Tuesday, 18 October 2016

LED Eyes (part 2)


"How much are these?" Asked a gobby rich kid with a face like a slapped backside. She looked the sort who was only going to wear the Doc Martens because it would get her shouted at in Polo at her private school. She probably enjoyed it when the teachers shouted at her, probably relished the additional attention.
"It says the price on the side of the box." Lizzy Dunstan said. Lizzy was much taller than the girl, much taller than most girls, but that wasn't the only way she differed from her customer. Whereas the girl's soul was probably composed of glitter and spice and all things egotistical, pink and control freak, Lizzy's soul was a soap opera of angst, childhood trauma and rock music. She chewed her lip piercing slightly as she stared down at the brat in front of her. And people say I'm annoying. 
"I can see that." The girl said.
"Congratulations. I'm so proud." Lizzy said it with the type of drab, monotonous voice that would make a toddler cry at fifty feet. A small voice in the back of her head began to pray the child would give up.
"How much are they?"
Lizzy spent a second staring into the mirror next to her, having to stop herself from cringing. No one had ever called her an optimist, but if there was one thing she was in no way positive about, it was her appearance. That wasn't to say she wasn't happy about it; Batman leggings, an obscure band on her t-shirt and a hoodie with badges announcing she was LGBT proud and a campaigner for Animal Rights were cool in her opinion. But she certainly didn't like any of the pale, ghost like skin on show. Despite her colleague's concerns that she didn't eat, although her colleague was in his sixties so an obese child looked underweight to him, she felt startlingly ugly The way her green dyed pixie cut bordered her face didn't help much either. 
"You fancy yourself or something?” The girl asked, her voice squeaky and annoying.
"No." Quite the opposite. "I was just checking I hadn't turned into Bill Murrary."
"Groundhog Day?"
The girl's face was still blank.
"God, what do they teach you for thirty thousand pounds a year? I was meaning you'd already asked me that question.” Oh God. Why am I provoking her? Just let her go already. 
"Yeah, but you didn't answer it."
Lizzy’s eyes glanced towards the clock on the wall. She wondered if she could pretend it was closing time to get the kid out of there. No. There were four of them- the posh one and her beastly friends- and they’d probably try to kill her. Just see it through to the end. ”We established you already knew the answer."
"Yeah, but is there a discount?"
"Firstly, you didn't say that. Secondly, was there an offer sign next to them?” Urgh. That sounded so clunky and forced. Why couldn’t she even talk?
"Then there you go. No discount. Do you want them or not?” She could practically feel her leg shaking, practically feel her entire body ready to set itself on fire.
"Nah, I don't think so now." The girl left the box on the counter and wandered out, into the street followed by her selection of pink adorned, little cherubs with their designer handbags. "And stay out." Lizzy muttered.
"Lizzy?" Call a voice across the shop. 
Lizzy turned to the door and saw Antonio, a lanky shop assistant, with exotic facial hair, sticking his face through the double doors that led to the stock/staff room. That room was down a few steps and, Lizzy reckoned, it was bigger than the shop proper. Not that she minded. The jukebox in the corner played good music and the smell of leather seemed to soak into her mind, more than making up for the claustrophobia. "What is it, Ant?"
“Malcolm wants to see you.”
The taste of sick in her mouth that had been forming whilst in conversation had returned, making her want to choke. There was a space under the counter which she knew was she was small enough to fit in. She wanted to clamber inside and screw herself up, sticking her earphones in and letting the music drown away her sorrows.
“He doesn’t like waiting, Lizzy.” Antonio said.
“No.” Lizzy said, but she didn’t know how the words had managed to get past the stomach trying to crawl up her throat. “No, I don’t suppose he does.”
She took the long walk of ten steps towards the double doors. There were no customers yet she still felt like there were eyes on her, as if the small eyelets on every pair of shoes were burning into her, studying her every move. She wanted to scream, wanted to cry, wanted to explode. Instead she brushed past Antonio and down the steps into the storage room.
Malcolm’s desk was wooden and cuboid like, arched securely in the centre of the room, between the shelves of boxes. In most shops, the store room was just a small cupboard containing a kettle and First Aid box. In Doc Martens, it actually contained shoes. And Malcolm. The ‘Store Manager.’
“Lizzy!” He smiled. “Do come and sit down. Please.”
