SHORT STORY A MONTH 2022 CHALLENGE.

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user name@LuTWLucas


April 2022

JIMMY AND THE FERRET
© Louise TW Lucas

It's a Monday afternoon, I'm still in bed, and I can think of no good reason to get up.
A week ago, I was working on the check-out at Palmer's, a small though long-established mini-mart on the high street.
It was hardly my dream job, but it was my ticket to independence.
You're not an academic Mandy, my dad said when I failed to flourish at school, I wouldn't be too picky when it comes to career choices if I was you.
It's because I'm dyslexic. My English teacher noticed how I struggled with words and then I was diagnosed.
Dad's one of those people who thinks labelling someone dyslexic is just another silly made-up word for... thick.
Admittedly, I had struggled to read and understand the note my mother had left on the table six years ago.
Dad went purple in the face when he read it.
She'd done a runner.
I didn't blame her. I just wish she'd taken me with her.
I was eleven and just about to go to secondary school, so, I guess, she thought it would be best if I stayed put.
Six months ago, just after my seventeenth birthday, I walked away from college and further education. Then I applied for the job at Palmer's.
My teachers tried to persuade me otherwise, but I wanted to follow in my mother's footsteps and escape the cantankerous old sod that was my father.
Working on the check-out only just covered the rent of my one-room bedsit and the bills, but it was just good to have my own quiet space.
Anyway, let's get back to why I'm lying in bed on a Monday afternoon.
I'm wondering (and not caring) if the spider that's abseiling down from the ceiling will land on my face. I'm an arachnophobe, even though I can't spell it, but right now, nothing matters.
Last week I was sacked from my job.
Because I was sacked, rather than having chosen to leave, I will be eligible for some benefits and help with the rent.
I can't go back to living with my dad.
Palmer's won't be supplying a glowing reference. There will be nothing confirming how trustworthy and reliable I am.
I'll be lucky to find any kind of employment now.
I don't really blame Jimmy. I should have known better.
There he was on that first day at work, with those rouge eyes and crooked smile. Jimmy's handsome in an unconventional way, but his casual self-confidence attracted me most of all. Jimmy's very comfortable in his own skin, which I'm not.
There's too much of it for a start. I could do with losing some weight. I've been bulimic since I was eleven. I stuff myself with food and then throw most of it up, and STILL, I get fat.
My dad's overweight too, but it doesn't stop him from teasing me. He calls me Miss Blobby and then laughs as if he's said the funniest thing in the world.
Jimmy homed in on me from day one.
I'd not had a proper boyfriend, just an unfortunate and humiliating incident with a boy at school who cornered me in the lost and found while I was trying to find my sports kit.
I didn't tell anyone, especially not my dad, he'd have blamed me.
Jimmy made me feel like I was the only person of interest.
We're not like those other losers, Jimmy would say.
He meant Jackie on the till, Marion the manageress, and Oli the shelf-stacker.
In what way we weren't like those other losers, I had no idea, and as it turned out, I was the biggest loser of all.
Why Jimmy had such an inflated view of himself, I can't say. His job was to transfer supplies from the delivery trucks and sort out where to stack them.
Jimmy was nearly thirty, and he'd already worked at Palmer's for over five years.
That was something else that attracted me, not that he'd worked at Palmer's for over five years, the fact that Jimmy was a grown-up man, not some greasy-haired, pock faced teenager like the boy, like the one in lost and found.
Jimmy's seemed so sophisticated in comparison, so worldly-wise, and I was high on his attention.
Jimmy would say nice things about the way I looked. He'd compliment my clothes and tell me how beautiful my long red hair was.
He'd look at me in a lust, admiring kind of way, and I wasn't used to that.
Beyonce would die for an ass like yours, he said.
It's twice the size, I said, feeling awkward and embarrassed.
Well, that just makes it twice as lovable, he said, giving my rear a cheeky slap.
When I turned up for my shift, he'd put his arm around me, give me a big tight squeeze and say, yeah! Mandy's here to brighten my day.
He'd tell me jokes and poke fun at Marion, Jackie and Oli.
It was mean of him to make fun of Oli, but he did such funny impressions and I'd find it hard not to laugh.
Oli was nearly forty but had learning difficulties, so he was mentally much younger.
Jimmy didn't like Jackie even though she was lovely looking and really smart.
Jackie didn't like him either.
She was heading off to university in September.
I won't be working here much longer either, Jimmy would say,
this is just a short stop on the high road out of this two-bit town, Then he'd do a funny bow-legged cowboy walk and put on an American accent.
So, as I said, he made me feel special, and he made me laugh.
Weeks passed before he asked me out, then one afternoon, he said we should go for a drink after work.
He didn't take me to the new wine bar as I had hoped.
We went to The Ferret, which is probably the worst pub in town.
You walk in, and there's this frayed, worn-out, old brown and yellow carpet, sticky and stained from all the spilt drinks. The whole bar reeks of stale tobacco and the walls and ceilings are blackened by the tar. Outside theirs usually a small, intimidating gathering of aggressively tattooed smokers.
Gary, the landlord, had the kind of face only a mother could love, and what must have been a very amateur tattoo artist had scribbled all over it. There were piercing through his nose, lips, ears and forehead. He looked like someone had attacked him with a staple gun.
Gary and Jimmy seemed to know each other pretty well. They locked hands in a big puffed-up manly way when we walked in, and then they went through a strange ritual of complicated hand gestures.
You're friends? I said, surprised, and sounding it.
Kind of, he said, without elaborating.
You sit down, said Jimmy, I'll just take care of business. He handed Gary the big heavy rucksack he'd been carrying, and then Gary took the sack into a room at the back.
Champagne? Asked Jimmy.
He was only joking.
They do a wicked cider here, he said.
So that's what I had, in a smeary half-pint glass that smelt of dirty washing up water.
Do you always come here then? I asked.
Hey, leave the chat up lines to me, he said, laughing. Yeah, it's good, pretty chill, I prefer a place that's a bit spit and sawdust, a proper pub.
At work, we chatted easily, but now, outside of that environment, we were struggling.
Play pool? Asked Jimmy
No,
Well, never mind, I'll teach you.
I can't say I was that enthusiastic, but I made an effort and Jimmy pretended I was pretty good at playing, even though I wasn't.
There you go, you're a natural, he said. It was nice of him to pretend, rather than putting me down and making fun of how useless I was.
I had about three ciders by the time we decided to get up and leave, and I felt pretty drunk.
It's strong stuff, said Jimmy, Gary brews it up himself, proper scrumpy cider. The Ferret was my old man's favourite haunt.
Was? So, where is he now? I asked
Inside.
Inside what?
Inside, inside, what do you think.
It seemed rude to fish for specifics.
So I asked about his mum.
Dead, he said.
After an awkward silence, I said, was it cancer or something?
Yeah, it was something, said Jimmy, with his weird kind of upside-down grin.
What have you got? He asked
what?
Family?
I've got my dad and a mother who's somewhere out there. She didn't leave a forwarding address, I think she's worried my dad will track her down.
What's he like then.
He's like someone you'd want to run away from, I said.
Jimmy laughed.
A massive wanker then.
I didn't know what to say to that, but it made me smile. I imagined Jimmy calling my dad that, right in his face.
As we left, Jimmy went over to the bar and Gary gave Jimmy back the rucksack.
What was that about then, with the rucksack? I asked as we walked towards my place.
Ask no questions, and I'll tell you no lies, he said, putting his arm around me and pulling me in closer.
It's not drugs or anything, is it? I asked, hoping he'd say no... Which he did.
Christ Mandy, no way, nothing like that.
When we reached the door to my building, it was obvious that Jimmy expected to be invited in, so I did.
Jimmy stayed over and that was the beginning of us, me and him.
Don't tell anyone at work, he said. I don't want them knowing our business, especially that silly bitch, Jackie.
I wouldn't have told her anyway. She'd have called me an idiot and I'd had enough of my dad doing that.

