Down The Aisle by Ju­lia Dou­glas

The shop’s cus­tomers were cer­tainly get­ting value for money to­day!

The People's Friend - - News -

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

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