Lizzy reached out and pulled the chair back. It scraped against the floor and she cringed. She was making too much noise. It sounded ridiculous. He probably hated her more because of the raucous racket she was producing. The very notion of sitting down filled her with unending dread. Should she put one leg over the other, and if she did, where should she cross them? At the ankles, over the knees? Was it too relaxed? Too informal? Okay, maybe she should sit with her legs straight and both on the floor. But what if that was too masculine? How could she be worried about that being masculine? Had she seen her hair? It was ridiculous! It looked like Sweeney Todd had been put off cutting her neck by how rank and disgusting she was and tried to actually cut hair for once, only to discover he’d gone into cannibalism in the first place due to how much of a bloody terrible barber he was.
And what if she leant too far backwards and the chair fell over or she was too heavy and it broke? She was a healthy weight according to the scales back home but the scales weren’t always right, were they? What if she cracked her head against the floor and he just sat there? Laughing at her, pointing at her, looking at her?
She sat down, stuffing one hand into the pocket of her hoodie to hide how much it was shaking. She could feel her lip twitching, her piercing shifting. She wanted to explode, to cry, to weep and curl up on the floor and die.
“Lizzy,” he smiled, his perfect teeth below his perfect face and his perfect hair and his perfect glasses sat above a perfect suit and he was just so wonderful and better than her and she hated him but she wouldn’t let him see that, she’d knocked out his perfect teeth and tear away his perfect hair because she loved this job and she wouldn’t let it go, no matter what, “we need to talk.”
Oh we’ll talk alright, buddy. Maybe we can talk about the fact that you installed a camera in the toilets but didn’t tell Leanna or the fact that you once asked me to fix your computer because it’d been infected with a bug from one of your dodgy sites, huh? Lizzy looked at him, unable to smile. “Er, do, er, do we need to, er, talk? S, er, sir?”
“Yes, Lizzy. We do.” Malcolm said. He straightened one of the four pencils on his desk so they formed a barcode of yellow and black lines but the varying heights irritated Lizzy beyond all belief. She could feel her cheeks burning and her insides on fire. She wanted nothing more than to grab one of those pencils and bury it in his neck.
She should ask him if it was about the boots. Knowing Malcolm, he’d suggest she’d stolen them but he knew as well as she did that she was accounting for her reduced clothing by reducing her wages. Hell, she’d designed the algorithm that calculated the monthly wages. She should bring that up, remind him of everything she’d done for the shop, remind him she was more suited to be the boss than he was. “What about, er, sir?” She asked instead.
“Your attitude and general personality, I’m afraid. It just isn’t what management wants.” He said it like he was calling Bingo numbers, as if he wasn’t happy to be here, as if he was wondering how his life could ever have become this terrible, unaware that for some people, this was the highlight of their day. Lizzy felt her heart breaking. She should tell him that at least she had a personality.
Instead, she said, “What’s, er, wrong with it?”
“It’s unwelcoming, Lizzy. Do you think our clientele wants you being rude to them? Hell, most of them’ll need a drop of Dutch courage to even approach you. You don’t exactly scream ‘helpful assistant' now, do you?”
Lizzy stared at him. She could feel tears welling inside her but she mentally whispered her mantra over and over. Don’t cry till you get home. Don’t cry till you get home. 
“Look at it like this, Lizzy, see it from my perspective. People don’t buy things unless they’re comfortable. Fact. Antonio, he makes people feel comfortable. He’s like that beloved cousin who comes over before Christmas with a load of American comics and an adorable dog. The kids love him ‘cause he’s quirky, the mum loves him cause he’s respectful and the dad loves him cause hanging around with someone cool makes him feel cool. You want another example?”
Yes, but only so I can stick that example so far up your backside, you stop being able to talk from it. She gulped and nodded her head about one degree up and down. “Er, yes, okay, er, then.”
“Look at Leanna.” Malcolm said.
If Lizzy’s chewed nails hadn’t already been pressing so hard into her palms they were leading conical indentations, she would have balled her fists. Instead, she just tightened them further.
Malcolm continued regardless. “Leanna is lovely. She looks good in the clothes, she gives our customers the feeling they can pull it off, even if they’re dog ugly. It’s like having a model working for us. Get her stood in the window, setting up a display, some people come into shop just for her. They wind up buying things, we’re quids in. You, on the other hand, Lizzy…”
As his voice trailed off and he fixed her with a cold glare, she felt her entire body on fire. She wanted nothing more than to stand up and slap him until he was bleeding. But she couldn’t. She could barely even breathe. Her skin felt blotchy and horrific, her eyes felt puffy and fat. She just wanted the chair to break beneath her and the ground to swallow her whole. But it didn’t because that would mean God was merciful and, in her experience, he was anything but.