When Marion started going on about missing joints of meat, we all agreed that it was pretty awful and you couldn't trust anyone these days.
She told me and Jackie to keep a keen eye on the customers, especially anyone with a pram, oversized bag, or big coat.
Mr Palmer had some security, but it was pretty outdated. He liked to keep costs to a minimum, just like our wages.
Mr Palmer had found out about a discrepancy when the accountant noticed irregularities and stock and sales. The numbers weren't adding up.

Despite our close observation, the thief remained elusive.
Then I heard Jackie and Doreen having a good old gossip in the stock room.
It has to be one of us, well, not me or you, obviously, said Marion, it can't be a customer. I've kept my eyes peeled and nothing gets past me. I can tell when someone's acting funny.
What about Mandy? Said Jackie.
My heart stopped beating for a minute. The very idea that Jackie thought I'd be capable of stealing, cut like a knife. Jimmy was right about her.
Unlikely, said Marion.
For which I was grateful.
It's one of the boys then, said Jackie. Jimmy or Oli.

They think one of us is

stealing meat, I said to Jimmy, later on in The Ferret.
Why us? He asked.
Because Marion and Jackie have been on high alert watching every
customer and they haven't seen anyone taking anything.
They're idiots, said Jimmy. People have been nicking all sorts from Palmer's for years. It's no big deal, supermarkets make allowances for those kinds of losses.
Mr Palmer isn't making any kind of allowances, I said.
People like Mr bloody Palmer, he said, they exploited everyone, you pay twice as much for a can of beans at Palmers than you would in Tesco and we don't even get the minimum wage.
I thought we were. I said.
Well, you, Jackie and Marion might be. Oli and I aren't paid right.
It surprised me that Jimmy, who was so full of himself, worked at Palmer's for less than the minimum wage.
I couldn't care less who's taking what, he said. Good luck to them, that's what I say.
You wouldn't though, would you Jimmy?
Wouldn't, what?
Steal.
Nah, don't worry.
I believed Jimmy because I wanted to.

