International Writers Magazine: We Shop
is a hunters job but no one has told the shop assistants
who is the hunter and who the hunted. I watch them from the far
side of the road, across the sparse traffic, through the plate glass,
at dusk in winter. In the window of the Comptoir des Cotonniers,
the mannequins are all dressed in grey and brown. There are three-quarter
length coats over chunky knits, knee-length dresses and belted cardigans.
All the clothes
have big, shiny buttons and wide lapels. Sparkly halogen lighting illuminates
the display with a frosty warmth at the same time inviting and
There are two assistants on duty. Both are wearing the goods
knitted charcoal-grey blouses over thin white polar-neck jumpers. One
stands each side of the shop doorway, hovering. One is about 20, the
other about twice that age. The elder assistant is standing directly
in the beam of one of the twinkly halogen spotlights and it shows up
her roots. Minutes pass and they do not speak.
A man in a velvet fedora hesitates in front of the vitrine. He scans
the mannequins. His head twitches this way and that, then he tilts his
face up. He must be trying to imagine the clothes on a body on
the body he wishes to decorate. I see his posture become more confident,
his bearing more assertive the assurance that comes with a sense
Almost imperceptibly but I am paying close attention the
shop assistants exchange a glance, complicit and experienced. Their
mouths might already be forming their anodyne questions: Do you
know her size? Is it a gift? and Oh, how lucky!
Almost by force of will, they are drawing him in, attempting to confirm
his power and exploit it with their window display, with their
sparkly lights, with their welcoming posture and their friendly grey
roots (though she doesnt know that).
As he pushes the door, I take my glass of wine outside to a pavement
table for a better view. I see the brim of his fedora bend downwards
in the jet of the hot-air curtain. The elder assistant smiles and steps
away. In perfect harmony, with balanced timing, the younger moves half
a pace towards him and turns her body a little away, indicating the
interior of the shop with the angle of her shoulders, with a manicured
hand, palm upwards.
The man puts his own hands in his pockets and stands his ground. I can
see her mouth move as she attempts to engage his interest or his sympathy.
Good afternoon, sir. Is it still cold out there? Is it a gift?
I cant see his face, but he must speak to her and she grazes an
item in the window display with a fingertip then turns to her colleague.
The elder assistant, standing at the till halfway down the side wall,
brightens and beams. She waves her hands to the displays at the back
of the shop, home of the most sought-after items, those most likely
to drag the customer inside, deep into the web.
For the man in the velvet fedora, the moment of crisis has come. The
centre of gravity of his casual enquiry has shifted. He is outnumbered.
On his side, there are only his hat and his fists, balled up in the
pockets of his overcoat. Ranged against him are the lights and their
twinkle, the friendly roots, the smiles, the body half turned, the beaming
obsequiousness, the projection of respect, the engaging enthusiasm,
the lack of price tickets, the shelves deep in the web stacked with
secret treasures in the profoundest dark corner of this perfumed cave.
A waiter emerges and pirouettes in front of me black waistcoat,
white collared shirt, burgundy bow tie, starched apron. Then he moves
away and a bus grinds into the precinct and parks to let off and take
on passengers. I count the people who disembark - sixteen. I watch through
the windows as those who embark flash their season tickets and edge
for seats, awkwardly advancing crabwise down the narrow centre aisle.
Three of the passengers emerge onto the platform at the rear. They are
bent over with wild hilarious laughter. They slap one another on the
shoulders and grasp at the chrome rail, choking with mirth. One of them
points away into the crowds of early evening shoppers and hoots. I have
no idea what delights them so.
Finally the bus moves off and I am gratified I would have been
sorry to miss it to see the man in the velvet fedora on the pavement
in front of the Comptoir des Cotonniers. He has a paper bag in each
hand thick white almost-card with braided handles, like the rope
that Anne Summers sells for suburban bondage. There are competing emotions
on his face triumph and despair. He is victorious he will
bring home the hosiery. He is defeated he became the quarry.
He looks back. The assistants are elsewhere tidying the changing
rooms perhaps, cashing up in the back office. He crosses the road towards
me and I am worried for an irrational second that he will ask me what
I think of his purchases and show me the photographs of her that he
always carries with him on his mobile phone. But he turns away and joins
the queue of people awaiting the next bus.
© Greg Mosse
gregmosse at hotmail.com
Greg Mosse is a writer and teacher currently studying on the University
of Portsmouth MA in Creative Writing.
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