Any and All

Author: Andrew Clancy

I turned around again. There was no doubt - I was lost. Completely lost. I looked down at my watch. Five to six. I was going to be late and worse again I was going to be empty handed when I did get back.

I turned around again. There was no doubt � I was lost. Completely lost. I looked down at my watch. Five to six. I was going to be late and worse again I was going to be empty handed when I did get back. I felt my mobile buzz in my pocket and my stomach clenched. I knew who that was, I couldn’t answer. How could I explain this?

I don’t normally go shopping. I needed an excuse to get out of the house though, and when she suggested, I jumped at the chance. Her eyes, suspicious, had quested mine, no doubt disappointed a long litany of reasoning to wear me down would not be required.
” – Don’t mess it up now, dinner is at six”
There would be no chance of that, I left the house at half eleven, which meant if I got the shopping out of the way quickly there was at least a few hours to down a pint. Something that I’d need before dinner.

While I had planned to go to the high street things got turned around somewhat when passing by the local retail park � the council had augmented the route over the past few months with a string of new round-abouts. Every time I tried to negotiate them I found myself spun tangentially off in an unfamiliar direction. This time there was not the usual stress that accompanied this event when it occurred on my way to work. I had time now and I enjoyed cruising down the new roads, enjoying the whisper of the cars tires on the virgin surface. The road I was on soon led me past an imposing new fa�ade to my left. “Special Opening Offers” said the billboard at the roadside. Good enough for me.

When one finds the phrase “I remember when all around here was just fields” coming naturally to mind it is a sign that your generation is on the way out. I think this store sits where a meadow behind the old school was. There was a river I remember.

I parked somewhere in the asphalt acreage that sat before the vast corrugated metal wall of the shop, and made my way to the entrance, a small glass box sitting in front, seemingly designed as an afterthought. I picked up one of the delinquent trolleys that slouched in empty car parking spaces as I went, taking in the large sign over the entrance � Welcome to ANY and ALL� – it read � “Everything you need under one roof” in smaller text below. Understatements clearly weren’t the way of this place.

Once inside I had to adjust to the scale. Checkout desks ran in a continuous line either side of me. Ahead shelved gorges ran away from me in all directions. Track florescent lighting ran along above each aisle, washing blank directionless light onto the brightly coloured products and the highly glossed floor. People, lobotomised, moved around me, pushing their purchases ahead of them. I wanted to turn around and leave but I had a task to undertake and looked down at the list. I picked an aisle at random and moved into it, hands light on the bar of the trolley, which woke up and strained slightly – one wheel pushing off to the right, like a dog pulling at its leash as it enters the park.

There was something pleasurable about browsing the shelves, letting the stream of products blur almost to a background as I quested, brain idling to the low music overhead. The layout of the shop, presumably deliberately so, was such to lead me always onwards. The long lines of shelves, cranked so that you could not see from one end to the other lead at intervals to large nodes of display where there were multiple route ways leading off. I quickly realised that it was better not to pick the first product you saw, as there was inevitably a slightly better version, or a slightly more affordable one just out of sight. All too soon however I reached the end of the list. I felt slightly disappointed to have reached the end of my browsing. The sheer range of the stock was breathtaking, and it seemed folly to avoid exploring further simply because of a lack of ambition on Sues part. I looked down at her choices. I could do better and I knew it.

I looked quickly around and wondered if I dared� in a strange excitement I pushed my trolley slightly away from me. I stood for a second looking at it as it came to a halt, at an angle to the aisle, just below a rack of earthenware mugs. I walked swiftly onwards, around the corner, feeling quietly elated. It seemed to be the thing to do here, as I now noticed many more of these abandoned trolleys around. Wire mesh baskets of peoples abandoned choices. However I felt naked walking around without one. Out of curiosity I picked up a few such trolleys, pretended they were mine, looked through them and tried to imagine the life of the person who had filled them. This served to pass the time for a while, but its purposelessness meant it quickly bored me. I needed to return to the shelves, I needed to shop. I emptied the trolley I was pushing – smiling at my vandalism of the stores careful filing system as I wedged the GI Joes and the party hats next to the rack of Leonard Cohen CDs.

An empty trolley asks questions, I realised. It begs to be filled. Picking up other peoples trolleys had made me wonder what people who leafed through my own purchases might have made of me. I don’t like the colour towels she asked for, I never took tea in a cup and saucer, and I certainly didn’t want to be thought of as a man who had a desire to acquire toilet seat covers. But what to fill it with? I still had a few hours before I had to be back, and decided to see what the store could offer me, just for my sake.

