I sidle along the cheese aisle as slowly as I can. Some lunchtimes it’s cereals and other days ambient fruit, it all depends on which till they’ve put Miss T Cleavers on. Today its cheese, and I feign interest in a wheel of Camembert. I hold it up, pretending to read the sell-by date, while through my fingers I’m gazing at her arms, all whitish and slender, while she scans groceries.
I always go to her till and buy the same things for lunch: a jacket potato and a steak which I take back to the office staff room to microwave. I’m trying to build up some muscle. Misty (my nickname for Miss T as I don’t know what her name is) won’t fancy a 20 year-old weakling like me; all feet and nose. To be honest, a microwaved steak is as chewy as plimsolls, but at least the water that broils out of it lubricates the potato a bit. I don’t like milk either, but still drink a pint for its body-building properties – not that it’s built anything yet, and costs me a fortune.
I join Misty’s queue. She’s beautiful. She’s got half her hair dyed white. I curls round her head perfectly, like the top of a walnut whip. There’s not a hair out of place as if moulded through a giant Play-Doh barbers set. Denise at work says, ‘hair isn’t meant to be perfect,’ as she watches me crush mine down with my brush, desperate for it to lie flat while it insists on preventing my love life by springing up at the ends. How come everyone else finds it so easy? Denise gets asked out all the time. I’m not that terrible a person am I? I’d treat a girl like a queen. OK, I hate clubbing and Ed Sheeran, but I’m OK, just boring, I guess. Denise is always on at me to upload a dating app, but it’s just not for me – I’m too scared. She says she’ll be my ‘mating mentor’, but the thought appals me.
I’m getting nearer the front of her queue now. She picks up a loaf. How I’d love to be that seedy bloomer. I hear the customer accuse her of squeezing his bread. She can squeeze my bread any time; turn it to crumbs like she turns me to crumbs. I’d love to step in and defend her honour, but I can never get my words out when I’m near her. Anyway, she doesn’t know who I am of course, and he’s bigger than me.
The man loads his bag and goes. It’s my turn. As my steak and potato trundle along the conveyor, I feel the lump build in my throat.
“Did you hear that bastard?” she says.
I can’t believe it. Misty’s spoken – to me.
“Err yeah,” I stammer back, trying to sound indifferent and cool.
“How can you pick up bread without squeezing it? I’ve got hands, not flippers.”
“Ha! Yeah,” I add, not really understanding her point and thinking that hands or flippers, they are gorgeous.
“Put this on the end of the belt.” She passes me a closed sign, like it’s a token of our love. Has she waited to serve me before she goes for her break? Of course, I am happy to oblige and enjoy the rest of my transaction more than ever, silent apart from her “that’s £4.97”, captivated by the octopus tattoo on her wrist and her black lipstick, luscious as a Pontefract cake.
Having insisted she put my 3p change in the charity pot to show how generous I am, I stand back to allow her to exit her booth. Then it strikes me. She has legs. I’ve been yearning for her for so long but it hasn’t even crossed my mind what they look like, and now here they are. Both of them. They’re shorter than they might have been, which does not seem to match the slenderness of her arms, but I don’t mind. She has tiny, angels feet, in cute DM’s.
“You following me?” she says as she strides towards the door. I didn’t even think she knew I was there as I try to keep up and view her recently discovered legs.
“Err,” I say, feeling rather caught out.
“Thought so,” she says. “You can do something for me.”
“Yeah, no prob,” I say. I would do anything for her.
“Get fags for me at the kiosk. I’ll pay you back later.”
“Don’t worry about that,” I say, “I’ll buy them for you. As a present.”
“OK. Marlborough Lights. I’ll wait here.”
She stands over by the front door while I queue. I can’t help my voice trembling as I ask for the nasty things, and can’t believe how expensive they are when the lady says “That’s £9.99.”
Misty smiles at the cigarettes as I bring them over. I see her teeth for the first time and realise that despite weeks of coming in my lunch hours hoping to see her, I have never seen her smile. They are perfect, petite teeth, each separated by a small gap, giving the appearance of a well-tended war cemetery.
“You can smoke them with me if you like. Round the back”.
