Short Story by J M Jackson
She entered the shop on a Wednesday morning at two minutes past ten o’clock. By six minutes past, he had fallen in love.
When she came down his aisle, he stared. When she reached the end and turned the corner, he followed. At a distance, of course. But then not at a distance. When she happened to glance in his direction, he didn’t flinch. Eyes wide. Vacant smile.
He gave the same smile to his shelves at home. Little boxes and books all neatly arranged. Children’s books, out of date atlases, electrical appliance user manuals. Nothing to be read. Everything to be organised. Dust would settle on the boxes and books. Absolute order remained. The boxes he turned into books by writing illegible titles on their cardboard spines which protected nothing but air.
‘We had another customer complain about your behaviour,’ the manager said.
She noticed me, he thought. Ecstasy. Joy.
‘Do you hear me?’ continued the manager. ‘Just because we’re family doesn’t mean I’ll be able to keep ignoring these complaints.’
He hung his head and swayed gently. He ignored his uncle. He was looking at his shoes and smiling about the girl. His smile belonged to an actor who might play the role of a schizophrenic villain. But why do the schizophrenics have to be villains?
When the girl first left the shop, his thumping heart ripped from his chest. Shirt buttons blown, ripped right open, just a void left behind his shattered ribs. He caught sight of himself in the mirrored glass near his uncle’s office and noticed how empty he was inside.
After being dismissed by his uncle, he returned to his aisle and continued stacking shelves, fondling the boxes gleefully but with care.
Soon, the shop door dinged and a customer walked in. Floating. Like an angel.
She entered the shop on a Wednesday morning at twenty minutes past eleven. By twenty-four minutes past, he had fallen in love.