by Philip Vermaas
I used to go to the bottle store up the road to, of course, buy booze. It’s the child store of the adjoining supermarket franchise and I started going there with my ex. When we didn’t feel like wasting time which could be better spent naked and eating and drinking in bed, we’d quickly dash in to do a one-stop shop for lovers’ food, wine, whisky and gin. The store often had a special on Black & White whisky which, for my thin wallet, is the best of the cheaper whiskies with a recognizable label. After the relationship melted in flash of acid rain, I carried on going to this store not only to check the whisky specials but also to see the lovely face of Maggie, to which I’d become accustomed.
Maggie was, and hopefully still is, an impishly beautiful skinny black girl, a young woman really, who changed her hair style once or twice a week. She always had wild hair, black and shiny with streaks of fluorescent pink, purple, red or green, and done up in new ways which usually contained the contrasting elements of a Amazonian tribe’s woman and a MTV presenter. To me it looked as though her hair was done by someone, a friend maybe (for which counter jockey can afford a trip the salon twice a week?), who knows rare methods and tricks appropriate to a young black woman in Cape Town; one trying to move from the old South Africa to the new. “I like your hair today,” I used to say, “you’re very pretty.” And she’d beam her young, fluttering smile of guileless charm. One day when she’d been treated, with others, like a common crook by her boss—a smarmy ex-lawyer with Don Juan delusions who used to try and get my ex to suck his cock the moment I, in his bought franchise, ventured down another isle—to a polygraph test for the disappearance of too many cigarettes for her tiny handbag to ever carry, she confessed to me how unhappy she was and how much she hated her boss. I, knowing enough of him, tried to cheer her up by assuring her that all good people knew he was a giant arsehole. This cheered her up only a little and she moaned about her job in general and the state of her life. I frivolously suggested she go to Scotland, land of plenty, where, when I returned, I’d show her the ropes, help her to a better job in a more civilized, or just less impoverished, society. With an arousing bite of her lower lip, she scribbled out her phone number on a piece of paper torn from the till roll and, with a mixture of awkwardness and desperation, thrust it into my hand. It was a hopeful and needy gesture, an oppressed young woman’s stab at any chance for escape. I could’ve been anyone with a seemingly exotic story, but I accepted it as flattery and indulged the unrealistic idea of trotting around Glasgow with this heavenly young woman on my hairy old arm. We wouldn’t be able to talk about philosophy and poetry in any profound way, and the sex would have to be gentle to appease her modesty.
I saw her a couple of times after that; and I’d not called. There was no reason to call without some news of the dream of escape to Scotland. When I did see her, she looked happier and must have recovered from the unfair accusations of her arsehole overlord boss. I told her so and told her how much I liked her new hair style.
For a few weeks I was away in another neighbourhood, buying whisky from a less friendly store. When I returned, I immediately went to get the first of my thrice-weekly bottles and was disappointed to discover that Maggie wasn’t behind the counter with astounding hair and a beam of warmth. No matter, I thought, she’s on the other shift or has the day off. Her manager, not the arsehole overlord but the store manager, came over all smiles. For a while she’d been trying to get in on the action, soak up some of the rapport which Maggie and I shared. Although I’d reserved the more intimate looks for Maggie, I’d begun saying hello to her, too, and she’d begun greeting me with a look of familiarity; one also wrapped in a smile, though a smile less innocent and pure than the one of beautiful Maggie.
Now the manager was in full flight, leaning her short plump body against the counter and, with looks and gestures, trying to engage me. It made me uncomfortable; as is often the case when the ugly offer me their flattery. Trying to get the fuck out of there as quickly as possible, I nodded enough to, I hoped, remain polite while limiting the extent of the interaction. As is the wont of those too ugly (and I mean, in their souls) not to have to work for affection, she pinned me down, saying suddenly, as if we’d been having a different conversation, that I should feel free to contact her. “I’m not,” I swiftly assured her, “a good communicator. My friends all complain they never hear from me.” As if this meant nothing, intimating the idea that typical rules didn’t apply when the offer was wink-wink worthwhile, she wrote out her email address on my receipt and passed if from her stubby, grubby hand into my own. Bibiballet@somefuckingsite it read and she, noting my scepticism, told me she’d once been very fit, an aerobics instructor who’d always dreamed of being a dancer. This was the email address of a woman clinging to her failed dreams. I reminded her I was a notoriously bad communicator, to which she didn’t respond in the slightest way, and I placed the address in my pocket. “Contact me,” she said, a twinkle in her eye which, like the other small eye, was surrounded by the soft puffy white flesh of a woman who’d recently seen more puddings than sunlight. Two in one store, I thought as I carried home the whisky. That I spent more time in the bottle store than any other store and was, by any stretch of the expression, a regular customer, didn’t really come into my consciousness. As I walked, I imagined what it would be like to fuck the plump bibiballet and only filth came to mind. A tender kiss couldn’t penetrate the vivid mental orgy that I suspected this woman was offering. By conflating the memories of a few flabby buttocks, I was able to conjure a vivid image of her fat arse. This malignant filth remained in mind just long enough for me to knock one out when I got home. For a day or so I toyed with the idea of sending her an email, thinking that she might be a useful vessel for the inexorable filth of my mind. When the reality of typing her a message, setting her avalanche of flesh in motion, hit me, I didn’t have the stomach to do it. I had not the stomach she had.
