Short Stories

Cheese and Onion Man

Michael caressed the neatly folded plastic bags in his pockets.  His 64 year old manicured fingers ruffled the thin plastic carefully, he was damned if he was going to pay 20p for four new bags. On his last visit he had forgotten them, forcing him to ask for a refund and leave his shopping behind, out of principle. It was disgusting that the supermarkets charged for bags, didn’t they make enough money out of him? He had watched the prices edge up over the years and felt they were getting more than their fair share from his tri-weekly shop.

He recalled his previous visit and the queue of elderly people and parents with screaming children behind him as he complained about the cost of bags. They were a terrible lot he thought, he could feel their cheap, impatient essence dangling in the air as he told the cashier what was what and that he wanted his money back.  Whilst he was complaining he caught sight of a young mother in the queue roll her eyes, so he put her in her place by crisply pointing out the benefits of online shopping “Isn’t that what it’s for? People like you who can’t control their children?”. He internally rejoiced when tears welled up in her eyes and although he tried to contain it, a smirk slipped out across his mouth as he remembered her reaction. It was after he had shut up the wretched young mother that the cashier had let herself down, whilst refunding his £20.56 she had actually tried to make a point to him, silly woman, as if she had a leg to stand on. He remembered her stronger than average West Country accent as she said to him “Perhaps, next time sir, you could check you have your bags before the items are scanned through? It may also be a good idea sir, to pack things immediately after they’ve been scanned because it will save you, and other people waiting, a lot of time. It does take a bit longer if you hold off until everything is scanned and then paid for before you pack your things into bags. Most people pack their items immediately after they’ve been scanned through and before they pay, it’s the way it’s done really, because it’s quicker. It’s especially helpful if there are a lot of people in the queue. Sir” She had given him a smile that made the lines around her eyes crease.

He had up until that point always chosen this particular cashier because she wasn’t foreign, fairly good looking and blonde. She also seemed to understand that his shopping habits were reasonable. A man was entitled to take his time if he wanted to and by paying before he packed gave him another chance to once again check his items ensuring they were of the highest quality. He didn’t like dented tins or crumpled packaging or anything inferior. Although he carefully examined everything before he put it in his basket, occasionally sub-standard products did slip past his quality control and the extra time at the checkout gave him ample opportunity to ensure that he was getting the best value. He didn’t like the supermarkets getting one up on him, so if he didn’t like the look of something he would ask for it to be replaced or refunded, there and then. She hadn’t seemed to have minded in the past, she seemed to him to be a good girl who did as she was told. But last week when she opened her mouth and spoke, she blew it. Not only did she shatter the illusion by having an accent, she also humiliated him in front of the other customers. After this terrible experience he wrote a strongly worded email to the supermarket management to let them know how awful she was and that she should no longer be employed by them if they wanted to maintain their so-called high standards of customer service.

However today, his third and final shop of the week, as he entered the supermarket he knew he was definitely armed with his carrier bags. He felt the need to satisfy his curiosity and quickly situated himself in front of the tills, enabling a good view of each one to see if she was there. She wasn’t. Good, he thought, she has obviously been taught a lesson off the back of his email, she may even have been fired – he hoped so. He spotted a group of elderly women enter through the automatic doors of the supermarket prompting him to dash off to beat the old biddies to the special offers section at the end of the meats and cheeses aisle. In his rush he bumped into the gormless looking boy who worked in the bakery “get out of my way!” Michael ordered. The boy stood to one side and watched Michael hurry past him. The bakery boy decided that now was a good time to head back to the bakery.

Today was Sunday. Michael liked shopping on a Sunday because he felt it was a day when there were more discounts in store, especially on meats. They wanted rid and he wanted what they wanted rid of, and he always got the best bargain which pleased him immensely. He once slapped a teenagers wrist whose hand was travelling towards the pack of cooked ham he wanted “Ah!” Michael said condescendingly to the teenager who sharply withdrew his sore hand “This is mine” Michael pointed out to him calmly. The teenager called him some crass words whilst presenting his middle finger to Michael but Michael didn’t care, he had his ham, the best deal on the shelf, he had defeated the boy and won, and that was all that mattered.