The meat kept disappearing and Marion was in tears because Mr Palmer hinted that her job was on the line.
Marion had worked at Palmers' since the beginning of time. That's what Jimmy said.
Then, Mr Palmer had extra security cameras installed.
Jimmy seemed irritated and said that the cameras were an infringement of our human privacy rights. They'd put one out back where we took our breaks. They shouldn't be allowed to spy on us, he said, it's totally out of order.
One camera wasn't really enough to scan the entire room anyway and Jimmy noted that it was trained mainly on the rear exit where the goods came in.

Not long after the camera went up, Jimmy came in one morning, walked over to Marion, looking all serious, and said he needed a quiet word with her.
I don't know what he said, but for the rest of the day, Marion was in a bad mood.
Then Oli turned up for his shelf-stacking shift.
Jimmy hung around for a few minutes and then left saying he'd meet me at The Ferret later.

About an hour later, Marion leaves me alone on the till and heads for the staff room (which is actually a large broom cupboard where staff can hang their bags and coats. There's also a kettle and one chair in there.
A few minutes later, she came back carrying Oli's rucksack.
I'd never imagined Marion could be aggressive, or a person who lost their composure, but she pulled a leg of lamb from the rucksack and hurled it at Oli.
It caught him on the side of his head.
Oli lost his balance and fell into a tall stack of discounted tins of beans.
He had no idea what hit him, literally, or otherwise.
Marion was cursing and I'd never seen her so angry.
I've treated you like a son, she said, I never would have thought it of you Oli. Then she emptied three other legs of lamb from the sac and hurled the bag at Oli.
Pick it up, leave, and don't come back, she said.
That's when Oli started to blub like a big baby. It was a horrible sight to see, an old middle-aged man, not quite right in the head, slumped on the floor howling.
I've no sympathy, said Marion.
I just knew, there and then, it wasn't Oli, it was Jimmy. He had planted the meat in Oli's bag.
Oli had no idea why Marion had turned on him, or how she had conjured up the legs of lamb from his rucksack.
Then matters got worse. Oli started to shake uncontrollably and between gulping great sobs, he was protesting his innocence.
I not done nothin, he kept saying.
Poor Oli, Palmer's was all he had. Everyone was nice to Oli because of the way he was, except Jimmy. I didn't know what Oli would do if he didn't have Palmers. It was his lifeline to some kind of normality.
So, I had no choice.
I could have said it was Jimmy, but he'd deny everything. It would be my word against his and although they'd probably believe me over Jimmy, they might just think I'd made it all up to save Oli. To be honest, I didn't know what to do or think and so, on the spur of the moment, I just came out with it. At the time, I think I probably wanted to protect Jimmy as well.
It wasn't Oli, it was me. I said. I put the lamb in his sack. I was going to take it out and put it in my own bag at the end of my shift.
Marion looked to me, and then at poor Oli.
How could you! She screeched, how bloody could you!
Oli, realising that he was no longer the focus of Marion's anger, stopped shaking and sat there all wide-eyed and confused.
Marion squatted down on the floor and took him in her arms. She kept kissing his bald patch and telling him she was sorry.
I grabbed my bag and coat from the broom cupboard and made for The Ferret.
I was going to march into the pub, tell Jimmy what had happened and have it out with him right there and then.
When I reached the pub, I didn't feel brave enough to go in. I wasn't up to a showdown with Jimmy in front of all those men.
As I stood there, unsure of what to do next, I noticed a small poster on the pub window. It was advertising the regular Sunday meat auction in the back bar of The Ferret. I'd not bothered to read the posters on the window before.
I turned around and walked home, feeling overwhelmingly sad and empty.
Jimmy rang me later in the evening, wanting to know where I was. I told him what had happened at Palmers' and that I knew he had been stealing the meat for Gary's meat auction.
When I said I'd taken the blame, he called me a bloody idiot, but he sounded relieved.
Do you want me to come over, he asked.
No, I said, though half of me wished he would.
Jimmy didn't insist or protest, he just put the phone down.

My heart feels as if it had been ripped out, kicked about and battered to a pulp. I feel as if I've been emotionally beaten up and everything hurts. I don't want to leave my room to go out shopping even though I'm out of food and the milk in the fridge has gone off. I'm just drinking endless cups of black coffee.

My doorbell is ringing. I should get out of bed and press the intercom button.
Whoever's out there won't stop pressing that bell.
It could be Jimmy, full of remorse and missing me.
I've felt like running over to his place and telling him I don't care what he's done, but I realise I don't actually know where he lives.
It wasn't Jimmy, as I had hoped, it was Marion.
My whole body's shaking. I'm not up to a bombardment of verbal abuse.
I walked up the stairs to my room with her following.
I'm so sorry, she says, which is not what I'm expecting.
I tell her I only have black coffee and she says that's fine, she can't stay long anyway.
I should have known it wasn't you Mandy love.
As it turned out, there wasn't only one camera in the stockroom as Mr Palmer had led us to believe. He had added a second camera, one that no one knew about, in the broom cupboard. Once viewed, the footage had picked up Jimmy putting the joints of meat in Oli's bag.
Marion says I can have my job back
After everything that happened, I think I'll look elsewhere.
Marion says she'll send me a glowing reference and she's very sorry, she should have known it was that little toe-rag, Jimmy, all along.
Mr Palmer had given him a second chance, she said, and he'd blown it.