The Convenience Store
“Ginny,” a voice whispers. Hot and sour breath hits my face. “Wake up, darling.”
I open my eyes and see Dad standing over me, swaying. The room is dark. The digital clock says 5:30.
“What’s going on?” I say.
“I’m taking you on an adventure.”
“Is Mum coming?”
“No, no, it’s just for the two of us. Come on, take your coat.”
He hands me my puffy blue jacket, but I don’t put it on. Mum doesn’t like when Dad takes me places without telling her.
Dad must guess what I’m thinking, because he says, “Don’t worry, Gin. We won’t be gone long, and when we get back we’ll tell Mum all about what we did. Alright?”
I look at him, deciding. “We’ll tell Mum?”
“We’ll tell her everything.”
“Okay.” I put the jacket on over my pink pajama top.
“That’s a good girl. Now, put on your shoes and let’s go.”
Dad stumbles out of the room, and I slip on my favourite shoes: brown boots with sparkly white laces. Mum got them for me at Barnardo’s, and they fit almost perfectly. I go out into the hall, where Dad is standing with a plastic bottle of Strongbow in his hand. I don’t know why he drinks that stuff so much. Once, when nobody was looking, I took a sip, and it tasted horrible, like crusty old bubblegum scraped off the street.
“Right, off we go then.” Dad drops the bottle onto the ground. The top isn’t on, so cider sloshes everywhere, covering the cracked tile floor. I jump out of the way so none will get on my boots.
Outside, the city streets are empty — the world quiet and dark. Two blocks from our flat, we reach our destination: the convenience store Dad co-owns. Inside, he flicks on the lights, illuminating the rows of sweets, crisps, soda, and alcohol. I’m hit with the smell that the place always has, the same one that’s on Dad when he hugs me: beer and old cigarettes and sweat.
“You’re in for a treat,” Dad says. “I want you to go to the sweets aisle and take anything you want.”
“Anything?” I ask.
Dad nods. “The more the better.”
I immediately run to the aisle, and I grab Cadbury bars in shiny purple wrappers and Wine Gums that squish underneath my fingers. As I gather my treats, Dad opens a bottle of beer and shouts, “Come on, take more, it’s a closeout sale and everything must go!”
While I’m grabbing a bag of Maltesers, a deep, booming voice says, “What the hell is going on here?”
I stop what I’m doing. Mr. Richards, the other owner of the store, stands behind Dad, in front of the doorway that leads up to his flat. Beneath his bushy mustache, his mouth twitches.
“Dad said I could take anything I wanted,” I say.
Mr. Richards turns to Dad. “Is that true?”
“‘Course it is. What’s wrong with letting my kid have a few sweets?”
“They’re not your sweets to give. Ginny, I need you to put everything back where you found it.”
Mr. Richards stares at me with his nostrils flaring over his mustache, and I quickly start placing the sweets back where they had come from
“Come on, Steve, just let her keep a few,” Dad snaps.
“She can have as many as she wants if you pay for them.”
“Like hell I’m paying for them! They’re in my store.”
“It’s not your store anymore. You need to face facts, Alistair. The partnership is over.”
Dad drops his beer bottle onto the ground, shattering it, and he lunges over the counter at Mr. Richards. Mr. Richards ducks, and Dad rams his head into the wall. He screams in pain, holding onto his forehead. Then, he turns to Mr. Richards, his teeth gritted, and tries to hit him, but Mr. Richards steps out of the way, and Dad hits air. Dad throws a few more punches, but none of them come close to their mark. Breathing hard, Dad sinks to the ground.
“I’m calling the police,” Mr. Richards says, pulling out his mobile.
On the ground, Dad cradles his head in his hands, his shoulders hunched and his knees pulled up to his chest. I stare at him from my space in the aisle, which I haven’t moved from. It feels like the only safe spot left in the world. I don’t know what to think, what to do. So I don’t do anything.
As he holds the receiver up to his ear, Mr. Richards looks at me. “Ginny, why don’t you go upstairs and see Mrs. Richards.”
“Is Dad going to be okay?” I ask, my voice cracked and small.
“Everything will be just fine.”
I go past the two men and through the door that leads to the stairway. I don’t look at Dad as I walk past, and he doesn’t say anything to me. Upstairs, Mrs. Richards sits in the kitchen, a cigarette in her hand and pink curlers in her blond hair.
“Alright, love?” she asks.
I shrug, staring at the clean white tile floor. Tears sting my eyes.
“Does your mum know you’re here?”
I shake my head.
“I’m going to ring her, then.”
She trudges out of the room just as sirens start blaring outside. I go to the window over the sink, standing on my tiptoes to be able to see out of it. A policeman drags Dad out of the store. He’s handcuffed and screaming at Mr. Richards, who stands in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest.
When they get to the car, Dad stops struggling and, like he senses me watching, looks up and right at me. He’s still looking at me as the policeman pushes him into the car and as they drive away, down the quiet street. I imagine him staring out the rear window, watching as my face becomes smaller and smaller until I am gone.