We Grow Up in the Strangest Places – Part Two
Quinnsworth Supermarket was a large supermarket that was part of an even larger shopping complex called Artane Castle. As the name, implies it was built on the grounds of what was originally a castle, none of which survived. I had been told it was haunted, and although I do not believe in ghosts, I had an experience there that has yet to be explained.
One Friday while working the night shift alone in my alcove at the arse end of the store, away from everyone else, I heard shampoo bottles being kicked off a shelf. I thought the night crew must be launching scones again, so I wasn’t too surprised when I first walked out of my aisle to find the entirety of the hair care section scattered on the floor. But nobody was around, and not a scone was in sight. I crouched down and placed the bottles back on the bottom shelf. Suddenly, I felt two or three fingers pressed hard into my back and I shifted sideways. About to fall, I caught myself and called out to whomever was doing it to stop. No one was there. I walked around for a while trying to understand what had just happened. I walked to the far side of the store through the strip of darkness that separated my sole section from the rest of the store, where everyone else was working. The night crew was there, all of them in their sections packing shelves like zombies, the way night-workers do. I returned to the alcove and never spoke of it to anyone.
It was, in fact, a strange place to work, full of noises, odd smells, temperature changes and stranger still – the people themselves. Keith was a full-timer and worked in confectionary. Tall and lanky with an elbow- sized Adam’s apple and long ash blonde hair, he was obsessed with music – U2 and Oasis mostly. Friday nights we started at 8; by 9 the store closed and he took over the intercom system, blasting music until 3 or 4 in the morning before we packed up for home, leaving the store’s shelves bursting with produce for the Saturday sales. Keith was three years older than me, a total sex fiend and was meant to show me the ropes. But without fail, about ten minutes into my unofficial retail education the conversation always resorted back to tales of him riding his girlfriend. His girlfriend Maria managed the liquor store. She had been there for years and was part of top-level management. She was small and incredibly pretty with a giant arse. Her faint, high-pitched voice made her sound like an angel. One day Keith had just finished a long detailed story of how he recently rode her from behind in the bath tub as she clung to the taps screaming like a mad thing when she walked up to us. She gently touched Keith’s arm, smiled then turned to me.
“Hi, Colin isn’t it?”
“Can you help me stack some crates when you get a chance?”
“Sure, I’ll do it now.”
“Later,” Keith mumbled, turning to violently throw bags of mini Mars bars into the sales bin.
I followed behind her, staring at her arse. It was big, as big as the car park vacuum cleaner, and the sheer mechanics of Keith’s story baffled me because he lived with Maria in a small council house, similar to the one that I used to live in, and there wasn’t much room in those places to do anything.
We spent an hour stacking crates of a new American beer for some promotion and chatted.
“Well done on your promotion” she said smiling. It was like she still had her baby teeth, they were so small. Her eyes almost narrowed shut when she smiled.
“Thanks.” I smiled back. I was tucking my shirt in and fixing my hair.
“I was really hoping they would pick you and not that Martin guy.” She let out a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, he’s a bit mental.”
She nodded in agreement. My face was hot, I could feel it.
“You working here long?” I watched the curly brown hair rested on her collar as I spoke to her.
“Years, years. Too long. I started the same day as Keith. That’s how we met. I used to work in your section y’know.”
“Nappys and bogroll?”.
She laughed and nodded. “Have you noticed the first time dads coming in stressing over what nappys to get yet?”
I hadn’t noticed anything, not in that alcove.
“Yeah, now and again.” I changed the subject. “ I sold a breast pump the other day. That’s a first. And a bottle of gripe water, whatever the hell that is.”
She laughed then moved closer lowering her voice “I had a guy come in once and he started crying while picking out nappys.”
“Jesus,” I said. “That’s fucked up”. She nodded silently with a grin.
“God only knows what’s going on there. Anyway, thanks for your help. These are for you”
She leaned in even closer while searching through her pockets. She smelled like sweat and perfume. Up close it looked like her lipstick was put on in a hurry. Her skin was perfect, pale with deep freckles. I was handed a bunch of coupons for free beer with dimpled scuffed hands. Up close I could almost tell what her life was like before she came to work.
“Here’s a little something for helping me out, get a few beers for you and your mates on me,” she said smiling.
“Thanks Maria, I will” I turned and walked back to the alcove. I thought of Keith slobbering over her. Then I thought of the scones.