As he arrived at the meats and cheeses aisle Michael homed in towards the discounted products’ shelves and stood in front of them in as wide a stance as possible, putting his basket on the floor next to his foot to stop anyone else getting in next to him. He looked at the items on offer and noticed that they were out of cold, cooked sliced meats “Damn it!” he hissed to himself. This supermarket usually had a huge amount of meats on offer, more than any other in town, but today they were severely lacking. He was not happy about the poor performance in front of him. He looked begrudgingly at the other produce, a few scotch eggs, one measly pork pie, a few lions of pork and a chorizo sausage.

“Excuse me” said a gentle, shaky voice from behind him. He was careful not to move his body risking losing his prime position, so he only turned his head to see who was disturbing him. It was one of the old ladies he had beaten to meats and cheeses aisle. Michael observed her coldly, he thought how much old people annoyed him, how they always managed to get in the way with their trollies and how they always seemed to bother him at the discounted sections. He turned his head back ignoring her.

“Excuse me” said the lady once more.

He ignored her again and continued to look at the remanence of special offers wondering if he had been foolish enough to miss an old peoples’ coach run to the supermarket and that’s why there wasn’t much left. The lack of discounted goods upset him and the lady behind him was upsetting him further.

The voice behind him persisted “Excuse me could I just get to the…”

“No” he snapped not bothering to look at her “I’m here can’t you see that. Wait your turn and pretend you’re civilised for just one moment whilst I’m making my choice.”

“Oh!” Said the old lady shocked “I only want the pork pie…”

“Well then wait for it!” he said in an exasperated but sharp voice, as if a he were a teacher speaking to an impatient school child.

“Well!” She said in disbelief and slowly walked away, visibly shaken by his rudeness and struggling to push her trolley.

Michael sighed at the slim pickings and decided that even though he didn’t want it he was going to have the pork pie just so the old biddy couldn’t have it. He was going to get the bargains, no one else. He then picked up the chorizo and scotch eggs but left the pork loins because he estimated from her shoddy hair and clothing that the old woman couldn’t afford it anyway.

He barged his way through the other aisles picking up his established list of Sunday items amongst which was bread (he took it from the back to ensure he got the freshest and most square, unsquashed loaf), 6 apples (which he handpicked to ensure they weren’t bruised and very, very green) and the most expensive natural yoghurt on the market (but the tub with the least amount of water on the inside of the lid). He then made his way to his final stop before deciding who was going to be his new server at the checkouts. To Michael, this destination was the worst aisle of them all – the crisps and snacks aisle. This aisle contained the sort of people that made his skin crawl, cheap people who liked to eat mostly nasty food. Their trollies where often stacked with huge bags of multi-pack crisps, multiple bars of horrendous, cheap chocolate and other suchlike tacky food. The evidence of their eating was usually in the form of the fat person pushing the hefty trolley. This was not really the aisle for him, but unfortunately he had a weakness for a particular brand of high quality thick cut crisps that he liked to nibble on in the evening whilst reviewing his home CCTV security footage, and his favourite flavour was cheese and onion.

He pushed his way along the aisle morbidly eyeing up other peoples’ grotesque choices in their trollies and stopped at the point where he knew his brand of crisps were. The space was empty. There was nothing there, not even the salt and vinegar (which to his mind might as well be discontinued across all brands because it was a foul flavouring). He could feel prickles of heat on the back of his neck, where were his crisps? How dare they! They knew! They knew he shopped here three times a week buying the same things for each shop and Sundays were crisps day. They knew that, so where the bloody hell were they? He decided he was going to write the email of a lifetime to the manager, after all the years of loyalty he had given this… this… this hole of a place, and now they had let him down. His left eye twitched a little as his heckles quivered with angry heat, he felt he had no alternative but to the deal with the situation there and then, he was going to have find the manager and give her a piece of his mind because the bloody woman obviously wasn’t qualified to run this place. He swiftly turned to march off and get the manager and found himself face to face with the blonde lady who used to serve him at the checkout. She obviously hadn’t been fired.

“Can I help you sir?” she said in her appalling accent. Michael couldn’t see that her smile was empty “I should hope so, where are the crisps?” he said in his sharp voice.

