The Consumer by Sarah Tinsley
The bus lurched, full of leaning bodies. Each of them clutched handbags, trollies, rucksacks, canvas totes with meaningful slogans folded into careful squares. All were waiting to be filled. The emptiness of them leached into the spaces between the creaking floor and the sharp snap of the electronic doors. It reeked of a lack of things, of desire.
At her destination, the bus vomited them onto the grey pavement. Hard concrete underfoot, huge signs shouting from windows. All their promises, just for her. Pushing forward, a stray arm jerked against her elbow, spinning her backwards. A foot pressed onto her exposed toes – red sandals, in the sale, last month. Buffeted by the greed of others, she pressed forward, intent on prizes.
Her phone guided her to the best places. Took her hand and pointed each one out with a red circle, to mark its importance. Here you could expand the sad flop of your carrier bags with the most for the least money. Here you could take one delicious item and have the other, thrust in your sack, at no extra cost. Here you could be painted and primped, with free samples. Here you could sink your teeth into raw fish flesh for a third of the normal price.
Hours spent dragging other people’s food over a barcode scanner. Mopping up the spilled pineapple juice in aisle seven. Smiling at the groaning parents with their large boxes of cereal. Pinning the laminated badge over her shirt-enclosed breast. This was her reward.
Inside the first swollen department store, bargains dripped from the walls. Scavengers looted the racks, garments falling to the floor, trampled under shoes bought two weeks ago, ready to be replaced. In the distance the electronics beckoned, recognisable by their black sheen and the clump of bodies seething around them.
That could wait. A gaudy dress squawked at her from its hanger. But others had heard its call. Applying her elbow to the nearest set of ribs, she clambered over a heap of discarded fabric, perhaps a stray arm buried under there, and clawed it from the hanger. Such a bright blue. And that material, the hang of it. Hot For This Season, and definitely suitable to Transform From Office To A Night Out. She clutched it close, breathing in its newness.
But there was a jacket, too. Stripes to Flatter Your Figure. This would be a harder task. Another had it already in her grasping fingers. Try the polite approach, that might work. She reached over, smiled, scraped her fingernails up the exposed skin of the woman’s forearm. The grip eased just enough for her to release it into her care. Perfect.
All it needed was some jewellery. A Statement Piece. She would be one of those people admired in the street. Perhaps those reporters would see her, put her between those train-flicked pages, a beacon of fashion to the dowdy.
Scattered finery littered the floor. Necklaces, bent bracelets, it was like walking over a dragon’s hoard. What she needed was gold, something to glint and catch the light. Her magpie eyes fell on something, half-submerged on a hook with nothing but dull wooden beads. A chunky chain, adorned with fake-diamond lumps. It would sparkle and clamour at her wrist. But there was only one left.
She watched as another swooped in. Lacquered nails stretched around the stolen item. The usurper turned, headed for the tills. She would have to act fast.
Snatching a pair of earrings from the REDUCED section, she lunged forward, tripping, falling to her knees. In one movement she drove the studs into the woman’s calf, just above the line of the slingback. A trickle of blood could just be seen through the 20-denier tights.
With a shout, the treasure fell to the floor. She scooped it up, dodging around the hair accessories display to avoid recriminations. Her prize was clutched close to her chest. A whole outfit already, after only thirty minutes of shopping time. Imagine what she could achieve in a whole day.
Her key scraped in the lock. Heaving her body up the stairs, she collapsed on the sofa in a satisfied lump. Bags were lined up each arm, two strapped over her back, a huge box clutched between her hands. As she leaned forward to place it on the coffee table she winced, the twinge in her back jarring from the extra weight and the miles walked – she hadn’t been able to fit on the bus.
She peeled the packaging off the black hulk – Active Shutter 3D, LED 720p, High Contrast Ratio, Internet Connected HDTV. Her reflection was muted in the 50” display. The smudge of a bruise on her cheek, the red ribbon of blood trickling down from her split lip. She let the bags slide onto the floor, unstrapped the ones around her shoulders, a jab in her side from the cracked rib.
Now she could try her purchases on. Retreating to the bathroom, she shaved, plucked, moisturised, fragranced, painted with colour – especially over the black eye – styled, sprayed, and froze herself in the single click of a glorious selfie. A perfect summary of herself, sat amongst the debris of her purchases in the beautiful peacock dress.
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