As every two days, the whisky came to an end and I went back to the store wondering what it would be like to see both Maggie and bibiballet at the same time, and whether it would feed my ego or make me feel awkward and sick. Maggie wasn’t there, again, and bibiballet was in the corner dealing with a staff problem or something similar. She shot me a curt smile, revealing a bitterness that she’d laid her organ on the counter and I’d not bothered to pick it up and extract its offer of heartless fucking. Nodding politely, I took my bottle, better whisky on special, and went home feeling a bit confused. It had, after all, only been two days since her offer and I thought I’d done a convincing job about being a lousy communicator.
Bottle finished, I soberly lumbered back to the store, without a full ego or a twitch in my pants, hoping to see only Maggie’s glorious smile and no squat, plump purveyor of filth with dead dreams tattooed on her swing-door arse cheeks. Again there was no Maggie, only the sullen pudding face of bibiballet. She was engaged in a conversation with a tall good looking man on my side of the counter. Noticing me waiting to pay, their tone dipped into the audible but telling deepness of two people discussing personal things. “I’ll see you tonight then,” said the tall man with renewed freshness which spoke of his awareness that a customer was becoming impatient for the manager to do her job and scan a bottle. To her, he raised his eyebrows and grinned as if he was sending a bolt of sub-vocal information to the visibly excited filth vessel who would soon have her artless desires sated by one who was taller and better looking than me. What she didn’t know was that she’d confirmed my suspicion that she’d only been looking for filth and that, as a result, I felt lucky to have escaped. She was just too ugly for me to allow her to treat me like a support for my penis.
My suspicion confirmed, I heaved with relief, effectively exchanging a damaged ego with a sense of lucky escape. The crude allure of pure filth that ugliness embodies was dissolved in an instant. “How are you?” I asked in the manner of a less familiar customer. “Fine,” she said, allowing me to see her smirk, “you?”. “I’m good,” I said confidently and then, to drive the point home, I asked, “Where’s Maggie? I haven’t seen her around.” As one trying to recall a distant memory, she affected a look of perplexity; unconvincing for a manager of a store which only has two or three staff, including the security guard. “Oh, Maggie,” she said finally. “She’s working in the main store now.”
Walking home, it occurred to me that bibiballet had carefully orchestrated Maggie’s relocation from the bottle store; probably using the excuse, to the arsehole overlord—under whose direct gaze Maggie would now be working—that Maggie had become too friendly with one of the customers, to the point that she’d given him her phone number. A scenario easy to envisage and a cold heart like the one of bibiballet would play on the injured ego of the arsehole overlord who, even if he coerced Maggie into bed, would not be one to whom Maggie would willingly give her phone number.
I now shop at a bottle store only a bit further up the same road. They too have good specials on whisky and I’ve bought Black & White there at a lower price than the other’s best deal. As I pass my old store, en route to my new store, I wonder whether bibiballet really did send Maggie away to remove the competition and open the playing field for herself; or if it isn’t just the swollen-ego delusion of one who drinks too much. But Maggie did make her look even uglier and Maggie must have had much envy-inducing attention from men with an eye for beauty. I also wonder whether kind and sweet Maggie knows what went on or if she isn’t just confused and angry that the arsehole overlord was, yet again, treating her badly; offending her modesty as well, at what must seem a whim. And I’ve been to the main store to look for her, just to say hello, but she must be working in the back rooms. If I didn’t think it would have set workings in motion which might end up being cruel or hurtful to Maggie, I’d have given her a call by now.
I’ve placed her crumpled phone number on the shelf beneath the bathroom mirror. It’s not that noticeable in amongst the blotches of caked toothpaste and lids of things long discarded, but I see it sometimes and wonder what has happened to her.