Charlie pushed his empty supermarket trolley to line up with all the others. He blew on his hands and hurried back to his car. The steady flow of evening traffic hummed in the background, but he knew he had enough time.
‘You won’t believe what happened to me just now, never been so embarrassed in all my life,’ a young woman said, as she opened the boot of her Honda right next to him.
Charlie nodded. ‘It can get hectic, especially this time of year.’
‘It’s the first time I’ve ever done it. I was running late, still am in fact.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Everything’s going to be ruined now.’
He retrieved a stray box of mince pies from by her feet and handed it to her. ‘I’m a little confused. What happened?’
‘It’s my daughter, she’s in a Christmas play tonight and I’m going to miss it now because of that person.’
‘If it’s any help I can give you a hand to load your car, then we can both be on our way, Ms . . .’
‘Thanks, that’s very kind. I’m Carol, you are?’
‘Charlie.’ He scanned the over-loaded trolley and lifted some of the items out.
Outside the store entrance a group of campanologists rattled their charity collection boxes. Charlie almost dropped a chocolate Yule log when a peal of bells cracked the air.
‘I only parked it there for about a minute,’ Carol shouted over “O little Town of Bethlehem” He nearly asked what, where, but grabbed a bottle of Prosecco instead and passed it to her.
‘Sorry, I meant I left my trolley in front of the freezers while I went to the Deli counter. I had to queue at the check-out for ages. To top it all, young Stacey on the till thought it very funny when I found a frozen turkey, a pack of sausages and a pork fillet underneath my Christmas crackers. She knows I’m a vegetarian.’
Charlie’s face reddened. He always got angry when people blocked the aisles with their trollies, then marched off in a different direction. He’d decided, half an hour ago, to teach someone a lesson. How could he have known it would turn out to be Carol? He held his hands up. ‘Look, it’s the season of goodwill and all that, it was me.’
‘It was you, what?’
‘It was me who messed about with your groceries in the store.’
Her face turned more crimson than his. She placed her hands on her hips. ‘And you’ve got the nerve to pretend to help me? Why don’t you go and—’
‘Is everything all right with you two?’ a man in a Father Christmas outfit said.
Charlie ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Oh go ring your bells somewhere else, mate.’
Carol glared at Charlie. ‘Are you still invading my personal space?’
He fumbled in his pockets, but couldn’t find his Samsung. ‘Have you got a phone? I need to call someone right now.’
‘Yeah I’ve got one, but you’re the last person I’d lend it to.’
Charlie spread his hands. ‘Please, I’ll only be on for—’
He closed his eyes. ‘I’ve just realised, it wouldn’t make any difference if you did. I can’t remember her number. It’s stored in my mobile. She’ll think I’ve stood her up. It would’ve been our first date as well.’
‘As if I care, it’s all down to you I’ve missed my daughter’s play. I was going to put on a lovely after show finger buffet . . . with Bucks Fizz as well.’
‘I think you’re overreacting. Don’t blame me because you can’t manage your own time.’
‘Overreacting? You don’t know anything about me at—’
‘We wish you a merry Christmas,’ shouted the man in a red suit and false white beard. The jangling of coins started up again.
Carol glowered at Charlie. ‘Thanks for spoiling my evening.’ After slamming down the boot lid of her car she added, ‘I hope you have a rotten Christmas.’
Charlie climbed into his Nissan and powered down the window. ‘I hope you have a miserable one as well.’
As he revved up the engine “Ding Dong Merrily on High” chimed around the car park. He shook his fist. ‘And the same goes to you lot over there . . . with bloody bells on!’
* * *
About the author
Alan has been writing short stories for ten years. In 2011 he made the short list for one story and a prize winner for flash fiction. He also won first prize, of £100, in a poetry competition in 2013. The three accolades were awarded by the best-selling UK magazine for writers. His work has been read out on Internet radio and published in hard copy magazines and e-zines.