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Short story: <i>The Village Store</i>

- Oh my god... Harry? Help me, somebody DO something, somebody HELP me PLEASE, HAROLD, NO!

There weren’t many people in the gloomy little corner store, which was running the essentials on dubious generator power. There were two shop assistants who stood still, as the tragedy quietly played itself out before their eyes. They were watching... it was difficult not to watch... but they kept casting their gazes downward as though watching a man die in front of them was mildly embarrassing for all concerned and in order to maintain his dignity they would pretend they weren’t seeing it. There were also three other customers in the store, aside from Harold and Mildred, who were all staring without any pretense of wanting to preserve any dignity whatsoever.

There was an old man, standing with a can of preserved mystery meat in one hand, the other hand dangling loosely, forgotten in this moment of watching death, who had been creeping up on him for some time, bypass him all together and go for this younger and fitter looking specimen of mankind. His heart thudded with shock, but at least it was thudding.

There was also a woman with a small boy. The woman was dressed in slip on shoes, a torn housedress, and dusty apron, and her hair whisping over her head. The boy was barefoot and his feet looked crusty, as though they’d never even been distantly acquainted with the inside of a shoe. His shorts were covered in grime, and his singlet was coming apart at the seams. His nose was trailing mucus down to his mouth and his eyes have the beginning signs of conjunctivitis. His hair stuck up in messy tufts, and there were scabs all over his head. The woman looked horrified, rooted to the spot, and while she protectively held the boy across the chest with one arm as though to shield him, the other arm kept slipping from his eyes, so he had a fairly unimpeded view.

The little boy watched Harold convulsing, vomiting, choking, swelling, and bulging calmly, even solemnly.

Harold’s eyes alighted on the boy, and for a split second, they were connected outside of time and space with a gaze.

Which was fitting really, being that the little boy had played such a crucial part in Harold’s demise.

It was this way.

Harold and Mildred left the hotel early. The heat was bright, shimmering, glaring off the dirty streets and wet footpaths. The dust was ferocious, there was garbage in the gutters, and Harold had no idea what he was doing here in this godforsaken third world hellhole when he could be sitting on a muted cream striped sofa with a hot cup of tea balanced on one arm, wearing slippers over the lusciously thick carpet and preparing to read of and judge the latest transgressions of the Labour Party. He sighed, and stomped in his leather sandals. He had made the decision to go sockless, which was a great affront to his usual standards, and his shorts were above the knee, leaving a great expanse of pale skin exposed, looking for all the world like somebody had carelessly rolled two large quantities of dough in black cat hair and stuck them beneath Harold’s torso.

Mildred looked far happier. She was wearing a floating white pant suit made of light cotton, a matching headscarf, and a sympathetic gaze. They had come here to learn, to experience, to have an adventure. Harold snorted. Heathens, the lot of them. Their food, their customs, their beggars...

Mildred was picking delicately around the litter on the streets in her sandals, while Harold stomped onto it dramatically. If he had known the origins of some of the litter he may have been more careful, but it doesn’t really matter now. As they turned a corner, into a welcome patch of shade, Harold felt a tug at his shorts. He looked down and saw them.

There was a woman, who was probably very pretty at some stage in her short life, but she was worn out, ragged not just round the edges but all over, with eyes that plead for a quick death. She leaned back on one arm, while the other listlessly held the hand of a small boy; whose small, grimy and scabby hand had reached out to Harold.

“What?” Harold barked. Harold hated beggars. Should have jobs, the lot of them.

The little boy looked up at him. He widened his eyes, and gestured towards his mouth. The boy’s mother glanced up at Harold, not holding out much hope. Then she glanced down again.

Harold turned away, so as to more effectively march off in the resolute fashion he’d been practicing for years, socks or no socks. When he did, he felt the small grimy hand reach towards him again, this time, Harold was sure, in a malicious bid for one of Harold’s pockets.

Harold had had enough. The heat, the filth, the lack of decent coffee, the lack of socks, the lack of cream coloured couches, the lack of news, the lack of conservatives, the lack of morals, and this little boy all inflamed his temper, taunted his very soul, and he lashed out in a most brutal and undignified manner—with a kick aimed straight towards the boy.

Now, had Harold not capitulated to the heat of the day, and worn his socks, disaster may have been averted. However, this was not the case. Harold’s wildly swinging appendage, so clumsily and flimsily encased in a leather sandal, made only the slightest contact with the boy, who was pretty adept at getting out of the way of large and angry individuals. However, flying between the foot and the boy’s shoulder happened to be a large and exotic bee, with a large and exotic sting, which chose, in the split second that it had, to die stinging Harold instead of the boy. It also happened to be something Harold was extremely allergic to.

More importantly to the boy, when Harold’s foot swung wildly, a couple of coins dislodged themselves from his pocket and rolled into the gutter. As Harold limped off the boy scrabbled to collect them and showed them triumphantly to his mother. Those coins meant bread, so the two of them turned into the local store two houses down, which was exactly where Harold and Mildred had gone. Harold needed to purchase a drink, his throat was feeling tight, his joints were aching, and the ankle he had kicked the boy with hurt far more than it should have.

And here we are.

- Oh my god... Harry? Help me, somebody DO something, somebody HELP me PLEASE, HAROLD, NO!

But nobody could, because nobody understood a word she was saying, and the telephone in the shop didn’t work, and more importantly, Harold was beyond help.

Maybe he learned something, as he was convulsing on the floor, when he looked into the boy’s eyes.

But that’s unlikely.

This is the result of a thirty minute writing exercise. This week I have taken one of the seven plotlines (theory being, all stories spring from only seven plots) and a random location. Today’s plot and setting were: "tragedy" and grocery store.

Image courtesy of Eileen Delhi.

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great read