“Come on dad. The store is going to close soon.”
“Eliza, the store will be open tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. Besides, I don’t like you wasting your money on such trash.”
“Its not trash dad. Please. I’ll be home before dinner.”
“Fine. Its your pence. I only have a 10 pound note, so I expect change.”
With a quick clutch of the wrinkled bill, Eliza was flying up the stairs to her room. The small flat had three bedrooms and five people, but as the only girl, she managed to get her own space while dad and all the brothers shared with one another. Being the only girl at least got her one thing special. Almost everything inside the room was a hand-me-down or sidewalk find. At 13-years-old, she hadn’t worn a dress in five years and all of her jeans were pinned or hemmed because the boys were all so much taller than her.
She twisted her mud-brown hair back into a ponytail, with several curls immediately escaping and pointing in every direction. She pulled on her best pair of sneakers, then added a bit of duct tape to cover the growing hole on the left sole. As long as that tape stayed, she would be good for another few days. Maybe when school started she could find something better in the lost and found.
With a glance over her shoulder, Eliza dug into the back of the chest of drawers, the free leftover from a neighbors yard sale. Inside a shoebox was the rose-tinted purse she always carried on these weekly outings. It might be the only pink item in the house and had to be protected from all of the dirt, bugs, and stomping boots her brothers trampled through the flat.
With a wave to her dad, Eliza was down the stairs, out the door, and onto the sidewalk toward the Tesco Express. The store was about 2 kilometers from home. About a half-dozen other stands and shops were closer, but when you had a favorite place it was worth any distance. Each week doing the dishes and helping in the rooftop garden earned her a few coins of pocket money. Any money in the house went towards bills and school costs. But 75 pence were all hers every Saturday.
A double-decker rolled past with tourists and a few locals on board. Catching a ride would save her a lot of time, but also cost more than she could afford on this outing. The duct tape luckily held all the way this time so no puddles splashed up into her once-upon-a-time white socks.
The front door at Tesco rang with its familiar chime welcoming her into the store. The cashier stood behind the counter serving one of several adults in line, so Eliza took her spot in the back. Absent-mindedly her left hand patted the pound note in her left pocket while her right held the bottom of her purse. It had grown a bit thin with age but she could not bare to use tape on this one. Some day she might have to just carry it inside the shoebox.
Finally Eliza was at the front of the line. Henry, the weekend cashier, smiled down at her. Behind him were stacks of magazines from throughout the country and beyond. Covered the pictures of celebrities, politicians, and more smiling faces that she could name. Eliza loved to read and imagine all of the far away places those faces got to go.
“You’re a bit late this week Eliza. The manager will be here soon to help lock up for the night.”
“I know. Dad was busy with Arthur so I had to wait.”
“I’ll still have to charge you right to make sure my till matches.”
“That’s okay. The Mirror please.”
With a small nod Henry turned toward the magazine stack and reached behind for a key to the back office. He slid it under an open palm to Eliza who in return offered her crumpled bill. Henry would give her the change when she came back.
Eliza attempted to subtly and slowly walk to the back of the store, but always seemed to have a quicker stride than other times of the week. With the click of the lock behind her, Eliza slipped into the office and then over to the manager’s private bathroom. Living in a home with one man and three almost-men, to have a space without hair, fingerprints, or food remnants seemed like heaven. The chair from the manager’s desk put her at the perfect height behind the sink, and the toilet cover was her side table.
Staring into the unstreaked mirror, Eliza could see every curl that framed her face and then twisted out like branches. The freckles that used to dot her nose and cheeks seemed lighter these days; perhaps she needed more sun or maybe they were part of her childhood being left behind. By tightening the knot on her t-shirt, the recycled shirt fit a little better over her flat torso.
A turn to the right was all that she had to do to unlatch her mother’s purse. From inside tumbled a few treasures that had survived the past five years. First was the teal comb that she always used on both of their hair. Eliza would brush mom’s and then mom would brush Eliza’s, much to Eliza’s torment. She worked silently through all of the knots by herself this afternoon. Next were the blush and lipstick. Only a pinkie of each to save then as long as she could. She could not, would not do the math to determine how much was left. A tear would come to her eye at the mere thought of them being gone. No one else would see the little extra red on her cheeks and lips, but Eliza could. Finally two squirts of lilac perfume, followed by the addition of two more drops of water to the bottle. The lilac scent barely lingered any more with all of the water these past months. Perhaps there was no scent other than what she remembered.
After collecting everything back into the bag, Eliza sat back and examined the face before her once again. A slight lean to the left. Dipping the chin to the right. Raising her chin so that she barely could see a reflection. Each angle was explored, trying to find details that were like her mother’s. Ways to remember what was lost years before.
A jingle of the front door accompanied by the slam of the frame against a chip stand snapped Eliza from her dreaming and back to the reality of her deadline. The chair was pushed back, the light turned off, and a scan of the rooms confirmed everything was just like before. Sliding back into the store, Eliza caught Henry’s eye behind the counter. While the manager spoke to a customer at the till, Henry stepped over to the end where Eliza hid. Handing her a magazine, she could feel the change inside from her father’s money. No words were spoken but a smile said thank you and see you next week.
This story is a response to the Flash Fiction Challenge by Fractured Faith Blog.