Published by Colchester Library in 'Dead-Ends' by DFL
The girl was seventeen, but she looked younger.
She was working in a bread and cake shop until her first University term began in October. I had been staring meaningfully at her for days, ever since first spotting her behind the crusty loaves and jam doughnuts. However, she had failed to meet my eyes fully: that is, until the day I attempted small talk with her.
The amount of traffic in the High Street was my chosen topic, since I always avoided broaching the subject of weather. In fact, anybody who hangs an encounter between two separate human beings upon whether the sun shines is cheating both parties. That’s because the sun is always either shining or not shining. Come to think of it, the sun does always shine, whther it’s behind clouds or not (or even when it’s night time) .
She merely smiled half-heartedly as she plopped the toasted macaroons one by one into the crinkly bag, finally crunching up the saw-edged opening into a fuse of paper. I must have purchased more bread and its accessories during that holiday than I would eat for the rest of the year. Eventually, she responded to my prattle with a willingness
I had never previously dared to expect. The voice was as pretty as the face. In many ways, the bakery overall made her body strangely sexless, yet this was an intrinsic part of her charm, having no pretensions to flaunt, keeping her goodies, as it were, done up like a surprise parcel for Christmas.
She had no choice, really, since all the girls in the shop had to wear such overalls. But the others seemed somehow more careless with their top button or had bigger busts or both. I could not see any legs behind the high counter, so comparison was impossible that far down.
The fundamental mystery centred around the fact that, whatever time of day I arrived to buy bread, however long the queue and however quick its demands could be fulfilled, I was always served by my favourite. She always seemed to be the one who had just finished serving another customer when it was my turn. Not intentional on her part, nor mine for that matter (how could it have been?), but this always happened - without exception.
And I visited the bread shop twice a day for a whole fortnight.
When my stay in the area was fast approaching its end (a particularly sunny one as it turned out, spending most of my time feeding the pigeons in the park), 11 decided to pluck up sufficient courage to ask her out.
I had debated whether to wait until the bread shop closed in the evening, and follow her home. Then, at least, I would be afforded a glimpse of her without an overall, thus, perhaps, releasing me from any desire to ask her out in the first place. However, I did not want to tarnish her innocence with any such surrepitious behaviour. That was the last thing I wanted. Still is.
So I asked her out, whilst she was still in her overall, at the optimum moment when all the other girls’ attention was elsewhere, either wielding cake-tongs or haggling with an ugly customer over cheap offers of stale bloomers.
She said yes, without vacillation, filling me with wordless excitement and, yes, surprise. During out little chats over the bread, we had never reached anything more personal than that she was due to go to University in October (so she must have been at least seventeen) and that I was on holiday, whiling away a fortnight until work started again. She probably failed to guess how old I was.
Of course, she never turned up for our date. And on the Saturday, the last shopping day for me in the area, she was nowhere to be seen behind the counter. I asked after her, but one of the brazen hussies simply shrugged her padded shoulders and said my favourite was “off sick”.
I was off sick, too, for the first few days after my holiday. The doctor said it was constipation resulting from too much starch and carbohydrates, next to no green things and lack of exercise.
As far as my emotions were concerned, they were left relatively unscarred, since, if I am honest with myself, I had been relieved she did not turn up for the assignation. Her innocence remained unsullied.
I know she exists somewhere on the face of the Earth, somewhere under sun and sky, even if I never see her again. And, because of our relative ages, this will surely be true for at least as long as I shall live. That thought unaccountably gives me enormous pleasure.