Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


'What can I do for you, Mrs Quinn?'
The man at the meat counter smacked his hands together with anticipatory professionalism. Grace looked at the display, not him, thinking how much he needed some meat himself. A thin man was Gary, but he suited the clothes at any rate. They must make them wear that straw hat and striped red apron, she thought. The traditional butcher's uniform.
'A pound and a half of round mince. That'll do.'
'Fair enough.'
He set to weighing the meat, adding little tidbits to get the exact weight. Around them both a soft, warm piggy smell curled lazily. The ovens shhhed as their fans swirled their heat.
'Actually, give me some pork chops too, around four. They'll do for tomorrow.'
Grace looked away from the glass fronted ovens as he continued to put together the order. It was a quiet morning in the supermarket, with only a few trollies moving up and down the aisles of the small store. A few young mothers with prams or toddlers or both.
A six year old ran by, his hand out to knock two packets of toilet rolls from an end of aisle stack. She stared for a moment at the spilled packages, wondering should she pick them up. No one else would. Certainly there was no sign of the youngster's mother. Spoilt little brat. There was no discipline these days for these young women. They let their kids run riot and they would pay for it too, eventually.
'There you go. Fresh from the freezer this morning.' The hollow-eyed butcher was holding out the meat to her.
'Thanks, Gary. That's great.'
She took a look around to see where the child had run to.
'They're let run wild these days.'
'The kids? Yeah, make a mess of the place.'
Gary knew what she meant. Our generation, she thought with nostalgia. She picked up the toilet rolls and placed them as best she could on the pile.
'Still they have to be let grow,' he added.
She stared at him.
'I suppose. Still you feel we did it better in our day sometimes. See you now.'
'Bye now.'
She certainly felt she had gotten it right with her Martin. He had done okay, out there in Sydney. She had brought him up well. Some day she would get over her fear of flying and go out there to visit him. So far off though.
She walked along the shelves in search of gravy granules. Ahead, the empty aisle stretched, past an intersection, and on to more goods, no people. Such a quiet morning. So empty. Well, not quite. There was that child again. She recognised the copper coloured head of the small boy down in the next aisle, the confectionery aisle. He stood, not much taller than two shelves, hardly visible except for that hair, staring intently at the chocolate. I'll bet his mother stuffs him with those things, she thought. It's easy to spoil a child. Bad for them though, letting them get used to getting without any effort. They think the world is their's.
Suddenly the boy reached out, grabbed a chocolate bar and ran off, screaming with victory.
A tall dark-haired woman came into sight, shouting after the tike.
'Daniel, put that back!' But he was gone.
Shout all you want, Grace reflected, that's not enough. He needs to learn that it's wrong. You need to tell him.
The woman looked down at Grace with a rueful shake of the head.
'You just can't control them at that age,' she complained.
'No,' said Grace. She gritted her teeth and turned away. You won't get any sympathy from me. She turned to the pickles. She didn't want any. Gravy granules.
The cold flourescent lighting of the ceiling played on unnoticed as the morning sunshine streamed through the windows beyond the cash registers. There wasn't even any music from the loudspeakers that day. Just the easy sound of footsteps, the squeak of prams and trollies, the soft clink of a jar inspected and rejected and put back in its place on the shelf.
The high voice of the tall woman rang out suddenly. Grace looked up from the frozen foods at the sound. The woman was behind her.
'You haven't seen my son, have you?'
'The little red-haired boy?'
'No.' Can't you even keep an eye on him, even if you can't keep him under control?
'I can't find him anywhere.'
'Did you try down by the chocolates?' Grace asked pointedly.
'Yes,' the woman answered, not picking up on Grace's tone. 'Thanks anyhow.'
The woman walked swiftly on, pushing her trolley towards the cash registers.
No control, no discipline. Just fattening up a spoilt little brat to take, take, take with nothing to gve to the world when he's grown. She'll find him now drinking out of the lemonade bottles, or scattering around potato snacks on the floor.
But the woman didn't find him doing either. The tall woman didn't find her son at all.

The face of the red-haired child stared out at Grace from the side of the milk carton. To think, all that time missing. Poor child. Poor woman. It must be hard to lose an infant like that, even more so not to know what happened to him. There had been a lot of publicity at the time, a lot of questions and a lot of searching. Soon the searching gave way to the questioning though, sterner questions, questions asking what kind of a mother lets her son disappear in a supermarket like that. A supermarket! How could she let him out of her sight. Grace did not agree. A mother shouldn't be held accountable like that. She shouldn't have to know where her child is every second of the day. And especially in a supermarket. How could you lose a child in a supermarket, for goodness sake.
She put the milk down. She didn't need any.
'What can I do for you, Mrs Quinn?'
Gary stared at her hollowly from under the brim of his straw hat.
'Oh, I'm not sure yet.'
The ovens puffed quietly in the background, exuding a warm, meaty smell. She couldn't place the aroma.
'What is that you have cooking today?'
'In the ovens? That's today's special, Mrs Quinn. Venison. Fresh from the freezer this morning.'
'It doesn't look like venison.'
The slender, small limb on the rotisserie seemed too evenly proportioned for an animal leg.
'Just the cut of it. I have more of it uncooked if you want a proper joint.'
He waved behind him to the meat counter where a large round of flesh lay waiting to be cut.
'It does look good. I haven't had venison in ages. I don't even remember how it tastes.'
'It's a good meat, Mrs Quinn. They fatten them deer up well these days too. Had this in the freezer as a special like.'
She looked hungrily at the red haunch on the counter. She could see the bone in the middle of the dark red meat, a layer of fat all around. It did look good.
'Okay. Give me a joint. Though the ribs look good too. No, the joint will do.' She looked in her purse to check she had enough. 'We should treat ourselves every now and again, shouldn't we, Gary?'
'Certainly should, certainly should.'
He went back and began to hack at the thick piece of flesh.
It's amazing how the freezer keeps it so well, she thought. So fresh. You have to wonder though.
'There you go.'
'Thanks, Gary,' said Grace taking the package. She tucked it into her basket and was about to go away when she looked at Gary again. 'Gary, just while you say it, the freezer. You say it's fresh from the freezer. Does it really keep it well. The freezer, I mean.'
Gary smiled from ear to ear.
'Gracious, Mrs Quinn. The freezer would keep anything fresh from now till Doomsday. I put everything in there I want to keep.'
'So it is fresh,' she persisted.
'Mrs Quinn, it's as fresh as when it's killed. I just thaw it out when I need it.'
'Mrs Quinn,' he said levelly,'I'd never let it spoil.'
He smiled again, treating her to a wide mouthful of tombstone teeth. It made her feel queasy for some reason, but she smiled back and walked away. There was a man who enjoyed his job.



At 9:41 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fair play Niall! great story, give us more. nig


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