Winners: Annie Muscutt - The Salesman
Short Story 1500 - Shortlist
White. Bright enough to make you blink, like a rabbit in the headlights.
It was supposed to be a desk, but it was so clinical, it seemed like meat could be prepared on it, maybe even a surgeon’s table.... A body was still meat after all, she thought wistfully.
She tapped her fingers against the polished surface, as polished as the salesman’s smile. It preceded him, his presence announced by the clicking of his smart leather shoes. Power shoes they trumpeted, shoes of a winner.
‘So sorry to keep you waiting,’ he said whilst a draft of his boisterous cologne followed him like an adoring groupie. He extended his hand towards her, smiling all the while.
‘Let’s get things started, shall we?’ He continued to grin. ‘Just bear with me a minute,’ and he spun towards his computer screen, tapping the mouse authoritatively.
In the meantime, she looked up at a giant picture, stretching across on the wall, an oppressively happy scene of fields of yellow flowers, yellow that burnt your eyes. They splashed inward in their masses towards a grey road, that in turn meandered up towards a horizon of intense blue sky and clouds of candy floss. It was a cheerful picture, sickeningly so and she mused that all it missed was someone skipping gaily along.
It was so bright she looked back at the desk, focusing on her hand. She felt the need to see normal colour, drab would do fine, and she needed to wake her senses again, for they felt numb, woozy like on the cusp of drunkenness.
Maybe that was the idea; distraction, blindness, missing the details you really needed to think about.
‘Right there we go,’ his voice snapped her back from her thoughts, reading as he spoke.
‘You enquired about a Tucson I believe?’
She looked at him with the faintest glimmer of a smile.
‘Yes,’ she replied simply.
‘Well let’s go and have a look at it shall we?’ He said, questioning as if it was going out of fashion. He produced a set of keys and jingled them enticingly as she rose from her seat.
‘To the door over there if you will,’ he gestured with his outstretched hand. ‘After you.’ He added pleasantly.
She obediently went first, her long skirt swaying slightly as she walked, and he watched. Quizzically, subtlety, trying to work out his angle.
Young, pretty, good dress sense, obviously some money but strange to be wearing a long sleeved cardigan in this muggy heat. Heat that sat in the air and bore down upon you.
They walked across the forecourt, he spouting information as they went and she moving with purpose towards the car that blinked.
‘Hop in,’ he offered, and she obliged as he invited himself in besides her.
‘So here we have the Tucson Blue Drive 1.7 etc. etc., 30.000 miles, a little cheaper on that account,’ he threw in. ‘Fantastic features, DAB radio, parking camera and Sat Nav and his voice diminished into the background as if controlled by the system he heralded.
‘It’ll do,’ she thought quietly, ‘as long as it gets me...’
‘Phenomenal boot space,’ his voice pushed back in. ‘Very competitive against similar makes. Ideal for a pushchair or pram, family holidays even.’
He cast out his line of inquiry into empty waters. She gave him nothing but silence made him uncomfortable, so he continued, stabbing in the dark.
‘Or shopping just as easily. Full weekly shop with room to spare.’ He strained for some input.
She merely nodded slightly.
‘It all looks fine,’ she said. ‘Can we take it out please?’
He looked back at the delicate face before him, feeling she was rather like a child asking for his permission.
‘Of course,’ he said, his manner smothered in a thick icing of charm. ‘I'll bring it round.’
As he expected she was waiting for him when he did, her hands drawn protectively across her front.
As soon as he had recorded some details, they were off. He had scoured her driving license for clues
but gained none. This made him uneasy, she was troublesome to gauge.
On the one hand he didn’t feel he was working that hard, merely stretching his legs towards a sale. et on the other, this didn’t yet feel like it was a done deal either.
He joined her in the car.
‘Make yourself comfortable’ he breathed but she felt it was a strange thing to say. This wasn’t a home after all, nor a hotel. It was a car and this statement sounded more like an advance. Should she lie down, dutifully removing items of her clothing?
That, she shuddered was an uncomfortable memory.
So, they set off. He flicked a casual hand as he spouted directions.
‘Yes left here, down to the mini roundabout, then left again. Are you familiar with this area?’
‘No. No I'm not,’ she answered softly, thinking only of the place that had until today been her home.
He chatted on, his voice warm and somehow intoxicating, like a long bath soak caressed by bubbles after a tiring day. And she had slept so little of late. She was so tired.
But she fought not to be drawn in, tempting as a little pleasant conversation would be. She could not afford to give anything away and his manner suggested that could well happen, like two old chums sipping cold beverages in a pub somewhere, as secrets were slipped out between hiccups.
But she could not be duped. This is what he did professionally after all. Every look, each action was about the sale, learnt and perfected to use again.
She distracted herself with a humorous image, as she pictured rows of potential salesmen at the academy for their trade, looking into mirrors and practicing their smiles.
A foreman with a long perfected grin strode behind them calling out helpful prompts and instructions.
‘Whiten your teeth, look more convincing. Woo her- they’re all susceptible.’
But not her, she objected into the scene. She was not. A smile was a pleasant thing but could be completely empty too. After all it wasn't like he actually cared about her.
And so, they completed the circuit he had planned, and she parked up neatly.
‘So, what are we thinking? He asked, his speech lazy in its elongation.
‘I like it,’ she stated. ‘It'll do very well. If you’d just be so kind as to value my car, so we can find the remaining balance.’
‘Of course,’ he cut in, sniffing the tantalising scent of a sale, ‘where is it?’ And she pointed somewhat gingerly to a car skulking in the background.
He looked over that poor vehicle with a sharp and critical eye, probing every crack and crevice. She felt the car would certainly blush if it could and held back the impulse herself.
‘Bit of damage there,’ he remarked, pointing to the broken left side of the bumper. And she became suddenly spooked, as if by the ghost of that memory.
‘Yes,’ she spluttered. Saying more than she had done in the last hour.
‘Silly really, I was distracted, not paying attention. I could have kicked myself for it.’
No need, her thoughts chimed in. He did it for you.
And so the salesman made his offer.
‘Without the damage, could have bumped it up another 500 but....’
‘That’s fine and fair,’ she interrupted with a tinge of impatience. ‘I'm keen to conclude matters and to take it today. Let’s settle on that.’
He viewed her with a quizzical eye. but they returned to the glaringly white desk and the depressingly happy canvas and concluded business. She, politely turning down finance, and giving the necessary details when asked.
‘There we are then,’ he said a while later, with a symbolic click of his mouse. ‘All done and dusted. Just need the remainder of the day for tax and whatnot and then you’re free to pick it up tomorrow.’
And here she let her guard down, here consumed with thoughts of delay in the precious little time she had, she instinctively pulled back a sleeve to glance at her watch- for what clock could hang alongside that picture?
For a fleeting moment, she bared the skin of that wrist.
It was black and purple, like a heavy canvas of bruising. It looked as pained as she was to show it and she pulled down her sleeve clumsily to cover it again, but it was too late.
He'd seen it. He knew. He understood.
‘No,’ she whispered, looking into his face with eyes moistened by memories of pain. ‘I need it sooner.’
The next thing she knew she was driving away from the dealership, leaving her old car and her old life behind her.
‘New car, new adventure,’ she said bravely to herself and briefly pondered on her parting from the salesman.
‘Where will you go now?’ He had asked with a new found kindness, genuine in his concern.
‘For a drive.’ She had replied pleasantly, her voice already heading for the future. ‘I think I'll just go for a drive.’