“Lizzy, no offence my dear, you can be helpful at times. You’re cracking with the computer side of things. It’s just, well, you suffer at everything else. You come across as uninviting, as vindictive, you’re insulting to the majority of our customers and your sale rates are the lowest we have. You’re frankly too punk, Lizzy. People see you doing a display and cross the street. I’m afraid I just can’t employ you any longer.”
Lizzy stared at him.
“Don’t say I’m not fair though. I’ll give you a chance to convince me.” He leant back in his chair, relishing the power he had over her. He looked like the vampires of the music industry, leaching off the young and promising, stealing their ideas and losing the real meaning. “Come on, Lizzy. A few words could get you your job back.”
Lizzy could think of a thousand and one words to give him right then and most of them began with ‘F’ but she didn’t say any of them. Instead, she smiled the best smile she could. “Thank you.” She said, stood and walked towards the stairs, through the shop and out. She didn’t stop to answer Antonio’s questions, nor to grab her bag from behind the counter. She just kept walking and walking, as if she’d be able to outrace her terror. 

It took her ten minutes to get home and every second of that stretch of time was spent contemplating what she could have done differently, how she should have replied, how she should have told that pilfering arse weasel of a back stabbing monster of a coward, son of a gun and bloody idiot where he could stick his crap spewing head and that Leanna found him as repulsive as a pool of urine lingering around the limescale covered metal pipe beneath a graffitied urinal in the bloodied bathrooms of a back alley bar. GOD! She hated him.
More to the point, though, she hated herself for not standing up to him. She was so much better than that, Annie had seen it, Percival still saw it but they didn’t count. They’d still like her even if they couldn’t see it. Every time she needed to prove herself, she failed. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing to prove. You are a failure, Lizzy. You are a complete and utter failure.
She walked up to the iron gate and pushed it open. It didn’t squeak. Graham oiled the joints every Tuesday to stop her from getting annoyed. He was nice like that. There were brambles overhanging the path on the other side but that was fine. That prevented the youths from knocking on the doors and then running for the hills. She hated it when they did that.
The path carved up a brief cadre of steps and then along an orange brick path enclosed on either side by prestigiously cut lawns. At the end of the path was the south wall of the Sanctum, set with a huge stained glass circle in it. When the sun managed to break through the economic sky scrapers surrounding the church, its light would glint through the window and refract into wonderfully eccentric shades of red, amber and deep greens. Now, however, the sky was too dark for any light to glint.
Lizzy rounded the corner of the Sanctum and pulled her old brass keys from the pocket of her hoodie. They’d been pulling on the elastic a little too much and you could almost audibly hear the material sighing with relief that its pressure was being removed. She twisted the knob and the door swung open. There was a staircase immediately to her left, heaving down in short spirals, but she concentrated more on the rack to the right. She hung her keys up and clocked that the Bugatti keys, as well as Percival and Graham’s personal keys, were gone. 
A stone column, one of many, protruded down from the ceiling. Where once a blackboard would have declared the Psalm number of the day’s reading, a white board hung with a pen on twine next to it. It told her that, ‘Possible crash in Yorkshire. Back tonight. Don’t wait up. - G.’ She didn’t need the initial to tell her Graham had written it. His writing was mechanical and precise compared to Percival’s wild script. 
She sighed and wandered around the pillar. Where the choir stands had once sat there was now her range of computers but she ignored it, instead heading for the main body of the Sanctum. The pews had long since been scrapped, replaced by different sections; a lounge area, a lab, another range of computers, a privatised office for Percival and even a kitchenette. She ignored all of them, instead heading for the other staircase. It led rapidly down, into the dark corridors of what they called the Under Sanctum, a labyrinthine warren of bedrooms, an armoury, holding cells, a workshop, a larger lab and the garage. She trailed, absent mindedly, to her bedroom and pushed open the door. It swung shut of its own accord, the lock automatically clicking. She fell onto her bed, big enough for two but only housing her.
She slid her phone into the dock on her bedside table and clicked shuffle. The first song that played was ‘(One of those) Crazy Girls’ by Paramore. She began to cry.
She didn’t cry because she’d lost her job or because her only family were out or because she was all alone in a cold church or because the pathetic fallacy of the external weather demanded it. She didn’t cry because she’d accidentally knocked up the corner of the carpet and thus the room wasn’t perfect or because she was crippled with anxiety or because knocking up the sleeve of her hoodie had revealed the albino barcode of her self harm. She didn’t cry because she could still feel the press of the tattooist’s needle on her wrist or because she was cold. She cried because the song currently playing was Annie’s favourite and Annie wasn’t there anymore.

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