When chatting with someone recently about short stories, we agreed that the best ones are those with twists at the end. A novel lends a greater scope to building the life of a character through their background and experiences, but short stories have to capture the imagination of the reader within a limited time. They’re not memorable if they just fizzle out, rather than leaving you with a bang. Having studied the form of the short story this year, it’s an aspect that I have tried to embrace. It certainly leaves me with a satisfying feeling upon completion – and I hope that my readers feel that way too.
Life can sometimes be that way, little stories with a twist at the end. Which is a tidy segue into a recent encounter in the record shop . . .
I was working alone that day. This was a quieter day than usual, so I was pleased when a girl walked into the shop. She was searching through the racks of records in rather a fevered manner, in a bit of a hurry, a bit on edge; a bit flustered. So I asked if I could help her.
Are you looking for anything in particular?
Bob Marley, she replied, without looking up.
Now, I find it a bit discourteous when someone replies without making eye contact. And I don’t think it’s much to ask for someone to pad out a sentence with even a little bit of grammar. Yet this girl just continued ploughing through the records. She wasn’t unpleasant to look at, but that’s no excuse for the absence of manners.
Okay. Any particular Bob Marley album?
Waynetta (because we must give her name): Nah. S’for me boyfriend. For ‘is birfday.
Here. I pulled the Bob Marley Legend record out of the Reggae section! And handed it to her. It’s a ‘Best Of’. A great collection. Ilikeitalot.
Waynetta handled the record roughly, which made me wince. Sigh. I’m certain that manners exist. I’ve seen them, someplace, somewhere.
Waynetta, gripping the record like it’s made of soft dough: Got any Phil Collins?
I’d like to think so. No self-respecting record shop wouldn’t have a bit of Phil in stock. I turned my back on Waynetta, moved to the Versatile-But-Very-MOR-Guilty-Pleasures section, and found a couple of records from the soft pop superstar, just next to some Fleetwood Mac. I handed them to Waynetta, who snatched them and folded them like she was Rolf Harris with his wobble board. She no longer had Legend in her hands.
Waynetta: Dunno which ones ‘e’s got, does I.
I . . . don’t know. Was that a question?
Waynetta: I’ll check wiv ‘im. If ‘e ain’t, I’ll come back an’ get ‘em.
Okay. That’s . . . fine.
Waynetta had stuffed the Phil Collins records into any old rack and bouldered out of the the door before I had finished. A brief and pointless encounter with a surly timewaster. I put the Phil Collins records back in the correct Bland-But-Unexplainably-Successful section, near to the latest Katie Melua release, and went to check where she’d put Legend – undoubtedly in the wrong place.
I looked for twenty minutes without finding it. After about 5 minutes, I’d guessed what had happened. You’ve probably already guessed it: I couldn’t find the Bob Marley record because Waynetta had hidden it somewhere in her tracksuit when my back was turned for five seconds.
The next morning, the first twist in this little tale occurred. Just after I’d finished explaining what had happened to the owner of the record shop, a guy came in. He was wearing a tracksuit and had a baby in a sling hanging about him. He was making eye contact. Good man. At least that’s what I thought at first . . .
Hey. Can I help you at all?
The New Stranger – in a not-unrespectable voice: Yeah. My girlfriend bought a copy of Bob Marley on record and it don’t work proper.
Wha-wha-wha? Hang on a sec. Using a bit of sign language, gestures, semaphore, and a range of facial expressions, I explained to the owner what this New Stranger had just told me. My skills weren’t so good, and he thought that I’d told him that Mick Hucknall had asked me if I’d like to go bowling. So I just told him outright: The boyfriend of the girl who stole the Bob Marley record has just come in and told me that it doesn’t work proper! Properley. I went back out to the front of the shop, thinking, I’ll enjoy this.
What’s wrong with the record? I asked.
The New Stranger / Boyfriend: It just ain’t playin’ right.
It was a new record. I’ve not heard that before. Perhaps it’s –
“Tell her to bring it back in,” the owner interjected. “Tell your girlfriend to bring the record back to us, with a receipt, and we’ll have a look at it. Tell her to bring . . . the . . . receipt,” he enunciated deliberately.
The Boyfriend: Aiiiii.
Aiiiii, I agreed. How can someone be so stupid? I muttered under my breath. How can someone be so stupid? I said to the owner.
A couple of days later, a girl came into the shop. I recognised her; I remembered talking with her a couple of weeks before. But I wasn’t serving her – I was busy googling Mick Hucknall’s highest bowling score, wondering if I had a chance of beating him if the opportunity ever arose. I was distracted by the top result in the search engine.
That got me thinking, too. I had just half an ear to conversation happening at the counter, where the final twist was about to take place.
The Girl: Hi. I bought this the other week. It doesn’t seem to play properly. I think that my boyfriend came in and told you.
The Owner: Ah! Yes! Have you got the receipt? Eh? Have you?
The Girl: Erm, yes. I think so. I think that it’s in here somewhere.
With my eyes widening, I pictured what was just about to happen. That’s why I remembered talking this girl: we’d been chatting about Bob Marley and the Wailers. Just before she bought the record from me . . .
We haven’t seen the light-fingered Waynetta since. But I have wondered if her copy was faulty too.
We politely exchanged the Legend record for the girl who had bought it from me – it turned out that there was a fault in the original one.
I know exactly what Mick Hucknall has that other men lack: a ginger perm.
I’d like to close this one with a little something from Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr., A.K.A. Muddy Wilbury. A true rock ‘n’ roll icon. I wish I could have been in this caboose.