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The International Writers Magazine: We Shop

Predatory Shopping
Greg Mosse

Shopping is a hunter’s 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 minimalistically impressive.

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 of ownership.
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 doesn’t 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 can’t 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 November 2008
gregmosse at

Greg Mosse is a writer and teacher currently studying on the University of Portsmouth MA in Creative Writing.

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