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November 1996

by LMJT 

Posted: 22 March 2014
Word Count: 600
Summary: For this week's Technology challenge

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The job at Virgin Megastore was meant to be part-time while I focused on my songwriting and tried to make something of the band.

It was 1996 and I’d just finished my Music degree and turned down my parents’ offer to move back in with them in Stevenage while I ‘decided what I really wanted to do’.

The job suited me perfectly. Not only did I get discount on new music, but I also got to people-watch, which is how I first noticed the girl in the red duffel coat.

She came to the counter and placed REM’s New Adventures in HiFi between us.

‘Great choice,’ I said as I carefully placed the record into a bag. I guess vinyl was seen as outdated then, not retro as it is now, so her purchase was something of an anomaly.  

In her late teens to early-twenties, she had faded, dyed red hair that would have once matched her coat and an obtrusive lip piercing that somehow didn’t quite suit her face.  

From then on, I noticed her coming in two or three times a week.

‘Why don’t you just ask her out?’ my colleague Donna asked one afternoon.

‘As if she’d go out with me,’ I said.

‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, Steve,’ Donna said. ‘You’re a nice guy. Looks aren’t everything.’

Anyway, over the next couple of months the girl (always in her red duffel coat) nearly always selected the new releases that I’d chosen for myself.

It wasn’t until November that she bought something I would never have imagined.

‘Spice Girls?’ I laughed as I scanned the CD.

When I looked back at her, I saw tears well in her eyes.

‘It’s for my sister,’ she said. ‘She’s-, she’s not very well.’  

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, feeling my face flush red. ‘I’m such an idiot, I-,’

I watched, mute with embarrassment, as she flicked through her purse.

She brought her hands to her face. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I’ve left my money in the cash machine.’

And then she was gone, dashing through the store to the exit. As she reached the doors, I realised she’d left her purse behind and, before I knew what I was doing, I was chasing after her.

Outside, the evening sky was cool and crisp and people dashed along the puddled pavement with their heads ducked, swaying umbrellas above their heads.

I caught up with her outside Topshop. I tapped her shoulder and, as she turned, I saw tears flowing down her face.

‘You forgot your purse,’ I said.

She took it from me without a word, then said something so strange that I had to ask her to repeat it.

‘Please hold me,’ she said again.

She stepped toward me and pressed her body against mine, her arms wrapping around me as my own brought her closer. I felt her head against my chest and I smelt the sweetness of her hair.

After a moment, she let go. She stepped back. The streetlight’s reflection rippled in the puddle between us.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘You don’t even know me. I’m sorry.’

I watched as she walked away, another in a stream of bodies disappearing into the night.

I never saw her in the shop again. I think I may have passed her on the tube once, but it was so soon after that that I thought everyone in a red coat was her.

That was 18 years ago. 18 years. I’m 39 now and not once in my life have I felt as needed as I did in her embrace.

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Comments by other Members

rmol1950 at 22:30 on 22 March 2014  Report this post
This is lovely stuff and had me gripped all the way to the sad end, but I think you can lose the first two paragraphs. Start it at paragraph three. ' The job at Virgin Megastore suited me perfectly.......'

LMJT at 22:32 on 22 March 2014  Report this post
Thanks Richard. Great point. Completely agree with you. 

Thanks for reading.


euclid at 23:23 on 22 March 2014  Report this post
Great story.

Needs a happy ending IMO.


TassieDevil at 08:11 on 23 March 2014  Report this post
Nostalgic and melancholic story that only touches on the truth about her sister. Also to me this seems to be more than just a piece of fiction and that adds just that much more to me. Emotive stuff.

Cornelia at 08:57 on 23 March 2014  Report this post
I was intrigued from the first by the sincerity and simplicity of the narrator's voice. I agree the first part was extraneous and you could start in the store, without all the backstory, although it did help to understand the rather hapless personality of the mc. I think I missed the point a bit -it seemed to me more of a mood piece than a complete tale.

 This was a line that made me laugh, and become interested in the satirical potential of developing the relationship with his co-worker:

‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, Steve,’ Donna said. ‘You’re a nice guy. Looks aren’t everything.’

Expanded to 1,000 words, this very subtle heart-tugging piece could emerge as a womag story.


Bazz at 16:33 on 24 March 2014  Report this post
Great story, feels real and true. I wouldn't add a lot to this, i think it's all about a series of small moments, and best not stretched too far, and I certainly wouldn't tack on a happy ending. Great read.

LMJT at 20:08 on 24 March 2014  Report this post
Thanks for your comments everyone.

I like the more melancholic ending and might think about expanding the piece

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