Down The Aisle by Julia Douglas
The shop’s customers were certainly getting value for money today!
LILLY switched on the microphone, cleared her throat and tried to turn her Cockney voice into the clipped tones of a BBC announcer.
“Good afternoon, shoppers,” she said stiffly. “In aisle five you’ll find a special offer on cheese. All our mature cheddar is half price.”
Lilly frowned at the hastily jotted notes she’d been left. Was that all? She decided she could do better than that.
“Why don’t you ’op over to our bakery,” she improvised, the posh accent beginning to slip, “and buy a fresh-baked loaf to go with it?”
Abandoning the posh tones altogether, she went on.
“Then you could ’ave a nice bit of cheese on toast. I like a bit of pickle wiv it, meself. Goes down a treat. You’ll find some in aisle nine. Mmm, lovely!”
“Who on earth’s doing the announcements?”
Mo on checkout 12 beeped a tin of beans over her scanner and spoke over her shoulder to Donna on the next till.
“It’s Gavin’s gran. She’s been begging him to let her do something to get her out of the house.”
“Do you think he knows what she’s saying?”
“I don’t think so. He’s gone up to head office. He looked a bit preoccupied.”
Checkout girls and customers looked towards the ceiling as Lilly’s voice floated through the sound system.
“If you can’t decide between mature and extra mature, ’ere’s some music to ’elp you. It’s Bucks Fizz and ‘Making Your Mind Up’.”
Standing by the Pink Lady apples, Annabelle couldn’t help laughing.
“Did you hear that?” she asked the owner of the trolley next to hers.
“Sounds like she’s been at the alcopops!” he agreed in a light Scottish accent.
The friendly reply made Annabelle turn to face him. Intent on choosing her fruit, she hadn’t looked at him before. Now she saw that he was a man of about her age, with short dark hair. He was wearing a v-necked sweater over a crisp white T-shirt.
She liked his smile.
“I may just check out that cheese offer, though,” he went on. “She’s making me fancy a wee bit of cheese on toast!”
“Me, too. I like it with anchovies and a bit of paprika.”
“I’m afraid I’m not such a fancy chef.”
“Paprika’s hardly ‘Masterchef’ standard!” Annabelle laughed.
“It is for me.” He smiled. “Even a toastie may be pushing my culinary expertise. I’ll probably stick to a cheese sandwich.”
Finding herself walking alongside him, Annabelle glanced at the sparse contents of his trolley: a single man’s shopping.
Not that she could talk. She’d get through the 10
items or fewer checkout, no problem.
Lilly peered through the little office window that gave her a panoramic view over the endless aisles of the vast supermarket.
Watching the shoppers scurrying about below her reminded her of the old fruit and veg market in Bermondsey.
“Now, ladies and gents, do you like a nice bottle of wine with your dinner? I know I do, and when I’m finished ’ere I’m going to ’ead over to our wine department where we ’ave not five, not ten, but twenty per cent – yes, you heard that right – off our fabulous French selection. Ooh la la!
“To get you in that Parisian mood, here’s Manhattan Transfer with ‘Chanson D’amour’. Ooh, I like this one.”
Carried away, she began to sing along.
Annabelle covered her mouth to stifle her giggles.
“Do you think she knows she’s left the microphone on?”
“I don’t think she cares!” Rory, the handsome young Scot, grinned.
Annabelle laughed again, and dipped her eyes away from his gaze.
“The wine offer sounds good, though,” she ventured. “I think I’ll pick up a bottle.”
“Romantic dinner planned?”
“I wish! No, just some old friends from uni coming over at the weekend. We hardly see each other these days, now we’re all working.”
As Lilly’s quivery vibrato filled the air, she turned her trolley away from the cheese counter.
“I may just check out the French selection myself,” Rory said.
“Romantic dinner planned?” Annabelle teased.
“Eh? Oh, no. I live in hope! It might be a bit quieter over that side
of the shop, anyway!” A few feet away at the fish counter, a shopper snorted and took out her phone. Wiping away a tear of mirth with one hand, she thumbed a tweet with the other.
“Ooh, I’m quite out of breath now.” Lilly gasped as the song came to an end. “Oops, I just realised the microphone’s been on all this time! What am I like?”
She cleared her throat and studied her list of the day’s offers.
“So, what are you all ’aving for dinner tonight?”
Through the window, she noticed that quite a few shoppers had stopped what they were doing and were gazing up at the speakers.
“How about a deep-filled steak an’ kidney pie?” Lilly suggested. “Two for one in the chilled cabinet at the end of aisle seven. Perfect with a bit of mash! Mmm, my mouth’s watering at the thought.”
Several shoppers began heading towards aisle seven.
“Course, what you want to set that off is some proper East End liquor, like my dear old dad used to make at the pie an’ mash shop. People used to come from all over London for a drop of my dad’s parsley liquor.
