I’m filling my satchel with Butterkist popcorn and soon-to-be-gone-off Dairy Milk when she comes into the store. She looks at my bag, puts a hand over her eyes, and says in a costume-drama voice, ‘I’ve seen nothing, Andy. Continue as you are.’ She walks a steady pace through the New Releases aisle, the sound of her heels muffled by the red carpet. She used to come in with her husband, but I haven’t seen him in months.
The shelves are almost bare, and all week the regulars have commiserated me, expressed their regrets at the situation. Sometimes I’ll say in pretend anger, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!’ And sometimes I’ll say not much at all, just nod and accept their apologies and money.
But I’m not desperate yet. Rent at Hannah’s mother’s is low, less than low – it’s just bills and some contribution to food that she often won’t even accept. I think it’s partly guilt at the way her daughter treated me, but I reckon she also enjoys the company. And we do get on – she’s like Hannah without the neurotic stuff.
The woman makes a funny trotting noise with her mouth as she walks through the Ex-Rentals aisle, then looks at me and laughs. Aside from the closure, the horse has been the talk of the day. There was a wedding up by the castle, and the couple had booked a horse-drawn cart. Martin, the town’s only homeless man, told me about it earlier.
‘I seen it!’ he said, like some sea captain describing a mermaid sighting. ‘The guys unhooked the horse to fix a wheel on the cart and – bang! – she was gone, just like that. It ran through the town, on its own – cartless! Women were screaming, and children cheered wildly! But when it reached a red light by the shopping centre, it just stopped. It saw the red light and wouldn’t move. And before the lights turned green, the owners had caught up with it and reined the bugger back up!’
‘But why did it stop at the lights?’ I said.
‘I dunno,’ Martin said. ‘You’d have to ask the horse.’
The woman pulls to a sudden halt at the Classics section, with her elbows resting at her side, her arms out in front, her hands bent like hooves. She’s the town’s only psychiatrist and she’s pretending to be a horse.
The full story is available in our new short story anthology, A Fiction Map of Wales, available to buy here:
original illustration by Dean Lewis