beer and fags.
His parents knew Mr Hartford, liked him even, which was a notion alien to Jack. He couldn’t buy anything from there without them finding out, not even gum. He’d come to the conclusion that Hartford had the phone number of every house in the village and took time to inform parents exactly what their out of control offspring were up to, the wayward youth of today.
Running late for school one day, Jack stopped by the shop buying a packet of crisps and a can of coke. Mrs Hartford was behind the counter.
Despite her small eyes and big teeth she remained preferable to her spouse. Her wrinkled hand protruded from her purple knitted cardigan as she took Jack’s money, all too happily. He’d barely returned home that afternoon before his mum attacked his breakfast habits, ‘Honestly, crisps and pop at that time of the morning. Why didn’t you get up earlier and have something decent?’
‘I was running late,’
‘You wouldn’t have been if you’d gotten up earlier, I don’t want you eating that stuff for breakfast.’
He daren’t ask how she knew, he didn’t need to. Whether Mr or Mrs Hartford made the call the result was the same. Every morning for a fortnight Jack was woken with loud knocks to his door and met downstairs with bland cereal. That was for crisps and coke. What would happen should he try to buy beer and fags?
Alarm bells would sound, shutters would come down and his parents would be on the scene in seconds with looks of censure. He would never be let out again before he hit twenty and even then Mr Hartford would greet Jack with a knowing grin for the rest of his days.
All the kids in the village knew Hartford ratted on them but they couldn’t say anything. At least he sold them things even if he did fink, complaints would surely lead to expulsion from his small empire. As it happened his was the only empire open after seven in the evening. Sometimes they needed him, like tonight.
Jack continued, ‘He’ll be on the phone to your rents before you’re back and the beers are in the fridge.’
‘Wanna bet? I’ve got fifteen pence to make up, thirty if you want some too,’ she said towards Emily.
‘What’s the bet? That you can get beer and fags with no trouble?’
‘You can’t steal them,’ Emily conditioned,
‘And you’re buying them right? You’re not roping somebody else into it?’
‘I will go in, I will select our beverages and our smokes, I will place them upon the counter at which point I shall hand over currency in exchange for said goods. I shall bid the old man good evening and I shall leave his establishment returning here thus.’
The memory of the pickles was all too fresh in Mark’s mind, ‘What’s the catch?’
‘You know I get the impression you guys don’t trust me, do you want me to go or not? One of you could if you fancy your chances.’
‘Right then. Hand over the cash chaps and Mark, you’re coming with me,’
‘What? No chance, you know what my parents’ll say when he calls them?’
‘Oh come on, he’ll never make a distance call to Spain, he’s too cheap, he’d charge 5p for a penny chew if he could,’
‘He’ll wait, he knows I’ll keep,’
‘He won’t see you, I just need a hand carrying, you can wait out of sight,’
After some convincing Mark negotiated to go no closer than within fifty meters of the shop. Hartford would smell him from less. Lizzie agreed.
Jack and Mark went to the house for money, Emily took her purse, which was more like a wallet, from her shorts. She handed over more than her share.
‘If you sure you can get served we might as well take advantage,’
‘Oh right Em, my little party animal,’
‘Just make sure it’s strong and not like that stuff,’ she said pointing the tepid wine on the table.
‘What do you want?’
‘Use your judgement, I trust you,’
‘Could’ve fooled me,’
‘In this, I trust you,’ Emily said, smiling. ‘Get fags with that too, I owe you remember?’
‘Your last Rolo right?’
‘My last Rolo.’
‘Ok my lil chickadee, I’ll be back in ten.’ She leaned forward and placed a kiss on Emily’s forehead before skipping off to the house.
Emily’s mind returned to the kiss she planted on Jack’s cheek a few hours ago. Would she kiss him before she left now?
It wasn’t worth thinking about.
Instead Emily set about being useful and began gathering emptied from the table.
It was only as she started for the kitchen she realised her and Jack would be alone. Mark had gone to carry.
For a moment Emily stopped. She didn’t know where Jack was in the house and she felt like she was in a horror movie. Jack was somehow a predator she was afraid to encounter. If she walked into the kitchen and he was right there she didn’t know what she would do.
Briefly she thought, then carried on, with a blank mind. She couldn’t think of anything to say to him and decided to leave it to chance.
She didn’t think she would ask about the hand squeeze, that moment had passed, and she didn’t need the bathroom which discounted that embarrassing possibility. She hoped he would bring it up and at the same time that he wouldn’t be there, that he would somehow vanish until the others returned and then reappear with no awkward feelings between him and Emily. Of course that wouldn’t happen. And she was glad. And she was scared in case he did bring it up.
Her mind contemplated the situation and her fingers relaxed a little. White wine spilled from the half full glass and made her hand sticky immediately. Just the smell of it made her wince and its contact with her skin made her stomach shudder. Her pace increased, eager to wash the vinegar from her fingers, and she entered the kitchen.
Lizzie and Mark were already gone and Emily stood facing Jack, alone.
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