The Hunting Ground
The shop tills clanged to their own rhythm, like the beating heart of an urban jungle. The scent of mingling perfumes hung in the air, enticing passers-by to drop in. Rows of assorted boots and shoes were found at ground level, while racks of desirable fashion formed a canopy on top. In between, at eye level, were shelves of other temptations. Sparkling pieces of jewellery, each neatly boxed and colour coded. Designer handbags, with price tags to match. Luxurious scarves that dangled at just the right height.
” Shopping Nirvana”, Bill used to joke.
The top layer of Dolan’s Department Store, the canopy, was Janet’s favourite hunting ground and it was here that she had searched for a bargain today.
” Next, please. ”
Normally, Janet enjoyed dawdling after a purchase, because it extended the buzz she felt shopping. But not today. Definitely not today. Just try to act naturally. She turned to the shop assistant, plastering a wan smile on her face.
” It’s busy here today, isn’t it? ”
” Yeah, it’s been like that all day. Can’t wait to finish my shift, my head is pounding. Are you okay, Janet, you look a bit stressed? ”
Flashes of the past hour sparked to the front of Janet’s mind and she felt a rising sense of panic .Her extra layer of clothing dug into her skin , making it difficult to breathe properly.She could feel her heart thumping like a newly caged bird, trapped because it had ventured too far from its’ nest. But Janet had to make the bird sing calmly, otherwise there would never be an escape.
Janet turned towards the assistant but sneakily kept her eyes on her watch. The new silver watch, a special online bargain. Focus Janet, focus.
” I’m fine, thanks for asking. I’m just in a bit of a hurry .”
” No problem. Just the socks then? Not like you! ”
Janet nodded, her mouth now completely dry. A warm blush of embarrassment spread across her cheeks. Perhaps her childish purchase was not the best decoy. She quickly placed the fluffy, pink flamingo socks on the counter, almost catching the threads on her engagement ring. Bill’s ring, really, even though he had said that she could keep it. Don’t think about Bill.
Janet fumbled in her red, leather purse for money, pushing aside the crumpled receipts that threatened to take control of it. She mutely handed over the cash and received yet another memento of her fall from grace. Receipt and socks in hand, Janet snaked her way out through the herd of shoppers, avoiding the beady eyes of her rivals.
She made her way stealthily to the car park, glad that she had made a mental note ” under the blue ad for that new garage “ to help her locate her car. The silver saloon stood camouflaged among the rows of identically coloured vehicles, a reflection of their popularity among the hunting class. With shaking hands, Janet fished her keys out of her purse, causing a flutter of receipts to fall to the ground. Ignoring the paper chaos, she quickly unlocked the door and settled herself in behind the steering wheel.
One twist of the key and Janet was off the starting blocks like a Grand Prix racer on the streets of Monte Carlo. She kept up the anxious pace until she could see the finishing line at Market Square. She could feel the thumping in her chest lessen as she approached her front door, though her head was still throbbing.
Back home, in the smart, modern apartment that she had once shared with Bill, Janet slunk down onto the cream leather sofa. The hunt had been particularly challenging today, but now it was time to relax. Dropping her purse and the silly socks onto the armrest, she sighed with a mixture of excitement, relief and regret. Just a few moments for myself. She needed time to shift her moral compass a few more degrees south, time to accept the new Janet. Sometimes, like today, the battle with her past self was tumultuous, but new Janet had a powerful armoury of self-deception. And it was that armoury which was victorious today.
As the sky began to darken on that mild September evening, Janet, at last, climbed the stairs to her bedroom. The room she once shared with Bill, she now shared only with her clothes. She acted as a curator, so only the best items hung proudly in her wardrobe, most of them still displaying their shop tags. Each row was colour coded and length matched, with a special area for high fashion. That’s where she kept the red, velvet hangers that she had spent days hunting for online.
The wardrobe was still open, just as she had left it this morning. Slowly, Janet removed her outer layer, a black, loose-fitting dress. Carefully, she placed it back onto its’ original wooden hanger in the casual section of the wardrobe. She closed the mirrored sliding doors and gazed admiringly at the image reflected back at her. Bill would love this. Her stolen treasure, the perfect dress. Shimmering, blue metallic and tightly fitted, it showed off her curves and flattered her fair complexion and dark, sharply cut hairstyle. The hunt was over, for today.
Notes on The Hunting Ground
The photograph is my own, shot on Grafton Street, Dublin.
This is my first piece of flash fiction and is based on a writing prompt from Creative Cafe on Medium; ” Between two evils, I generally like to pick the one I never tried before ” Mae West
I think that I’ve ticked off another October target!!!
Other short stories: Last Light