Friday, November 09, 2007

Soapbox



Rose-Angela stands outside Sainsbury’s gripping the scuffed handles of a pushchair, in it carrier bags full of paper. Near the wheel a pigeon pecks at the idea of a crumb on the paving stones. An old man struggles out the store with four shopping bags, the elbows and knees of boxes and cans stretching the plastic. He tries not to stare at Rose-Angela, at the pushchair she’s rocking back and forth, but fails. Like a stiff breeze worrying a pile of leaves, she can feel anxiety move inside her. In this place Rose-Angela will expose them, just as she did last week at the Sainsbury’s in Acton. Just as she will continue to do until she’s visited every last store on the list, ironically the Sainsbury’s at Wormwood Scrubs. And yet in the process of exposing them, she will lose a little bit more of herself.

Inside, the bright lights create a false day; a quietless day in a suburban supermarket where all that’s happening is Monday, Clapham, chatter, destiny. She walks with the pushchair through the middle of the store. It feels like she’s inside a huge animal, the beep of barcode scanners the pulsing of its heart. Scenes from each aisle flicker past her on either side, frames from an old reel of film – a woman dying of choice in front of the deodorant section; a guy trailing after his wife, a yawn turning his head into a mouth; a little girl fishing in a pool of spilt sauce with the end of her scarf.

Rose-Angela holds her breath down the length of the Baby Care aisle and heads for the checkouts. After a moment traipsing back and forth between the tills, she chooses the longest aisle in the middle of the store. She should have picked up a basket, she realises. Pimples of sweat are breaking out on her top lip. People are staring at her, staring at the large woman in the clothes that have let themselves go: the faded jeans, black anorak and scuffed shoes.

Rose-Angela takes off her cap like she’s peeling back the ring pull from a can of soup. Her brown hair is flecked with grey, lank, in need of a wash. She fumbles for the two pieces of cardboard in the big bag hanging off the pushchair. They are identical, the word PAEDOPHILE typed in bold and the photograph of a man; a snapshot of the past that for Rose-Angela will always be the present. She lets out a deep breath; the same air she last inhaled in the courtroom a month ago when the case was thrown out through lack of evidence.

“This… this man,” she shouts, voice crackling like the start of an old vinyl record. “This… ANIMAL raped and murdered my little girl, Shelly.”

People look at their shoes, rummage in their trolleys, handbags, pockets; look anywhere but at the woman standing there in a glass coffin.

“This disgusting PAEDOPHILE lives and works in London. Yes, in fact he works in Sainsbury’s. Can you believe that?” She looks at the people not listening to her, their faces turning in on themselves with the not-listening. “I think you should know this. I think you should know that the place where you buy your Heinz beans and your wholemeal bread and your… your organic fucking muesli employs paedophiles!!”

Rose-Angela is standing on the ceiling, shouting down at the people in the store, angry words that leave scars in the air, angry words with nightmares inside them. People move away from the woman performing open heart surgery on herself at the check-out. They cough, roll their eyes, laugh nervously.

“You think that’s funny, do you? You think it’s funny that Sainsbury’s employs a fucking child molester?” She waves the signs in their faces. “You’d be happy to bring your kids in here, would you, with a fucking kiddie fiddler like that on the check-out?”
Her face is red, fringe sticking to her forehead, nostrils flared like a flogged dog; a flogged dog that has caught its own tail and is eating itself to death. Rose-Angela swallows, looks around her, realising she is telling the wrong truths, wrong because no-one wants to hear them.

She feels the security guard coming towards her before she sees him. Tremors in the floor, squeak-soled shoes running at the speed of light-footedness. When he finally takes hold of her it feels like she’s sneaked up on herself. He is gathering her up, this tall lean man in the blue uniform. Gathering up the different parts of her: elbow, arm, shoulder, and turning her into another woman altogether; a woman older, one that can’t walk… or will not walk. She pushes him away, peeling off imaginary sleeves to rid herself of the feel of him on her arms.

The security guard ushers her towards the doors. At the entrance Rose-Angela stops and turns round, shouting over his shoulder, “Sainsbury’s employs PAEDOPHILES, remember that!” She picks up the plastic bags from the pushchair and hugs them to her chest. There are six of them, orange, different sizes, all stuffed with paper. They are tied together with string in the shape of a small child.

“Sainsbury’s supports paedophilia. You fucking shop here, then so do you, simple as that!”

And then, balancing the child on her hip, Rose-Angela turns and pushes the empty pushchair out onto Clapham High Street.




Melissa Mann

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very moving.

This is also an interesting story –with some nice word play. Rose-Angela is a very realistic portrayal of a woman whose loss has made her self-neglecting obsession too uncomfortable for others to tolerate.

Great work.

Melissa Mann said...

Your feedback is much appreciated - my words thank you!