'Modal Verbs' by Joanna Campbell

You stand outside the greengrocer’s with your bad cabbage.

“Take it straight back, Lizzie,” Mum said. “He can chuck it out for the pigs. Make sure he gives you a decent one this time.”

You should be marching in there, but you stand outside rigid.

Shop was shut, Mum.

Sorry, Mum, no good cabbages today.

I got one, but the wind blew it in the river.

Mum needs the cabbage right now. The meat’s done. The potatoes are squealing.

Your muscles tighten. Damp crawls through your hair roots. You try thinking of something nice. But then you see him.

Tom’s dad.

It’s a reminder: you’re bad like an apple that looks shiny, but fills your mouth with seediness hidden at the core.

You shouldn’t have gone up those stairs at Tom’s party. Shouldn’t have let Tom’s dad make you lie on the divan in the room for cast-off things: split lampshades, dumbbells, a knitting machine.

The curtains were the colour of English mustard, the carpet like crumbly moss. A funnel cobweb was lacing itself from the ceiling-light to the picture-rail.

He had to sort out your frills, he said. They needed rearranging. You shouldn’t have let him.

Your ruffled frock cost a week’s Family Allowance. Sage-green, with faint stars if you looked closely. Mum sewed frills on the back of the matching pants, so if you bent over, they’d be in keeping. But the frills weren’t quite sage. More olive.

When you arrived, clutching Tom’s present and wincing at the tightness of your outgrown party-shoes, your only worry was the mismatching greens.

Miss Andrews is going into the greengrocer’s. “All right, Lizzie?” she says.

You nod and she goes in. She’s the teacher you should’ve told. The moment always passed though, snatching your courage with it.

Tom’s dad goes in too, brushing past Miss Andrews as if she’s invisible. His feet are small enough to wear his wife’s slippers, the heel-slapping kind. His hairless ankles are the greasy-white of old candlewax.

When he comes out, Miss Andrews is behind him. He must’ve pushed in. He ought to hold the door for her. But he doesn’t.

Miss Andrews pulls a face behind his back. She accidentally-on-purpose treads on the back of his slipper, trapping it beneath the toe of her patent shoe, anchoring him to the spot. She shouldn’t, but she does.

He tries to take another step. You watch him realise something’s wrong. He does a frantic belly-dance to free himself and loses the slipper. His bare foot treads on a leaf that’s drifted off your bad cabbage, its cold, bloated veins pressing against his sole.

Miss Andrews dodges out the way. When he looks round in purple fury, he can’t tell who’s pinioned him. He hops about, pockets jangling.

You shouldn’t be looking at him. But you do.

And now you should march into the greengrocer’s, chuck his horrible cabbage at him and demand something fresh, something flawless, something better than what he sold you.

But you don’t.

Comments

  1. Great story, fantastic title. Love the colors, "the carpet like crumbly moss".

    ReplyDelete

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