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‘I Like Small Rooms’ from Spill (Some Stories) by Giles Ward

“I like small rooms. I especially like small rooms with just one door. You can understand small rooms, there’s no hiding places. No need to look over your shoulder. A window’s fine, but just one door. The shop had two, of course. One for the customers and another that lead into the back storeroom where we put the donations. Sometimes customers were allowed in there, but only ones that Michael said could. I wasn’t allowed to let anyone go in there, but I didn’t want to anyway. I didn’t like people going in there, they hadn’t earned the right, and anyway there was personal stuff in there, not only the clothes and books and ornaments that people had left in boxes and bags, but also our valuables. After that first time Michael let people in the back room I just kept my coat on. Michael told me to take it off in the summer, he said it made the shop look untidy. I told him that it was a charity shop, that the shop was full of old shoes, shirts and coats and that was what made the shop untidy. Not my coat. He didn’t like that. He never liked me answering back, especially when he knew I was right. I got promoted of course, when Michael was gone. I didn’t get a title, as such, but I did get more responsibility. Just doing some of the things Michael used to do that he thought I couldn’t. Or rather he didn’t want me to do. I knew how to do all those things, I had seen him do them enough times. I knew how to unlock the cash till at the end of the day and I knew to put the money in the safe in the back room cupboard. It was the only time I can remember being alone in the shop in all those years. It felt good, you know. Like as a kid, running round the house naked when your mum was out. I closed up the shop. I pulled down the blind and I switched off the lights and the gas heater and double bolted the back door. And in the morning I did all the other things as well. I carried in the black bin bags of left clothes by the front step and I turned on all the lights and put the radio on. I even made the tea. And I didn’t just stand about waiting for the first customer. I rearranged the front window. I had never done that before. I’d never been allowed to. It was Michael’s job. And, of course, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it as well as him. He’s done it for years, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s, Halloween, lots of different themed windows. I always told him I loved his displays. So I tried my own theme. I dressed the one plastic mannequin we own and pulled her over to the window. I put on cream coloured stockings and a lime party skirt. I dressed her top half in a pink shirt and a blue woollen cardie. I called her Sue. I don’t know much about fashion, but I like colours and those were the most colourful things I could find around the shop. Sue had never had a head so I couldn’t put a hat on. So I left her stood there in the window all day, but it sort of creeped me out, just me and her being there all day and her having no head. Actually it was strange because no one came in until lunchtime. You don’t get many people on a Tuesday. Never do. Tuesdays are empty days everyone knows that. But there wasn’t even one of the Age Concern ladies from next door or a drop off from Ron who does the hospice rounds. So I spent most of the time brushing the floor and putting the ornaments on the shelves back in the order that I like. There’s things on those shelves that haven’t sold for ages and ages. I’ve told Michael more than once that we should throw them away, but he thinks that’s disrespectful to the people who donated them. I remind him that they didn’t want the things in the first place so won’t care if we throw them away. But that’s Michael for you. I know he was the manager, and he had managers’ worries, but he didn’t want to do anything to change the shop. That’s the way it is, he’d say, and that’s the way it stays. Like in the storeroom. I said we should rearrange the things that came in in a more logical order, like a stocking system. Maybe even itemise the things that came in rather than just leave them in their boxes and bags until we have room out front to put them. But he said he liked the process we had – even if it meant you could never find anything if someone asked for it. But, of course, with promotion, I got to be able to change all that. I had great plans for the shop, Sue and I. Not that I got much of a chance to try them out, of course. Which is a shame, thinking about it. Because I’m sure even now with a better stock control system, rotation of products on the shelves and a better way of displaying items the shop could have made lots more money. But I got bored being by myself. Even after one day. Really it was the lack of customers, because I know had I been busy like I usually was when Michael was there telling me what to do I wouldn’t even of thought of it. I wanted to sort out the storeroom and I had my plans, and if I’m honest, I didn’t think what I had done with the mannequin looked very good. And that annoyed me because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do what Michael had made look so easy all those times. So I grabbed Sue by the waist and dragged her into the back room. I knew Mrs Harewood had seen me in the window because I noticed her bobble hat bounce up and down at the bus stop. I thought she might think Sue was real for a minute, accept I remembered she didn’t have a head so she couldn’t possibly think that. But then she hasn’t got great eyesight – Mrs Harewood, not Sue. So anyway I dragged her out back and tried on lots of other clothes. But whatever I tried on I knew she wouldn’t look any good without a hat. Or a head. So that’s when I had the idea. And like I say, that’s probably what did it. If Michael had been there bossing me about, telling me what do to all the time, I wouldn’t have even thought of doing such a thing. So I put Sue back in the window – now wearing a green sparkling evening dress – and went back into the storeroom. And there he was. Just sitting there. As he had been, of course, since our argument the day before. I knew I couldn’t wake him, anymore than you can make an old pair of shoes new again, so I just did it. Anyway, I wouldn’t have tried to wake him even if I could. He would only start on about how silly Sue looked, or that I had swept the floor wrong, or that I shouldn’t have messed with the cash till. So I used the sharpest, longest knife I could find in a canteen of cutlery that had been donated the previous week and cut it off. It wasn’t easy and he had a fat neck, but I’m sorry, regardless of what you or Michael or Mrs Harewood might say Sue looked better for having a head to put a hat on. I wiped the blood off her with a dress shirt that hadn’t sold in all the time I’ve been there, so I knew it wouldn’t be wasted and tried probably as many as a dozen different hats on her until I settled on the one you found her wearing when you arrived. Did she say anything about the hat by the way? Do you think she might visit me here? I know Michael won’t visit. He was never as comfortable with small spaces. But I like them. I like small rooms. I especially like small rooms with just one door. Like this one.”

Giles Ward is an advertising copywriter and author based in the UK. Through Impress Books he has published two novels, 100 Ways To Improve The World and The Price of Everything. His more recent works in include Where Beauty Is, a novel centered on the fictionalized biography of an artist, and Spill (some stories), a collection of short stories published by Watchword eBooks which can be purchased here.

He has a great love of the short story as an art form and features links to and reviews of great short stories on his website.

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