“Err, OK then.” As a non-smoker, I feel like a sailor being lured by a Siren’s call to a rocky and potentially cancerous end, but there is no way I am going to pass up this opportunity.
I push through a break in the chain linked fencing after her, and down a worn, rubbish strewn path to a clearing in the wasteland. We sit on the bare earth, surrounded by a thousand cigarette ends and some evidence of previous camp fires. She breaks into the packet’s plastic wrapper with her keyboard teeth, and I watch her elegant fingers reach in and raise a cigarette to her lips. It bounces up and down in her mouth as she asks, “Got a light then?”
“Err, don’t think I have,” I say, padding my jacket pockets for a lighter I knew not to be there, fearful that this will mark the end of our date before it’s even begun, yet partly relieved that I can’t be cajoled into smoking one.
“Thought not,” she says, and pulls one from her pocket.
Having lit up and drawn a couple of deep puffs, as if replacing all unwanted oxygen with nicotine, she holds out the packet to me.
“Not for me, thanks,” I cough.
“Yeah, I’m trying to give them up too. It’s a mare isn’t it?”
“Tell me about it.”
“How many were you on?”
“Fags! Before you stopped. I’m on twenty, but it used to me more like thirty.”
“Yeah, me too. Mare.” Thirty! That’s fifteen quid a day. Even my steak lunch isn’t that much. I hope my horror doesn’t show on my face.
“My Mum would kill me if she found out.”
“Yeah. Mine too.” I am really struggling to think of anything to say that would not condemn me as a non-smoking wimp.
“We got something in common then.”
“Of course. We both hate our mothers.”
How sad, I think that anyone should hate their mother. Mine’s annoying, sure, but…
“What’s your name then?”
“Just John. Boring, I’m afraid.” I immediately wish I had lied and called myself cooler, like Caspian.
“Better than mine, Just John. Bet you can’t guess what it is.”
“Cheers! You think I look like a Tracy? Don’t laugh,” she says, “though everyone does. It’s Titania. My Dad’s a right cock and likes Shakespeare. Midnight’s Dream, or something. That’s why I have it in my badge as ‘Miss T’ – it saves all the piss-taking.”
“It’s a beautiful name.” I can sense myself blushing. Could this be the opening for me to overcome my shyness and tell her how amazing she is?
“Nah, it’s shit,” she says.
“If I were you, I’d call yourself something like, oh I don’t know – say Misty?”
“Now you’re taking the piss.” She lights another cigarette.
I’m horrified. “No, no. Misty. Miss-T. Get it?”
“That’s a fucking cat’s name, you knob.”
I am a bit disappointed. I had imagined calling her ‘Misty’ on our wedding day.
“You’re weird,” she says. “You buy me fags then take the piss. Then squirm like a fish trying to get out of it.”
I struggle to find something to say other than querying whether fish actually squirm.
She looks at me, like I’m an idiot and says, “You can kiss me if you like.”
“OK,” I said, trying to keep calm while my internal organs go into a spin. It suddenly feels very hot.
“Don’t sound too keen about it, will you,” she huffs, but before I can answer, she leans forward and clamps her lips on my face.
I thought lips would feel soft, but hers are hard and muscular, like a calamari ring. Her mouth tastes of burning ash and I’m not sure I like it even before her tongue comes into my mouth like a dragon rising from the catacombs of hell.
I lean back as her lips push harder and yelp as my hand presses on something clammy.
“What the fuck,” she says, and gets up. As I look back , I see my hand pushing into the lunchtime steak in my bag.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but I’ve got to get back to work or I’ll be in trouble.”
“Fine, suits me,” says Titiana, “Weirdo.”
I had to agree with her. I ran back from lunch after an extemporary snog with the girl I thought would be mine, shaking. Denise could sense that something was wrong. I tried to explain why it had seemed so awful, but I didn’t understand it myself.
“What’s wrong with me, Denise?”
“Nothing,” she said, “you stay being you. You’ll find a girl whose kisses taste of M&M’s, don’t worry”.
I’ve not had a microwaved steak for 6 months now, nor been anywhere near that supermarket. Denise was right, although I’d say her kisses taste more of Jelly Tots.