SHORT STORIES: The Old Lady In The Record Store

Looking up between the shabby blocks that formed the city centre, nothing could be seen but an all too familiar veil of grey pressing heavily on the populace. Winter was now growing long, and it was beginning to triumph over the resilient inhabitants, leaving them dejected, disconsolate, and uncharacteristically fierce.

I had gone in to the shop merely to get out of the cold and browse, but inevitably I was won over by the charms of what lay therein. Killing time had become my main occupation, much to the chagrin of my bank balance, and trips to leaf through racks and racks of vinyl and cds were no longer a rare occurrence on account of the split shifts I had foolishly agreed to.

I had started on the ground floor, which housed the overpriced new releases, then I had descended to the main room in the basement, which held the majority of the shop’s stock: all formats, all genres, save for a further room of jazz bootleg lps which was at the foot of a spiral staircase which snaked down from the main room.

I pored over the albums for around an hour, flicking through dusty sleeves, before settling on two very reasonably priced Pharaoh Sanders albums, reprinted on Impulse! with the original liner notes intact. I was racked with my usual financial guilt as I ascended towards the till, and this was helped in no way by the small queue I then had to wait in.

The first customer shared a short, uninteresting exchange with the bearded fellow who ran the shop about the Canterbury Scene, but it was the interactions of the second that attracted my attention.

She was by anyone’s accounts, a lady of advancing years, and the winter had clearly not been kind to her, her face twisted into a determined squint of effrontery, obscured occasionally by the fabric of one of two thick scarves which surrounded her hunched neck.

She laboriously hobbled towards the desk, and before she spoke, she handed over a tatty black cassette, before addressing the man.

“Do you have this?” she asked coldly.

The bearded man looked down at the cassette, only to have it snatched from his hands by the old lady.

“The black has escaped, you see…” she said, sliding away the cardboard sleeve, and exposing the sorry mess of black tape bleeding from the plastic.

“Let me see,” muttered the cashier, taking the tape from her. I longed desperately to see what the cassette was, my boredom inspiring a ferocious curiosity which would unfortunately not be fed.

“I’ll check downstairs.” Said the man, slipping out from behind the desk and disappearing down the steps.

At this point the lady turned, and I was surprised to see that from her stony eyes a single tear was streaking down her frowning face. She turned away in embarrassment, and I, feeling the same,  pretended to look at a Bowie rerelease I had already purchased a few weeks earlier.

Why was she crying?

My head suddenly filled with hundreds of possibilities, and I inevitably settled on the most romantic, before offering a sympathetic smile to the lady. Perhaps this cassette had sound tracked her glory days? Long summer evenings, of young love and little responsibility, perhaps she had fallen in love to the music on the cassette? I thought of her and her husband. Maybe it had been their song? Perhaps they had danced away thousands of empty evenings, resting on each other’s shoulders, breathing each other in, and revelling in the security they offered each other?

And perhaps their song had faded out, leaving only her behind. Maybe the melodies contained on the tape were part of a slowly diminishing list of ways to remember her departed. The notes were warping, and the tune was growing fainter. The music was coming to an end.

“I’m sorry we don’t have it.” said the cashier, running back up the steps.

“Can you order it in?”

The man rapidly typed the title into his computer.

“No, I’m sorry. Out of print.”

The woman sighed heavily, and turned to exit. As she passed me, I saw another tear race down her cheek and onto her thick coat. She walked out into the icy afternoon, and the door slammed behind her.

“This is a great album. Really warm sound.” Said the bearded man.

“Oh, good.” I said faintly.

I paid, left the shop and walked back to work. I tried to put it out of my mind, but I remained haunted by the tragic melody of the event all evening.

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