And so began the best part of the day, coasting along the aisles in search of my perfect purchases. Occasionally leaning forward, taking my feet off the ground and allowing the momentum of my weight to carry me along. I moved like this, going from shelf to shelf, from display to display in a never ending desire line. Products to solve every need one could possibly imagine. Little panaceas to cure life’s ills. I began with a great interest in the gadget section, picking up small digital cameras, little personal organisers and the like. I caught a glimpse of me in one of the mirror finish displays of a stereo and realised that there were needs that required servicing before buying anything like this. The exercise equipment section was followed by a visit to an area dealing with cosmetic treatments for baldness and greying. I enjoyed the anonymity of investigating these things, beginning to believe that the potential for a new life lay somewhere within the shop, if I could just identify what it could be. I was optimistic as I felt I was always moving closer to what it was I was looking for. Each curve, each junction in the shelving seeming to offer products more specifically for me, and which offered ever more radical redress to my problems. Just quite what it could be I couldn’t yet get a clear image of but I’d know it when I saw it. I let my trolley lead me, it seemed to sniff the scent and pulled me forward

Not that I was na�ve enough to think there was a something here that could undo past regrets, nothing to reset the mileage clock, but there would be something to allow a moving forward perhaps. Particularly after last night.

I began to idly think of what the problems were that needed solving in my life. What desires most needed fulfilling, trying to refine the choice. I must have walked this way for a while for when I looked down at my watch it was half five. I looked around me. It was clear that sometime in the last hour or so I had strayed off the beaten track.

I was also completely alone. I realised I hadn’t seen a fellow shopper for quite some time.

The area looked unkempt � dust mired some of the surface of the floor below me, where, as far as I could see mine were the only footsteps that had broken the patina for some time. The same shelving as before surrounded me but I couldn’t recognise any of the products on them. Objects about a foot long – chromed piping coiled tightly around a cylindrical black plastic inner. The signs underneath them beside the price didn’t even seem to be in English. “��.50” it said under the nearest. No doubt a bargain price for it too whatever it was�

My heart began to quicken as I realised how stupid I’d been. Half five. She would be furious. I could just about have time to quickly gather the necessaries and get back home. I turned around, tried to follow my footsteps in the dust, they faded out. I kept walking but shortly afterwards I found myself back where I had started, my Clarks shoe marks recognisable from the shuffled drag of the left foot.

I continued to walk though, hoping to find something I’d recognise to show me the right way to go but time slipped by and still there was nothing. I watched the minute hand slip ever closer to six. Her parents would be arriving now at least I wasn’t there to say something inappropriate. It was now clear that I was lost, hopelessly so, there was no-one around, and I wasn’t even sure whether or not the store had closed.

I slumped to the floor, leaned back against the bottom shelving, and stared upwards. The track lighting above glared in my eyes, and I tried to see past it to the roof far above, but there was nothing to be seen � the lights were too bright, or the ceiling too distant. The thoughts of what she had told me last night once again in my head� I was trying to follow the line of a cable to one of the signs that hung overhead, but kept losing it, the gossamer sheen ran past the lights into the darkness. It wasn’t that I was shocked by the revelation of her infidelity surprised perhaps, what shocked me was how little I cared. I had the argument without real intent. Melodrama to convince her of feelings that I’m not sure were there. It had been a long time since we had met in University and she had helped me through my final exams. Time had passed that hadn’t supplanted youthful lust with anything other than the dependency of normality.

I felt my mobile buzzing in my pocket. I didn’t need to check who it was. There was only one person who called me these days. I couldn’t explain this to her. It stopped after a while, quickly followed the shorter buzz to indicate the voicemail waiting laden with recriminations. I turned the phone off

It was then that I saw it. My eyes just landed on it. Strange that I hadn’t seen it until now. It sat in the middle of a row of brown coils of pipe. The cardboard box with the picture of the Mllennium Falcon on the cover. The first thing I ever remember really wanting, I can feel that seven year olds desire for it reawakening as I take it off the shelf and look down at it. I remembered lingering for hours in the toyshop holding a box like this so that my parents got the subtle hint. Waking up early in the morning with dreams of it loud in my head, and then finally running home from the fields on my birthday such was my anticipation.
Running home to where I found my parents had actually got me a chemistry set.

I could still feel the edge of that first great disappointment in me, the background radiation of my universe.

I played with the set to appear polite, I may have overdone it though as it marked the first of a sequence of presents in a similar vein. It even came to pollute my subject choices at school, I can hear my mothers voice now “but you love chemistry, why do you want to change to Physics”. How to explain at the time that the delectable Karen was taking Physics that year. Chemistry won again. And on and on. Till now. Each year I watch my students battle with it, I do all in my power to ensure none of them makes the mistake of following this subject any further than absolutely necessary.

And here it was. A chance to avenge that first defeat.

I take it out of it box. Admire its muscular lines, its bristling antennae. My heart feels light with an airy excitement and I stand and start to run down the aisle with it, holding it flat against the canyon wall as I remember from the films, before taking a corner sharply. I watch the background blur below its speeding form.

Somewhere behind me the lights start switching off.

But I keep running.
I just keep running.