‘You shouldn’t do that. What if he doesn’t come back?’
I hoped my supervisor didn’t see my eye-roll. I clinched in my stomach muscles and avoided her gaze as I continued to pick out the handmade chocolates. This morning I’d managed to squeeze in between the pile of boxes she’d left for me at the end of the counter without having to breathe in, even though I thought my reflection looked bloated in the cabinet’s glass. She seemed to think if she made the gap narrow enough, I’d have to deal with the boxes before opening up, which would make me late, instead of sorting them in my own time. She’d forgotten this customer came in on the third Saturday of every month without fail. First, he ordered a large box of loose chocolates and then wondered over to the wine counter for a lengthy conversation and careful choice of a bottle. I assumed he would visit his mother later on. Why else would he select the wine, presumably with the intention of sharing it during his visit, but delegate the selection of chocolates to me, a student working on Saturdays? There wasn’t enough space for me to include one of each so I went for variety: a mix of soft truffles, a group of liquors and avoided the nuts.
If left to her devices, the supervisor would have chosen the heaviest chocolates because they were sold by weight. She also insisted that I could only make up a box if the customer stopped to wait. But this man, who wore his polo shirt, jeans and loafers as if he were wearing a suit, wasn’t a man to be kept waiting.
Once, another customer, asked for the biggest box of chocolates we had. He came in weekly to buy a small box of loose chocolates as a treat for his wife. I’d offered him the largest size of handmade chocolates.
‘Larger,’ he’d said.
I pulled a pre-packed box of dark chocolates (she preferred dark), one and a half times the size of the largest handmade box from the display.
‘Larger,’ he’d said.
I’d raised an eyebrow. This must be for a special occasion. I would have to climb on the kick stool to get the largest box on display and surreptitiously wiped the dust off before presenting it to him, hoping he also didn’t notice me tuck part of my blouse back into my skirt. I’d made a mental note to tighten the waistband again before next Saturday. They told me it was the smallest size they had when I started.
‘I came in during the week. She,’ he’d indicated my supervisor, ‘went straight for that box so I didn’t buy it. But you made sure it was what I wanted. So, I’ll buy it from you.’
‘Happy anniversary,’ I’d said.
‘Fifty years.’ He’d run his hand over the cellophane wrapping. ‘She’ll love these.’
The Food Hall manager had given me a thumbs up. It turned out the box had been ordered in error and he was desperate to sell it. I didn’t have to ask whose mistake that was.
I put the lid on the selection box for the wine-buyer to collect. The supervisor looked towards me and pointed at it. I knew that, if it wasn’t collected, the cost would come from my wages because, once selected the chocolates couldn’t be returned to the display. I indicated he was still talking to the vintner. Before the next minute’s up, they’ll shake hands and he’ll come and collect the box and tell me I’d make a great advert for the chocolates.
I hear that a lot. I guess it’s my smile. Being chubby doesn’t sell anything. But the customers aren’t allowed to know I have to stifle my gag reflex before opening the cabinet. The constant cocoa scent means I go home with no appetite, which gives me the perfect excuse to skip dinner and I can pretend tiredness to skip the family Sunday brunch too. Also saves me from seeing how far my stomach sticks out in the full-length mirror in the pub. Perhaps I’ve found the perfect job for me already.
Emma Lee’s short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines including Fairlight Books, “Gentle Footprints” (Bridgehouse Publishing, UK) and “Extended Play” (Elastic Press, UK). She was runner-up in Writing Magazine’s Annual Ghost Story Competition. Her most recent poetry collection is “The Significance of a Dress” (Arachne Press, UK, 2020). She is Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com