“Now, ladies, this is not hard to make,” she went on, “but your ’usband will never forget it. Just pick up some parsley in our fresh veg section, a bit of flour an’ some malt vinegar. Then, when you get ’ome, take about an ounce of butter . . .”
“Not working today, then?” Annabelle enquired as she and Rory perused the wines.
“My shift doesn’t start till later,” he said. “I’m a junior doctor at the General Hospital.”
“Really?” she exclaimed. “Do you know Si Lewis in radiography?”
“Si?” Rory frowned. “I’ve not been there long, but aye, I think I’ve bumped into him.”
“He’s my big brother!” Annabelle clapped her hands together.
“You don’t say?” He beamed. “What a small world!”
“Isn’t it just?” The connection suddenly made her new acquaintance feel like a friend.
“So, what do you do?” Rory asked.
“I work at the art gallery in Richmond Street. We’re having a press launch this evening, so I thought I’d take an hour off this afternoon and get my shopping in.” “Sounds glamorous.” “It’s not really.” Annabelle curled her fair hair behind her ear. She’d planned to fix her make-up and change into her evening clothes back at the office. Suddenly she wished she’d got ready earlier.
Waiting outside the CEO’S room at head office, Gavin was nervous. As hard as he’d tried to live up to his prestigious promotion, sales at the supermarket hadn’t been great since he took over, and he knew where the buck stopped.
To distract himself, he took out his smartphone and checked his Twitter feed.
“What?” he said aloud. @Wool_green_ Superstore was trending.
He clicked on the thread and his eyes almost popped out. Thousands of people were tweeting and retweeting snippets of the announcements being made at the store – his store. The place was a laughing stock.
Gran! How could he have left her in charge of a microphone?
With shaking hands, he tried to dial his assistant manager just as the CEO’S secretary looked up at him.
“Mr Morley, you can go through now.”
“That was ‘You Sexy Thing’ by Hot Chocolate,” Lilly announced. “I should ’ave been a DJ, shouldn’t I?
“Now, if I could ’ave your attention, ladies an’ gentlemen, I ’ave a very special announcement to make. This Thursday evening, we’re going to try somefink new an’ convert our cafeteria into a candlelit restaurant.
“You can book a table, relax with a bottle of wine and ’ave a three-course dinner served at your table. So, not only can you do your late-night shopping, you get a romantic rendezvous as well.” She chuckled. “We’re calling it Date Night Thursday. That name was my idea, by the way!”
Meanwhile, her grandson Gavin was perched on the edge of the leather guest chair like a guilty schoolboy.
Sir Jared Deadwood, the supermarket magnate, glared across the shiny desk like a disappointed headmaster.
“While I appreciate some of your more, ahem, adventurous innovations, Mr Morley, I must tell you these figures really are disappointing . . .”
A phone beeped on the desk and Deadwood snatched it up.
“Are you sure this is important, Sandra? All right, put him through.”
While Deadwood took his call, Gavin surreptitiously slipped his phone from his pocket to check what fresh havoc Lilly was unleashing at the store.
To his surprise, there was a text from his assistant manager.
You won’t believe this, Gav. The store’s packed! We’re doing the best business ever, and we’re completely sold out of parsley!
Deadwood slammed down his phone. “Now, where was I?” “Um, before you carry on, Sir Jared.” Gavin passed him his phone. “I think you should have a look at this.”
Engrossed in conversation with Rory, Annabelle finally realised that her shopping had moved forward on the conveyor belt.
“Sorry to keep you,” Mo, the checkout girl, said. “We’ve never been so busy. Will you two lovebirds be going to the romantic dinner?”
“Us?” Annabelle blushed, flustered. “We’re not . . .”
“. . . Together,” Rory supplied.
“Oh, sorry,” Mo said.
“But,” Rory said, smiling, “if you’re not doing anything on Thursday, maybe we could make it a date night?”
She beamed, surprised by how comfortable the suggestion sounded.
“Yes,” she said. “I’d like that a lot.”
“Oh, look at the time!” Lilly said. “I can’t believe it’s gone so quick. I’ve just got time to pick up one of our special offer fresh salads an’ a rotisserie chicken for my Alf’s dinner – that’s if they’re not all sold out.
“Anyway, I ’ope you’ve all enjoyed your afternoon’s shopping an’ that you’ll all come back soon. Until then, goodbye an’ God bless.”
Across the vast store there was a sudden roar as shoppers, assistants, café staff and security guards turned towards the office and clapped, whistled and cheered the unknown announcer who had brightened up their day.
“Oh, my goodness!” Lilly said, taken aback.
She turned away from the microphone in time to see her grandson burst into the office.
“How did I do?” she asked.
“Gran,” Gavin told her, “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but I sincerely hope you can come back tomorrow and do it all over again!” n