Wednesday, September 4

A Bad Morning For Mrs. Mardi

THE VILLAGE CARD shop was next to the village flower shop because the two owners were good friends and had an eye for business. The morning was sunny and bright when the village card shop was opened one Saturday by Mrs. Mardi, a nervous soul with her greying hair tied back and very pink lips and cheeks that needed no rouge. The lazy weekend pavement blew a host of early autumn leaves and cigarette butts and ice cream wrappers. Mrs. Mardi considered the litter, sighed, and sightlessly put her key in the lock to enter her shop where the smell of card and small pointless gifts greeted her so that her spine straightened and she was very at ease.
Her calm mood was interrupted, poked in the ribs, when she spotted a note on the floor, underneath the letterbox. It read—

‘Hello Mrs. Mardi,
My wife & I just moved into the flat above your shop. It is a nice shop, though to be honest we try to refrain from buying cards because some of our best friends are trees. My wife is a journalist and I am a know-it-all. Hopefully we will meet you at some point and make exception enough to buy one of your delightful cards.
S & T.’

‘What sort of people don’t sign their own names?’ asked Mrs. Mardi to her cards that were stacked around her, a crowd at a football match—‘I’m certainly not going to make the effort to introduce myself!’
She set about opening the shop. When all was ready she stood behind the till and stared out of the front window; a large sheet of curved glass that distorted pedestrians as they walked past, the white paint around the edges, dusty, peeling and flaking up and against the pane. She had known the city for years, but had moved to this tiny village eight years ago, in search of a calmer life. Here, life moved a little slower and one was not likely to notice one’s aging so much. The city terrified her. It played havoc with her disposition. In her nightmares the city chased her, hounded her heels, so that she was forced to lie down and submit, blinking her eyes hard until she woke up. The owner of the village flower shop was very similar and the two ladies struck up a friendship the moment they met, built on their nervousness and their fondness for cards and flowers.
All of a sudden, shaking Mrs. Mardi from her thoughts, Mrs. Horace from next-door came in—‘Morning!’
The two ladies greeted each other and smiled and laughed the way people do when they want to be better friends with each other.
‘Say! this is a nice shop!’ said Mrs. Horace. She laughed.
‘Why, thank-you! Yours isn’t so bad either!’ said Mrs. Mardi. She laughed.
Both ladies laughed. A bird that had landed on the pavement outside, by a scruff of weeds, stared at the two, blinked its tiny eyes and flew off, making very little sound. They talked about their Friday evenings, Mrs. Mardi showed Mrs. Horace the note that had landed on her mat.
‘Oh, don’t be so mean … I hear, they’re a nice couple.’ Mrs. Horace liked to use the word ‘nice’ a lot because she had never really possessed an imagination and would use the word ‘nice’ to describe everything from a sunset to the best kiss she’d ever had (J. Adams, 1997) to the first car her parents had bought her (her father pulling up with all its colours in bloom and everything sparkling like a river).
Opening time.
With meticulous and cherished ceremony Mrs. Mardi turned the closed sign around and opened the shop door. A breeze penetrated the threshold. Nothing. The street outside was getting busier. From her place on the doormat, looking up and down the way, she could smell the scent of flowers from Mrs. Horace’s. She inhaled deeply, wondering how much money she would make today.
Again she was struck by nerves: the neighbourhood cat, Rasputin, was on the prowl. He had black fur with white slippers and a bit of sour cream above his lips. He looked up at Mrs. Mardi with dark eyes alive. Mrs. Mardi threw up her hands—‘No, Rasputin! Not today! Shoo!’ Rasputin didn’t budge; in fact, he paused, sat down and licked his lips. ‘This is a bad omen,’ thought Mrs. Mardi, because she always thought the worse—‘If I ignore him, he’ll go away.’ So she ignored Rasputin, who then took to watching the cars go by.
At just gone ten o’clock the first customer entered.
‘Lovely day today, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, except I have a funeral to attend to this afternoon and need a card.’
‘O, no!’ Mrs. Mardi put her hand over her mouth as her heart trembled. ‘I’m so sorry!’ She was really very sorry. Thin lips pursed, eyelids wavering, she was too sympathetic to own a card shop in a world where people attended funerals. She led the customer—her soft hand loosely holding the bereaved’s elbow—to the funeral cards and picked out her personal favourite. As the customer was paying, Mrs. Mardi asked—‘You didn’t see a black cat outside, did you?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘Good. Thank-you. My heartfelt sympathies for your loss.’
The shop was filling up now, in that there were three people perusing the cards. Mrs. Mardi stood behind the till and watched them.