“I’m sorry sir, isn’t there something missing from that question?”

The idiocy of the woman! Why did she still have a job here? He repeated himself, a little slower this time just in case the time she’d spent working with the foreigners had impeded her English, she was obviously easily influenced “I said: Where.   Are.   The.   Crisps?”

She blinked then said “Yes sir, I heard you the first time, but you obviously didn’t hear me. I said: isn’t there something missing from your question?”

Did she have special needs? He said it again but this time he added waving his arm in front of the empty spot on the shelves just in case she did have some form of learning difficulties.

She gave him a different sort of smile this time, one Michael had never seen before, and then it dawned on him why she was smiling, it was because she did know what he meant, she had served him enough times to know. He understood now, she was being spiteful because he had put her in her rightful place in his email to her management. Feeling like he was going to explode he made up his mind that he was never coming back to this supermarket, he was going to get his crisps, get served by the nearest English employee he could find and get the hell out of there. He now knew what she was digging for but he was damned if he was going to say it, so he quickly and sharply repeated “Where are the crisps?” Her head was slightly tilted to one side and very still and she was still giving him that strange smile. He thought she looked like a silly ventriloquist’s doll. Realising he was dealing with a stubborn imbecile he decided to had no option but to bite the bullet and say it. He had reached a point where he’d do anything to get his crisps just so he could get out of there. He took a deep breath in through his nose and hissed out “cheese and onion”.

Not moving her head the woman’s smile dropped from her face and she blinked robotically a couple of times. There was a brief silence then quickly her head snapped up “Come this way sir” and she abruptly walked away with Michael following behind.

He was surprised at her speed and had to skip every now and again to keep up with her. He felt such a fool, he was sure the scum that shopped here were laughing at him and with every skip he thought of a new thing to complain about in his email to the management.

The blonde woman led him through the supermarket to a door at the back of the shop between the bakery and deli counter “Please come this way sir” she said politely, beckoning him to follow her through the door.

“Why am I coming in here? Isn’t this for staff?” The woman said nothing and disappeared into the dark room behind the door, he followed and the door shut behind him sealing out the last of the light.

It was totally dark and Michael couldn’t see where the blonde woman had gone, he called out “Hello? Where are you? Hello? Where are my crisps? Hello? Hello?” but there was only darkness. He tried once more and called out again “Where are my crisps? Why am I in a… staff facility? Hello? Hello? This is stupid…” Fed up and frustrated, he turned to leave but realised he couldn’t see the door. His temper was quick “How the bloody hell do I get out of here?” he yelled “Hello? Blonde checkout woman! What’s going on?” He paused trying to gauge the darkness, but he couldn’t his eyes weren’t what they used to be and he couldn’t make anything out, the dark was beating him which made him even angrier. “Is this about that email I sent?” he called out “Is it? Huh? Too cowardly to take the consequences of your terrible customer service? So this is what you’ve resorted to, is it? Locking people up in store rooms!” The prickles on the back of his neck where high and they felt itchy and hot so he scratched them rapidly to make them go away, but his neck only got hotter and more itchy. He scratched and scratched until he felt blood run down the back of his neck and Michael was more infuriated than he had ever been before in his life.  The feeling of not being in control ripped through his stomach making him roar into the smothering blackness “How dare you! How bloody dare you! Who do you think you are? I am the customer and you, you only work in a supermarket. A lousy, minimum wage paying supermarket!” He snorted in uncontrolled anger and then let out a deranged laugh “I am so much better than you!” He breathed heavily from the release of at last being able to tell her the truth, but he was ignored, no one was listening to him. This made Michael even angrier “What’s wrong with you?” He roared again. His chest heaved up and down rapidly, he needed to get out, he needed to get away from the dark that was making him dirty, from the cheap smells, the memory of the blonde lady smiling, the feeling that everything around him was beneath him. “Let me out! Let me out!” he screamed “Let me out! Let me…” suddenly a spot light came on in front of him. Michael silenced and squinted at the light taking a step back. He held up his hand to protect his eyes but soon he became accustomed to the brightness and saw what was there.

