Angel 8 (work)
Angel struggled out of her bedclothes, she’d fallen asleep exhausted with her clothes on, expecting the knock on the door at any minute. The radio-alarm, fog green and luminous clock numbers, showed it was only 5.02 a.m. It was set to 6.50 a.m. but most days she dozed, beyond that. At a pinch, she could rush down to Dalmuir station and make 8.12 a.m. train on Platform Three, or even the later train.
She rolled out of bed and rushed down the stairs. Put the immerser on for a bath. Flicked the kettle on and sat at the kitchen table. She poured Cornflakes into a bowl and added plenty of sugar. Sniffing the milk in the fridge, she wasn’t sure. She added it to the Cornflakes anyway, but one mouthful was enough. She rushed to the toilet, next to the kitchen and threw up. Her chest felt overly tight and she couldn’t breathe and wheezed, crying out for her mum, upstairs.
Her mum slept soundly through it all. Angel tried to keep herself occupied until the water was hot enough to have a bath. Wiping surfaces with a tea-towel, sticking mugs in the sink, putting chairs tight into the table, straightening cushions in the living room, picking up two empty bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream stuffed down the couch, she emptied the mess into the bins outside. Her mum’s heavy overcoat over her nightdress, arms folded she sheltered from the whirling rain.
She listened for police sirens, but heard instead early-morning birds stirring and calling to each other. But there were only clouds above and brambles claiming the back lawn for company. She peered over the shaggy overgrown hedge at the black tar roof of the garden hut next door, where order was maintained, with clipped lawn, winter roses – she felt she could smell – everything in its rightful place and as the world should be. And she stood as grey skies brightened, wracked with sobbing.
She wrapped herself in a towel and put her clothes into the washing machine, putting the setting onto boil wash to take out the splatter of blood stains. She laid out pants and bra and hung her Boots-the-Chemist uniform on the bathroom door as she steeped, overlong, in the bath, adding more and more hot water, until it began to run cold.
The drab polyester skirt and jacket was brightened by a colourfully designed blouse of small pink and blue flowers. It tended to itch under her arms, but was easy to wash.
Everything seemed to take longer when she had more time to think. She hurried through the concourse of Glasgow Central Station sure she was going to be late and battling against commuters coming the other way. Crossing Sauchiehall Street she had a close call with a taxi that beeped its horn at her. But she made it in plenty of time, blending in with the girls in the staffroom and listening to their chatter.
‘Penny for your thoughts,’ Karen giggled as she fell into step beside her as they made their way over to their work station on cosmetics before the shop opened.
‘Oh, you don’t really want to know,’ Angel glanced over her shoulder.
Karen two years older than Angel had long mousy hair in a middle parting. Large square glassed dominated her face and she seemed to look at the world through thick goldfish lenses.
Angel shook her head. She felt Karen’s eyes on her and knew she was dying to gossip. Instead Angela kept busy checking they had enough stock and ringing the till, to see it worked properly and they had enough change. They got on well enough, but customers seemed to gravitate away from Karen and towards Angel, because of her height and because she was pretty. Some of the older customers also assumed that because she worked in a well-known chemist shop that she had medical expertise, even though she mostly sold face compacts in different colours.
‘I’ve had a right sore throat,’ said the first customer of the day to Angela, a woman in a blue headscarf tied in a knot at her chin.
She opened her mouth to show Angel the back of her inflamed throat and her top set of falsers shifted.
‘A packet of Lockets should do the trick.’ Angela smiled and a hand muffled her mouth as she whispered. ‘You’ll get them cheaper in R.S.McColls.’ Paused and then pointed towards the lifts and stairs and spoke loudly. ‘A medicinal packet of honey-flavoured throat lozenges are available on the second floor.’
‘Oh, that’s very good of you hen,’ the older woman reached over and squeezed Angel’s hand. But as she bustled back towards the double-doors onto Sauchiehall Street she stumbled and stood catching her breath.
Angel hurried from behind her work station and put her arm around the old woman’s back. ‘You alright?’
