Mark Blayney with Retro as the next contribution to Wales Arts Reviews’ Flash Fiction Month, a month-long celebration of the flash fiction form.
Is the name of my shop. It opened yesterday, and what a hangover I have. An art deco curved box at the end of the arcade, there’s not a straight line to be seen; I dream about falling off the floor. Ten-ish, I had my first customer. The VHS video cassettes interested him not. Capstan cigarettes, Commodore 64s, Etch-A-Sketches and crates of Blue Nun similarly failed to inspire.
He left buying nothing, but a couple of hours later I found 50p on the floor that he must have dropped, so that went in the till. It’s a start.
After a few weeks though, things were unravelling. I’d sold nothing apart from some early Star Trek annuals and I had more Blue Nun than I knew what to do with. I realised I needed a strategy. I flicked through my 1962 copy of How to run a successful business (near mint condition). Amongst its gems were: Get a good typewriter. Buy boxes of index cards for your accounts. Do not run out of carbon paper. It also talked about something called a USP. This mysterious, UFO-like object, even more exciting than a saucer-shaped visitor from a 1950s film with visible wires, is the belief that what you need is a Unique Selling Point. Something that will make customers return to you, rather than your competitors.
I read that book from dog-eared cover to tobacco-stained cover. Dreaming about it that night I wore a velvet smoking jacket and women with beehive hair looked at me admiringly from above their cigarette holders. The next day, I lugged the crate of Blue Nun into view and laid out a set of 1950s wine glasses on the counter.
Everyone who bought something got a free glass of Blue Nun. By Friday, business was booming. My 1920s soap cakes sold like hotcakes. Someone from the Pierton Gazette interviewed me, and took a photo with an old Leica which he bought after he’d drunk lots of Blue Nun. I had 97 likes on Facebook. Life was good.
And so I ascended the ladder of aspiration. By ascension, I mean the rent was covered. I slept on a bed in the back room. Don’t tell the council.
Having thought that my unravelling life had returned to a state of… ravel, things went wrong again. Someone from Trading Standards came in. ‘You are manipulating your customers into buying things they don’t want or need.’ I shrugged. Isn’t that most businesses do? ‘You should not be selling alcohol without a licence. I shook my head. ‘I’m not selling alcohol. Whenever someone buys something – ’
‘Rival shopkeepers have complained about your unfair practices.’ I said they were just annoyed they hadn’t thought of it too.
Anyway, the upshot was that the police came round. The police like Blue Nun; it fits their colour scheme. Police, of course, cannot be bribed. But everything in my shop is pre-1980, and at the time, bribery was commonplace. And that was good enough for them.
Mark Blayney won the Somerset Maugham Prize for Two kinds of silence. His new collection Doppelgangers is available with Parthian.
Retro by Mark Blayney is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.