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Off the Peg

It was raining. The street lights and shop signs made quivering reflections in the puddles forming in great lakes in the sunken block paving. A street cleaner in a giant 'hi-viz' waterproof coat ambled along the street, pushing his trolley with one hand, holding a litter picker in the other.

Despite the earliness of the hour, the staff of the on-trend fashion store 'Emin8' had already arrived and were clearing the shop floor, bundling stock into boxes, cleaning rails and stacking hangers.

Ruben, the store manager staggered through to the back room with a large box just as his phone chirruped. He set the box down in the outgoing pile and read the display, smiling. Then he hurried back through to the shop front.

'Okay guys, the truck has just pulled off the motorway. It should only be about ten minutes so, everyone, get ready!'

The news was greeted with mixed reactions from the different staff members. Some were swept along by their manager's excitement, as eager to see the new collection as he was. Others were less enthusiastic, still smarting over being called in so early or being asked to work on their days off.

Tom nudged Heather and winked. 'Contain yourself!'

Heather rolled her eyes and smirked. 'After all the hype this new range had really better be something.'

For the next ten minutes Ruben was in a spin, directing staff to move rails here, display blocks there, sweep sections of carpet too long covered and reorder the already ordered boxes awaiting collection.

Finally he stopped, raising a hand in the air in the manner of a recon scout. He diplomatically ignored the derisory snorts from Heather and Tom. He had no patience with their world-weary cynicism today, he needed his staff to sparkle for the promised new collection.

'I think I hear the truck.'

Anneka hopped from foot to foot, clasping her hands and beaming. 'Oh, I can't wait!' prompting further snorts from Tom and Heather.

Ruben shot them a look, then smiled at the rest of the staff. 'Come on. Let's go and meet Summer Emin8.'

The staff dutifully followed him through to the store room with Tom and Heather trailing at the back. Ruben was not alone in ignoring them. By now most of the staff were pretty tired of their attitude. The new range had been heavily promoted on the social networks, generating excitement whilst taking care to reveal absolutely nothing about it. Everyone, with the exception of Tom and Heather, was keen to see what the fuss was all about.

Ruben hauled the metal door up just as the truck was reversing into place. The driver hopped down from the cab, scanning his paperwork. He jolted to a halt when he looked up and saw the line of faces watching him.

'Ruben Winter I presume?' he said as he hopped up into the back of the truck.

'That's me!' said Ruben, rubbing his hands together.

'Emin8 Summer Collection, packs ES4, 5 and 6,' said the driver from somewhere among the trolleys of boxes.

Suddenly the trolleys surged forwards and all the staff stepped back involuntarily. Anneka nearly tripped over Tom in her excitement, gushing her thanks as he righted her. Heather scowled at them both from a chair at the back of the storeroom.

Five minutes later the truck had gone, along with the old collection, and Ruben was standing beside the boxes containing the new range, his head slightly bowed. The staff watched in awed silence as he took his parcel knife from his pocket and held it over the tape of the first box. He paused reverentially, then carefully sliced through the tape and peeled back the lid.

'Everyone ready?' he said, in little more than a whisper.

Most of the staff nodded eagerly and crowded closer, huddling around the box. Ruben looked inside and pulled out the topmost garment. He held it up, rotating it so everyone could see. The room fell silent, briefly. Then Heather started laughing, followed quickly by Tom.

'I … I don't understand,' said Anneka.

Ruben frowned at the garment, then peered into the box, rummaging through and pulling various items out. They were all distressingly similar.

'There must have been a mix-up. I'll call head office,' he said, throwing the items back in the box and hurrying from the store room. 'Everyone just … chat among yourselves.'

He returned some time later, pale-faced and trembling, to see Tom modelling a key piece from the new range. He swallowed hard and slumped against the doorpost as Heather emerged from the ladies loo sporting an equally outrageous ensemble. Anneka was crying in a corner of the room while the rest of the staff clapped and cheered, laughing uproariously. They belatedly spotted him watching from the doorway and the laughs and claps slowly died away. Anneka sniffed dramatically and got shakily to her feet.

'Well?' she asked, her voice laden with bleak hope.

Ruben sighed, never more aware of the weight of his responsibilities. 'It's not a mistake.'


Tom and Heather collapsed against each other, hooting with laughter.

'It's not a mistake.'

'But … we're Emin8! We're a cool, on-trend fashion house for cool, on-trend, fashion-conscious young people!'

'The company has …' he consulted a scrawled note, 'decided upon a bold new direction for the brand. The summer collection will see the launch of a new more daring approach to reach a more diverse market with a broader understanding of modern norms.'

'What?' said Anneka again, her knees buckling.

'This is what we'll be selling,' he said expressionlessly.

He stepped aside, closing his eyes tight and shuddering as Tom and Heather sashayed past him, wiggling and gyrating, he in a poison pink mankini with feather enhancements, she in a cut away black bodysuit with see-through panels and matching knee boots. He offered up a silent prayer of thanks that they hadn't found the 'adult toys' in the bottom of the third box yet.


© 2013 Kay Lawrence.


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