by Glenys Grey
I really wanted to get Gran something special for her birthday. And Audrey said the Sales were starting at Swan & Edgar on Saturday.
‘And what’s more, Jane, there’s a rumour they might have some make-up coming in. You should get over there.’
Well, you hardly see any make-up in the shops now, even if you’ve got the money for it. Fair enough, I suppose. All those men on the Atlantic Convoys, risking their lives to feed us. You couldn’t ask them to do that just for lipsticks. It nearly killed me, mind you, getting up to Piccadilly for eight o’clock. But it was worth it – I bought Gran a lovely compact. Silver enamel it was, with a bright blue peacock on the front. Took most of my money. Nearly a week’s wages, even in the Sale. But ever so pretty. Reckon Gran’ll love it.
I was really pleased with myself and just wondering if Lyons’ Corner House would be open yet, when I saw the bottles of nail varnish. Half a dozen of them. All shades of red and pink, reflected in the big mirror behind the counter. There was one, a beautiful, dusty pink it was. Revlon’s ‘Grape Sorbet’. Such a beautiful name. I couldn’t afford it, of course. I scarcely had enough money for a tea and bun in Lyons. But there it was on the counter, six inches away from me. There was no-one near. The shop girls were all busy – and almost without thinking, I reached out and slipped the bottle into my pocket. I was sure I’d got away with it.
Then, the very next moment, a man’s voice whispered in my ear:
‘I’d put that back, if I were you. There’s a shop assistant looking this way.’
Well, I nearly passed out. You read about people going cold with fear, but you don’t think it really happens. But Lord, I felt icy. I was hardly aware of replacing the bottle, but the next moment I was staring at it on the counter in front of me and trying not to faint. I think I might have done, too, but I felt a steadying hand on my elbow and looked up to see a young man smiling at me. He wasn’t good looking at all – I took that much in. He had mousy hair and a thin, pointed face; but he was definitely smiling at me. Cocky like, mind you. But not as though he was about to turn me in to the manager or the police.
Before I could react in any way, he’d picked up the nail varnish and called to an assistant:
‘How much is this, miss? I’ll take it for my girlfriend here.’
Well! I let him take me to Lyons for that tea and bun. Seemed best to get out of Swan & Edgar’s as soon as possible. He got quite fresh in the cafe; sat really close to me, and fiddled with my suspender belt through my skirt. Thought he was onto a good thing, I suppose. Thought I owed him something for what he’d done. So, while he was busy charming the waitress, and ordering, I did some very quick thinking.
The thing is, I was never brought up to be dishonest. Even though she was on her own, mum was very strict about things like that. I got smacked, hard, if I was even caught telling lies. And as for stealing – well!
After the bomb, I moved in with Gran. Had to, the house was completely flattened. I was eighteen. I’d just popped round to the corner shop to get some Woodbines for mum. Just before Christmas it was. 1940. Over two years ago now. Gran was great. Organized the funeral and everything, and moved me into her tiny flat over the Post Office. It’s a bit of a squash, but we manage.
See, the thing is, even though this chap seemed so nice, not reporting me, I was looking in that mirror all the time when I palmed the bottle. And there was definitely no-one watching. So I smiled at him sweetly and said I was just going to powder my nose. Then I slipped to the Ladies and out of a side door. It’s just Gran and me now; and we’re doing fine.
Glenys Grey writes short stories and knits long scarves.