GRACE’S LOVE PANGS AMID THE PICCALILLI
The supermarket was horrible, and Grace Windcheater frowned at her misfortune at being forced into the ignominy of having to work there to supplement her University Grant.
Grace was supremely annoyed at her father. Surely he earned enough money to bankroll her through her education, and it was demeaning that she was required to do menial work alongside the plebs.
She trampled through the sodden leaves of Broadway Fields as the gusty November rain slanted in on her. As she got to the roadside, Grace decided to drop in on the local greasy spoon. She placed an order for one mug of tea from the common looking proprietor - who had a cigarette in his mouth, with an inch long cylinder of dead ash threatening to drop at any moment.
As she went to take a plastic chair, Grace thought it apt that the latest Kinks’ hit, Dead End Street, was playing on the radio behind the counter.
New Cross was detested by Grace, and she counted the days until she was free from its ugly urban people and buildings. She wiped away the condensation from the café window and gazed vacantly into the rain- smeared greyness, feeling angry self-pity about her circumstances.
Grace chose to stay in the halls of residence, despite her family’s Dulwich house being within a comfortable commuting distance. She was far too proud to do a u-turn on her decision, and missed the home comforts and her mother’s cooking, not to mention the opportunity of aggravating her spazzy kid brother.
“This is the third time this sodding thing’s got tangled up today!”
The way Grace spoke to her superior suggested their roles should be reversed.
Bradley Bland was a very introspective and timid fellow, and his position of supermarket supervisor owed more to his propensity for brown-nosing than to any talent for exhibiting tough authority and hard-nosed delegation.
“Let me take a look at it Grace.”
Her short, balding, bespectacled, acne scarred, hairy-eared and oily middle-aged superior took the pricing gun and performed a quick scan.
“Ah yes, the stickers haven’t been wrapped around the spool tightly enough, easily remedied.”
Grace sighed audibly as her boss opened the gun to clear out the trapped mess of sticky yellow labels. The fact Grace had originally loaded the gun was irrelevant, the thing was rubbish and didn’t work.
After a few seconds, Mr Bland successfully fixed the problem, and handed the machine back to Grace in order for her to continue stamping the family sized jars of beetroot.
Her supervisor then waddled off with his bandy legs and feet splayed at ten-to-two.
Annoying spastic! was Grace’s rather malicious whispered cuss as Mr Bland disappeared behind the pyramid of processed pea cans.
Miss Windcheater continued to price up the jars for the next thirty seconds before a customer had the temerity to not know where the pork luncheon meat was located, and requested her help.
“Next aisle.” was the snappy and least helpful reply she could think of. She didn’t pause from her triggering or look up at the ignorant inquisitor.
The customer was shell-shocked by the response, and stood open-mouthed for a second or two before deciding whether to try the left or right hand aisle that adjoined.
Grace was left alone for the next few minutes to get on with her seething about how unjustly the world treated her. As Grace’s last thought made its way grudgingly through her head, another customer stopped by and enquired as to why the mushrooms had gone up a penny a pound.
“I really don’t know.”
Grace looked up to see an old woman, and immediately took offence to this particular sector of social parasites.
“I’m just doing what I’m told to do, I don’t actually have anything to do with pricing policy. If you’ve got a problem with the prices here, you should see the manager, or maybe go somewhere else.”
Grace’s latest outburst of vitriol marked a new level of unpleasantness, and the old lady was too stunned to reply. Instead, she turned slowly and marched away shaking her head.
By now, Grace had finished with the jars of beetroot, and moved on to piccalilli. Moments later, a third customer requested her services. She looked up to confront the man, but instead of preparing for antagonism, her face cracked into a smile and her heart went gooey.
Appearing in front of her was the most gorgeous male she’d ever clapped eyes on. He responded with a smile that displayed impossibly white teeth and delightful laughter lines.
“I wonder if you could tell me where the tinned salmon is kept?”
Grace immediately got up from the floor and walked the dashing customer to the tinned fish section; blushing extensively in response to his smouldering swarthiness.
“What’s a lovely young lady like you doing working in a place like this?”
The besotted woman gushingly explained she was working a few hours a week to get her through the last year of her degree.
“Well I think it’s a real shame that someone as clever and attractive as you should have to work.”
Grace’s face reddened further as she tried to come to terms with the attention afforded her by this courteous and outrageously dishy man. As they came to a stop in front of their destination, the man asked Grace if she liked Italian food.
“Yes, I do.”
It was a blatant lie, as the nearest Grace had got to the culinary delights of Italy was cheap tins of spaghetti.
“As it so happens, I know of a wonderful little restaurant not far from here, and I think a lovely young lady like you would appreciate the finer things in life.”
“Well, I do like to think of myself as someone who enjoys something a bit more upmarket.”
Grace was now beginning to relax, and her confidence shot up as the attention she was receiving boosted her feeling of importance. She reminded herself for the first time since working at the supermarket that she was indeed an attractive woman.
“How about I book a table for tomorrow night – if you’re not too busy?”
“Oh, I should think I can manage that. I was going to work on my thesis, but it doesn’t have to be in ‘til January, I’d be delighted!”
“Okay, well I’m glad that’s settled. Shall we say eight o’clock?”
“That sounds fine to me.”
They arranged to meet at Palestrina’s in nearby Rodgerham Mews.
“By the way, my name is Robert, and I’m pleased to know you.”
“My name is Grace, and I’m pleased to know you also!”
The suave gentleman smiled again before reaching for his tinned salmon and turning toward the checkout.
Grace was overcome with hero worship, and wore a broad smile for the rest of her shift.
“After you’ve done the piccalilli, could you move on to the Garibaldi’s please Grace?”
“Yes, no problem Mr Bland.”
The boss was perplexed but delighted with Grace’s sudden lightening of demeanour, and this helped take his mind off the discomfort of his irate haemorrhoids. He had a spring in his step as he made his way to the staff lavatory in order to administer a liberal application of soothing ointment.