‘Aye, hen, when you get to my age things get a bit much.’ She laughed the deep lines on her face a roadmap. ‘You need to slow down to hurry up.’
Angela hooked her arm under the old woman’s and helped her towards the exit. She held her hand up and waved and stood out in the street with her. The old woman turned her head and smiled before she was lost to sight among hurry pedestrians.
When she turned and pushed back through the doors, her supervisor was watching her. It was hard to tell what age Mrs Munro was. She was taller than Angel, busty and fat with an unlined face and her bowl-cut hair was silvery, but she patrolled the aisles with vigour and determination. She could have been between thirty to sixty. She studied Angela between narrowed lids, stared through her into some distant horizon, where junior staff should be positioned behind their counter and not wandering abroad. Her thin red lips played with a tentative half-smile.
Karen wasn’t allowed the same morning breaks as Angel, which were staggered, but she tagged along with Angel and Debbie for Saturday lunch.
Debbie was Angel’s best-mate at work. They were the same age, but Debbie looked about twelve, with her red hair in bunches and her freckly face. Even the smallest uniform hung off her thin, boyish frame. They’d started the same day and used to work together on cosmetics, but Munro quickly split them up because they were laughing too much.
The wind had a chilly edge to it, carrying the rain, but to get away from work for a while and breathe in the traffic fumes. Angel followed that world-weary Glasgow maxim as they visited the Blue Nun chippy. ‘A change was as good as a rest.’ But they always got the same thing on a Saturday afternoon, a roll-in-chips, the rolls soaked with vinegar.
Debbie did an impression of the way Munro looked and acted. She was a great mimic and strutted rather than walked the way their line-manager did and mouthed her slightly upper-class accent.
‘There are hundreds of girls like you, ten-a-penny,’ Debbie went through the gears, working up to a contrived set of outrage. ‘You should be glad to be working in such a proud institution as Boots…This is not just a job. This is a career.’
They clung onto each other’s shoulders, incapacitated by laugher. Others in the chip-shop queue also smiled.
‘Oh, I’m gonnae pee myself,’ said Angel.
‘I never wanted to work in an institution in my life,’ mugged Debbie. ‘If I did I’d have joined the army, or the police.’
They moved on and stood in the shelter of stairs at the station to eat their lunch. Angela dropped a few of her chips and pigeons swooped down.
‘Flying rats,’ Karen ran and scattered them.
‘Sorry,’ said Angel. ‘Sometimes I just don’t know whit’s going on with me. I’m just not hungry.’
‘Och, don’t worry,’ said Karen. ‘Just take things as they come. And, eh, if you’re not going to finish that roll, I’ll eat it for you.’
Karen said something else, but Angel wasn’t really listening. She handed her the roll.
Crack in the paving slab, with weeds and grass thrusting up towards the light. Ants swarmed and skittering and making their own version of Sauchiehall Street above and below ground.
‘You alright?’ Debbie handed her a can of Coke. ‘You look a bit peely-wally and haven’t touched a thing.’
‘Aye,’ replied Angel. ‘Time we were getting back anyway. Yeh, know whit old Munro’s like.’
In the locker room they hung their jackets and tidied their hair. ‘A few hours and that’s us done for the week,’ said Debbie, in a triumphant note.
‘I’m just nipping into the toilet,’ said Angel.
Karen hurried back to her work station.
Debbie held back to the last second and then made a detour to the toilets. She thought she heard retching and knocked on the cubicle door.
She tried to make a joke out of it. ‘You’re no pregnant are you?’ She waited for an answer and when there was no reply banged on the door again. ‘I’m just going to get somebody.’
‘I’ll be OK,’ Angel whined. ‘Just gie me a few minutes and I’ll be out.’
‘I’m no moving an inch until you open that door.’
‘No, no, you better get back or you’ll be late and there’ll be hell to pay. You get back.’
‘Aye, it must have been something I ate.’
Angel waited until she heard the toilet door closing. She roused herself and came out of the cubicle, washed her hands and bathed her face in cold water. Her green eyes looked overly bright in the mirror and her eyes red-rimmed but she looked fine. She just had to get through the next few hours.