"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


A Retail Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

A Retail Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

MOTHER

I'm coming with you, she said.  In case it happens. You shouldn't worry or anything like that; a Doomsday child is never alone, remember.   He flung his arms and fluttered his lips.  He protested, of course, he protested.  She wouldn't be allowed; he was being interviewed, not her. She wore her driving glasses and the suit her mother tailored for her first interview after secretarial college; the day she discovered she was four months gone with Jason.  Girls these days don't do what she did. They don’t give up.  A doomsday day child is so rare. Of course, she was going to the interview with him.

OH FATHER

Why is she full of the joy of Spring?  Kissing, ironing, wrapping sandwiches.  He's only selling sofas.  A boy without the ability to smile, selling sofas.  That will go down well with the public. What did she say to them, did she beg? I bet she did.  And Broad Oak, of all places. We fought tooth and nail against that place. It will kill the town; local businesses won’t stand a chance.  He's driving out to that bloody ring road every day, mining the soul of our community.  


BROAD OAK RETAIL PARK

Thirteen 20,000 square foot prefabricated units.  A 200-acre plot of redeveloped woodland. 15000 parking spaces. 400 saplings.  50 tonnes of mulch.  An ode to shopping endeavour and shopping adventure.  Gerry Cavendish, CEO and founder of So-fa So Good, took a risk signing a ten-year lease but Gerry Cavendish had been taking risks in the home furnishings world for years.  The council insisted the land would be designated as a Retail Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Untouchable.  They said the glare from car roofs in Summer would be enough to power the whole of Bisworth for a week.  Ten years was nothing.  IKEA would sign for 50 if they could, the council said.  Retail England wouldn't allow anything bad to happen; it would be law. Come on, they said. This is how we shop now, how we live.  Gerry knew it. 

JASON

The doctors told him that Doomsday children always recover, they learn to be happy eventually, but Jason assumed this was what doctors always say despite an evanescing life.  One way of beating the doom and gloom was to find a job.  A job meant friends, independence, a reason to blink in the sunlight and speak.  

He was part of So-fa So Good's original Broad Oak sales team.  He met Gerry Cavendish at the grand opening, shook his hand, kept his head low to avoid giving a smile.  One year of selling interest-free credit home furnishings passed without too many tears or dread, none of the usual instances, curled in a ball, wailing in the shadows.  Verity, the Regional Manager, praised his figures. Jason sold ten 'manager's choice' armchairs in a month, a record.  She liked how his shirt was always clean and ironed.  He told her it was his mother.  Oh yes, said Verity.  The famous mother.  After five years of salesmanship, Jason saved enough for a bedsit.  He organised Wednesday night socials at the bowling lane, collected money for leavers, left tubs of biscuits and chocolate in the staff room on birthdays.  One night, Jason felt a soft clasp of fruit-tinged lipstick on his lips.  He smiled and found laughter in a series of high pitched sighs. 

VERITY, REGIONAL MANAGER AND PETER, STORE MANAGER 

   'I like Jason I do, but he's not management material, Peter.'
   'He's loyal. It's only a weekend deputy.'
   'No. You'll have to advertise again, it's the only way. He's a nice boy... he's just not quite right, you know?  He's got learning difficulties I think. What is it they say?  Part of a spectrum? Nice enough but no.'
   'Footfall is dropping, Gerry's bought all that stock firm sale, nobody wants it, and he still hasn't updated the website.  
   ‘Oh I agree, it's not good Peter, not good at all.  I mean I'll be alright. I've got six interviews lined up for next week.  It's the staff I worry about.  Always sad, I mean seriously, what are most of them going to do?  They're not exactly qualified, are they?  You should think about making a few phone calls yourself Peter, it's only a matter of time.

MOTHER

A bedsit sounds lovely, she said.  And never mind about Clara.  If travelling the world is what she wants to do there's no point getting upset is there?  You're not going to get upset again, are you?  He was no longer a Doomsday child.  He was smiling, giving hugs, telling her all about his day, his plans.  She taught him to iron his shirt, get the collar and cuffs right.  She cooked a roast dinner whenever he wanted.  He was independent now, all grown up.  Just you wait, her husband said. Curses don't wear off that easily.  She told Jason to ignore his father. He was just a lump to be hoovered around, a caste she wanted to smash with a hammer. 

OH DEAR JERRY

Four of the ten units at Broad Oak had tarpaulin signs hanging from their roofs saying 'Business Opportunity.'  There was talk of flats.  High-end conversions, outdoor pools, underground parking.  Shoppers stopped driving out to the ring road.  Their credit cards were being remembered at home. Gerry was gone.  Flown to Bermuda.  Cut his losses.  He didn't tell the banks or the creditors or the suppliers or the staff.  And still, his flagship store in Broad Oak remained.  Retail England failed in its bid to achieve protected status.

JASON

I hoped they would consider me for the weekend managers role.  I think I earned it.  I opened and closed every Sunday for nearly a year. The woman they chose was very lazy.  She sat in her office and ate fast food.  She spoke to customers when looking at her phone. She left her keys and walked out.  I thought she'd gone to buy another bucket of chicken.  I was the only one left.  Once my paychecks stopped, I left the bedsit and moved into So-fa So Good.  It's very comfortable, obviously.  The phones have been disconnected. Some of the mulch has spread into the doorway, it's got stuck in the door mechanism; they no longer open.  Sometimes, I see my mother, cupping her eyes, looking through the glass.  I want to tell her that I am the boss now because I know this would please her, but it's hard to move. I am sat in a deluxe Rothmans Collapsable Recliner with remote footstool.  Recently I made friends with some of the young people who gather outside the fire exit in hoods, like urban monks. They have been very nice. I have a glass pipe that I can smoke the packages they sell me.  It makes me sleepy but that's OK, I'm not short of places to lie down!  I was a Doomsday child.  I don't know if you know what that is.  I had forgotten until my cheeks became wet again.  I am immeasurably sad.  I wear a purple shirt which I iron every day.  I am especially good with the collars and cuffs. I like to recline.  I want to let the world I am in, fall on me, like rubble.  It's what I dreamed of as a child. 


Simon Lowe is a British author who occasionally writes about books for theguardian.com. He is the author of one previous novel, Friday Morning with Sun Saluki.

Cover photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash

Steps

Steps

Mr Wilde Was That Way

Mr Wilde Was That Way

0