The shopkeeper saves the best liquorice for him, taking out the torpedoes and adding more rosettes. Sometimes he comes in late, just when she’s given up hope, and she’ll still pretend to measure it out, weighing it carefully, adding a little more just so she can see his smile. He’s so often grey with tiredness. Once, only once, she leant across the counter to wipe a mark off his face before she realised it was a thin scar, etched in so deep she was rubbing its shadow. He caught her hand, lifted it as gently as if it was some injured bird he was offering back to her. And every day they carry on this dance, not caring they are visible through the shop window. She spins the paper bag until it twists itself shut. And he counts out the coins as if each one is precious. And you and I watch them from the street, surrounded by so much sweetness. And you tell me you’d take down every jar on every shelf to fill my pockets with coconut mushrooms, wine gums, fruit salads. I say I’d swap it all for the one jelly baby. And shhh, you say, he’s about to go. And her smile is so thin it matches the scar she’ll never be able to rub off. And he nods, pausing as if he’s finally about to say something. And we both realise we are holding our breath. And we can’t bear to look back at her after the shop door twinkles shut behind him. And so instead we hold hands to watch how he shuffles home, carrying his pink and white striped bag as if it weighs nothing at all.
SARAH SALWAY — Sarah Salway is a novelist, poet and writing tutor based in Kent. Her latest book, Not Sorry, is a collection of very short fictions published by Valley Press. She is currently a mentor with the Royal Literary Fund and runs the Everyday Words newsletter and writing workshop. Find more at www.sarahsalway.co.uk.
Art by MELISSA LLANES BROWNLEE — Melissa creates art as a way to help her be a better writer. She posts her daily doodles on Instagram @lumchanmfa. She also tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.