“My crisps!” He said in surprise. There they were, his favourite cheese and onion, thick cut Sunday crisps, about two dozen packs of them piled under the light. “Well” he said, his temper immediately cooling because he had obviously won the argument “It’s about bloody time isn’t it, huh? About time! I’ll be taking a few of these and I won’t be paying for them, actually I won’t be paying for any of my shopping after this little experience.” He confidently walked forward into the spot light and bent over picking up packet after packet of crisps, throwing them into his basket whilst he mumbled to himself “You just wait, I’m going to the papers with this one. Stupid woman, I’ll see you fired for this, you shouldn’t be working here anyway after the way you treated me last time I was in…” and then Michael fell to the floor and he saw nothing more.

The lights went on. “Alright Marion? All done?” a voice said from next to the door

“Yep” said the blonde woman standing over Michael’s bludgeoned head and lifeless body. She wiped a few spots of blood from her face and dropped the weapon, a pestle. She sighed “God that felt good!”

Her manager, Sarah, laughed and walked over and put her arm around Marion’s shoulders, pulling her in for a half hug “Yeah, the nasty bastard’s had it coming for a long time” She looked down at Michael tightening her mouth in dislike “horrible git wasn’t he”.

“Yeah” agreed Marion. She wiped off some more splashes of blood from her sweaty forehead and bent down to grab one of Michael’s ankles “Give me a hand Sarah will you? It’s going to take the two of us to get him round to David. Is he ready?”

“Yep, all ready” said Sarah happily. The women each picked up a leg and dragged Michael through to the room behind the bakery, where David, the bakery boy, was waiting for them. David had turned the oven on not long after Michael had shouted at him, and it was now fully preheated and ready for a low, slow Michael roasting.


Three days later the elderly woman whom Michael had blocked from the discounted meats section was stood there once again. Unlike the time Michael had been there the shelves were full and the old lady held in her opaque hands two white bags of meat, both were heavily reduced in price, one was marked ‘honey roast ham’ and the other was marked ‘roast gammon’. She was deciding which one to buy.

Marion was walking through the supermarket returning from her break when she spotted the old lady “Hello Mrs Gregson, how you doing today? Arthritis alright is it?”

“Oh, I’m good love, it’s good weather today so I’m not as bad as I was last time, everything’s a bit easier today, love. Thanks for asking. Beautiful and sunny isn’t it”

“Yeah, beautiful” replied Marion chirpily

“I bet you wish you was outside rather than being in ‘ere don’t you love?”

“It’s not so bad Mrs Gregson” Marion replied happily “They’re a good lot here. Do anything for anyone they will”

“Ah that’s nice” Mrs Gregson smiled and looked down at the bags of meat in her hands.

“You ok Mrs Gregson? Can I help you with anything?”

“I just don’t know which one to go for my love, that’s all. I’m not very good at making decisions and these are such a good buy, I mean there’s so much money off they might as well be free!” She laughed and then an unsteady look came across her face “There’s nothing wrong with them is there?”

“No Mrs Gregson, there’s nothing wrong them, we’ve just got a lot more meat in than we ordered, there’s an excess and we’ve got to get rid, that’s all.”

“Oh, well that’s ok then” the kindly old lady seemed satisfied but still she sighed with indecision “Which one would you go for?” she asked Marion

“Well, to be honest Mrs Gregson, I’d probably go for both at that price. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’ll all taste the same anyway” Marion winked and gave her a friendly wink.

“Yeah, you’re right love. I’ll treat myself” Mrs Gregson said agreeing, she was happy she been helped to make a decision and felt her day was going well “My Terry will be pleased” she smiled broadly at Marion.

“Glad I could help.” Marion started to leave but then she remembered something.

“Mrs Gregson…”

Mrs Gregson threw both bags of meat in her small trolley and turned back to look at Marion “Yes love?”

“I don’t know about you, but I love to eat cold meats with a nice packet of cheese and onion crisps. Just in case you’re interested, we’ve got those posh ones on offer, you know, the thick cut range? They’ll go ever so nicely don’t you think?”

Mrs Gregson’s eyes widened “Ooh now that is a good idea, thank you love”

Marion watched the old lady slowly push her trolley off in the direction of the crisps aisle. Smiling to herself, Marion merrily trotted back to her checkout.

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