‘What was that noise?’
There was a noise. Maybe it wasn’t there. It was quiet. The quiet noise was lost in the pervasive sound of the cars that ran up & down the street. No, the noise wasn’t there. But then it was there again. She was imagining it.
One customer looked up.
Mrs. Mardi’s stomach sank.
All the customers were looking up at the ceiling as the lights that hung from it started to swing.
All at once, the customers and the owner of the village card shop realised that the softly quiet gentle thuddings of above were sex noises. Saturday morning lie in bed sex noises of one body pushing into another, the steady beat over a melody of completely lost moans.
Mrs. Mardi panicked.
The shoppers did their best to ignore it; one of them put down her cards—a selection of birthdays—and left in a huff of indignation. Sweat began to stand out on Mrs. Mardi’s brow.
Rasputin appeared at the door.
‘Not now, Rasputin! Not now!’ and she chased Rasputin away.
She wanted the earth to swallow her up. The softly quiet gentle thuddings grew louder until there climaxed in the cries of orgasm, high and magnificent.
More shoppers were entering, but the sounds had gone.
She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her brow. Mrs. Horace poked her head round the door, checked her friend’s expression and entered, approaching her carefully, muttering in a low voice—‘Did you hear that!?’
‘I did. Everyone did! O, I wish the earth would swallow me up.’
‘I thought that couple were nice!’
At that moment Rasputin entered the shop. In his tiny mouth of pink tongue and white needles was a limp mouse. The two friends froze and watched their intruder drop his cargo, not taking his eyes from theirs. The mouse stood up, checked the condition of its limbs, the small amount of blood that leaked from its side, and rushed with terrifying speed farther into the shop.
The two ladies shrieked. The shoppers who had seen the delivery scarpered and the ones who didn’t ran out of the door too, not wanting to be the odd ones out. Mrs. Horace ran as fast as her shapeless ankles would carry her. The polite stillness of the card shop had been shattered. The mouse ran here & there, its tiny legs a blur, its smooth brown fur fluttering with a little drop of blood like a punctuation mark in the middle of its side. Mrs. Mardi chased the mouse out, finally, and took her rest behind the till, composing herself before the next customer arrived—praying feverishly that no-one had told anyone else in the village about it.
This was no good for her. Her heart was racing, beating quickly against her stifling breasts. She could not control herself. Rasputin looked into the shop, checked the scene and hurried off.
An hour later, once the dampness under her arms had dried and sun was overhead, casting short shadows over everything, the trees planted in the pavement, the cars parked at the kerb, the brushing trees that stood tall behind the pub opposite, customers returned and all was well once more.
Rasputin was nowhere to be seen.
All was still.
Then: again.
The customers looked up. A couple by a stack of pointless little teddy bears started to giggle. One young man by the anniversary cards took out a fat stack of them, sat down on the carpet—which was still dotted with drops of mouse blood—and put his hand in his pocket, listening carefully. The couple kept on giggling.
S and T were really going for it. There was no mercy, just hard Saturday morning fucking as the final movement of a weeklong symphony.
An old lady—a regular, no less—approached the till without anything in her hands and said to Mrs. Mardi—‘This is disgusting! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’
‘I’m so sorry, madam.’
‘It’s too late for apologies.’ She stormed out.
The couple were giggling still and holding hands. The young man still had his hand in his pocket and was counting sheep in his underwear.
Rasputin appeared at the door.
Mrs. Mardi stood horrified: in his jaws was a rabbit, still kicking and putting out a spine-scratching sound. The couple was shocked and gasped. The young man, too, took notice and opened his mouth but it was too late.
At that moment many things happened in quick succession:
Rasputin dropped the wounded rabbit, which promptly starting legging it around the shop, bumping into things and not ceasing its spine-scratching sound.
S and T cried a chord of ecstasy.
The young man on the floor next to the rack of anniversary cards came to his senses and started to pant and waving his legs to keep the rabbit away from him.
The couple admitted that this was—‘all a bit too much’, for them, fleeing.
Rasputin licked his lips of the drying blood and smiled. He ran out across the road.
Mrs. Mardi screamed and gave chase to Rasputin who was quicker and more skilful at crossing roads than her. She was struck by a car and fell on to the floor. Many people saw the incident and spoke about it after. The two lovers in the flat above looked out, their genitals the colour of flowers, very happy with their new flat—far more spacious and lighter than their last.

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