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At five o’clock Mrs Crawford bursts through the revolving doors of Goldey’s department store. The doorman smiles and waves away the scuffed pound coin that sits in her outstretched hand. She has a fur coat drawn over her shoulders, its sable ends glittering with beads of melting frost from the flurry outside.

She sheds it with a shrug, letting it tumble into the space she assumes is occupied by the shop girl’s waiting arms, and fails to acknowledge the muted thud it makes as it lands in a heap on the floor.

Use a wooden hanger dear. I’ll know if you haven’t.”

Then she’s ascending the stairs, revelling in the sound her heels make as they strike polished marble. The sound has grown somewhat more booming over the years, although she’s sure that it’s just the acoustics of the place.

A young man with a geometric haircut leans behind the fragrance counter, rolling a glass bottle stopper between his fingers and staring up into the light with all the disaffected vacancy of a Grecian bust, chiselled by some ancient artist who- having foreseen the malaise of the minimum wager- put it to cheap marble long before it ever became relevant.

A man in fragrance though! How modern.

Her arrival animates him, and she watches in approval as he dances about the crystalline rows, picking between the little vials at her will. She also finds his professional flirtation quite invigorating, although she doubts she’s his type. It’s only unfortunate that, the more false assumptions and maladroit selections he makes, the faster he throws away the sympathy his cheekbones had gained him to begin with. Mrs Crawford elects to handle the situation with as much tact as she can muster at this short notice.

“If I had wanted to smell of a footballer’s wife I would have smashed a bottle of Lambrini over my skull and rolled about in a muddy taxi rank. Where’s Ainsley?”

Ainsley is the floor manager, and although Mrs Crawford is sure the revelation will embarrass him, she feels he needs to know what’s going on in his fragrance department. After all, that sort of thing might be alright in other establishments, but this is Goldey’s, and it has always been her understanding that- if a product can be found in a supermarket, tucked between toothbrushes and discount thrush cream- it had best stay there. It transpires that he’s already aware of it, and that this particular item has been selling quite well since they began stocking it.

“You can try it if you like, Ms Crawford. Might surprise you.”

 “I see. Perhaps you could escort me up to the evening wear section. I have a party coming up and I absolutely will not be seen in a dress I’ve already worn.”

He takes her arm with an apprehension she cannot abide. Ainsley’s trouble is that he always treats Mrs Crawford as though she might shatter at any moment. He wasn’t so delicate with her in the fitting room last Christmas, although his jaw tightens whenever she mentions that, so she has learned to let it go unmentioned. Such an odd little man.

The tip of her shoe catches on a step and she almost founders. The entire shop must have seen it. She places a hand on the flask beneath her dress.

“Ainsley,” she says, ensuring everyone can hear her, “you mustn’t take such great strides. I almost tripped.”

He gives her a curt smile before moving on. She never would have been met with such apathy fifty, even thirty years ago. Then again, it used to mean something to say a girl wore Goldey’s.

“Have I told you about the limbo contest aboard the Golfinho?” He says something to the effect that she has. “Nonsense- it was either ’68 or ’69; because it was the year Arthur and I lived across from the Belmond, and the first year Catherine and Sarah spent in Brazil- not that Arthur ever knew they were there. Honestly, if he wasn’t wheeling them out at a party to startle dignitaries with how white they were, it was like they didn’t exist. The way those men looked at me; I got offers too. Arthur liked to forget that, but I did.”

They halt at the next landing for her to catch her breath, and Ainsley glances down at her dress; the same she wears every week when she pays her visit. It’s from Goldey’s, but looks like it’s from before his time, and probably older than most of his employees.

“Anyway, the girls were with their Nanny while we were on a three week cruise to protest the Junta, and the captain- an American, charming man- decided to host a limbo. Just an excuse to get me into my bikini, but I was game. I was winning of course; I’ve always been very flexible.”

She digs a sequined elbow into Ainsley’s side, and his wife- watching from across the store- notices her husband shudder with some alarm.

“Tamsin Eastway took the gold in the end. Flat-chested girl; looked like a foetal giraffe. Wasn’t till later I realised the captain had raised the bar for her. I didn’t say anything, would have seemed petty. Besides, she’d already bent over more than enough for that bottle of that champagne.”

She steadies herself against a polished brass railing and admires the view. They’ve put up Christmas lights, and it feels as though she’s standing on the precipice of a festive panopticon. Missing the point of the story, Ainsley turns to her.

“Where’s Ms Eastway now?”

“Dead a year later. Oh, there was some scandal with her husband’s story but that was all talk. She fell on a knife a few times then drowned in their pool. What matters is that nobody was looking at her on the day. They called me the beautiful Mrs Crawford.”

He nods and they continue their ascent, with Mrs Crawford launching into a fresh story. Ainsley knows she won’t buy a thing, and she knows he knows. It isn’t that she doesn’t notice the laughter, the sneers from behind the counter, just that she’s separated from it by a thin layer of fabric.

  She’s above all that.

  She’s wearing Goldey’s.

 

            

Sean Turner McLeod is an undergraduate student of English Literature at the University of Glasgow. His work has been included in Review Americana, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and Prole Magazine. 



 


I suppose I always find it funner to write older characters. That stage at which a person's identity is formed more around the reminiscence of past experiences than the promise of what might lie ahead of them. In that vein, this story is about a character who chooses to live with one foot in the past, who expects others to take part in her delusion, on the tacit understanding that the act is just part of their routine.









 





  


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