Strawberry laces spiralled into fossilised shapes in trays where Mallory stood. Using a finger, she traced over their outlines on the glass that separated her chapped lips from sucking at the crystal flavours. Michael, further down the road, moved gradually towards her, treading his feet along the pavement, with one foot dragging behind. His satchel hung over the shoulder where the morning’s auburn rays highlighted the cracks in the corner that peeled as his nails ardently picked at the first layer of material, until it looked like crusting blood revealing a wound.
“Mallory. Come over here,” he said only a few feet short from the pharmacy. He put a few coins in her palm that glued themselves with the sweat in her fist. “You want some of those sweets right?”
She nodded with watery eyes. Her oversized cardigan hung over one shoulder as young girls’ school uniforms usually do. Michael stroked a bruise on her shoulder and pulled her cardigan up to cover it. Michael opened the door for a mother pushing her pram out of the pharmacy. He kept his arm in the doorway, stopping Mallory from entering until she buttoned up her cardigan.
“There’s only enough for three laces, so choose one for Pete too, ok?” Michael said to Mallory.
Mallory grinned and went straight to the counter where the sweets spiralled on the counter near the window. Blue laces hung lazily over the edge, abandoned by school children running for the school bus. He watched her pick two red ones and a blue for himself. He and Pete would play for red and blue teams to compete for who could suck the lace up the fastest. It was currently a draw but they had one more day till the end of the school week to decide who would choose the movie to watch at the cinema.
Michael went to the back of the pharmacy where the toiletries were kept. Mr Travis had been stocking more and more everyday items since the local business owners had left town. The store room door next to Michael was open with Mr Travis inside, putting some pills into a bottle. He was in his mid-thirties wearing grey suit trousers with a pinstriped shirt. The room had rows of wooden shelves attached to work benches with different supplies on each one. Michael noticed the sweat patches that stained his armpits as he untucked his shirt. He put the bottle of pills onto the shelf in front of him and wiped the palms of his hands on his trousers, leaving white dust clinging to the grains in the material. Michael could hear Mallory humming from the cash desk. “I’ll be right there,” he called over towards her. Mr Travis walked towards the door, forcing Michael to run over to the shaving cream, picking one up in a hurry. He pretended to compare prices with another as Mr Travis walked past him, taking no notice of a young boy’s peculiar interest with such an item.
Mr Travis walked over to Mallory, who was waiting in front of the cash register. She peered inside the open paper bag of sweets with a grin. She closed it in a hurry when the shadow of Mr Travis darkened the treasure in her hands as he walked past her. With a self-assuring sigh, Michael paced backwards towards the store room door. He had seen Roger Moore back up like this in The Man With The Golden Gun when he was trying to sneak into a hotel. He and Pete managed to sneak into a screening at the cinema last Friday. Bond had needed to get closer to the enemy to get more information about the golden gun. Michael thought about the necessity of his actions. Bond was a hero. He imagined himself in a black suit too, sneaking into a lair to help the town. A pimpled movie attendant had caught them while they were immersed in the dilemma Bond had got himself into. With an egotistical authority he had lectured Michael and Pete out of the cinema before they could see whether Bond made it in there without getting caught.
Michael kept an eye on Mr Travis serving Mallory as he reached his fingers out. They clinched on the handle’s cold metal as he wished he had seen the rest of the movie. He didn’t close the door completely, so as to let some light in. This allowed him to see his way to the second row, which was where Mr Travis had been working. Bottles of pills and first aid supplies filled the shelves in this row. Dust lingered in the air but he forced back a cough as it pressed on his throat. He turned on a lamp at the end of the work bench. Opened bottles of pills were strewn across the bench. Piles of powder lay on the table with empty capsules beside them. Michael was careful not to touch these and carried on looking for some burn ointment, but with little time started to panic. He came across the bottle Mr Travis had just put down. He picked up this yellow bottle from the shelf with the name co-codamol written in small lettering. He recognised the name, as he often saw his father take a few of these when he got home from work but they were locked away with his mother’s medicine. He opened the bottle but it was full of opened capsules. They had nothing in them so he put it back and picked up the one next to it. It had the same name typed onto a sticker on it. He opened up one of the capsules to check it was full. White powder dispersed out into a cloud, slowly gravitating to the table. He proceeded to shake out a few pills into his palm and ran back to the door.
He put one eye against the crack where he could see Mr Travis dealing with a lady. She wore a short, chiffon dress that chafed the back of her thighs in time with her movements. Michael was about to push the door when he realised that he had not put the bottle back onto the shelf. He rushed back to do this, tapping the top of one of the piles off with his shaky hands. He could hear Mr Travis’ husky voice converse with the customer’s precocious laugh. Michael did not peer out of the door but casually walked out, meeting Mallory outside of the shop. He believed that would be what Bond would have done.
Michael looked back inside from outside of the pharmacy. Mr Travis was looking around the room, quite disinterested in the lady’s conversation. Mr Travis had inherited the pharmacy from his father a couple of years ago when he came back from London to take care of his mother. Before he had come back he always wore smart suits, even when shopping for groceries, as though he knew he belonged to a world of humans with an exclusivity that their small town could not have. Word had gone round the town about his venture’s to London, majority of which from his mother’s boasting. They steadily changed into hushed whispers about his failed performances in the West End. He had been on track to take over the pharmacy until he finished his pharmacist degree. The very same day he packed some clothes and a book, A View From A Bridge, into a suitcase while his father was at work. His mother had taken him to the station and spoke often about her son, the actor. She had planned to see him play Othello in London when her husband caught pneumonia. Since his death she no longer spoke about visiting London.
“Where were you?” she asked him while sucking on one of the scarlet laces.
“Don’t be so nosy. You know the kids at school don’t like it either,” Michael replied.
“I’m not nosy!” She crossed her arms with a screwed up expression, as she usually did when Michael kept things from her.
“Listen, let’s just get going or we’ll be late for Pete. Did you get him a lace?” he said. Mallory shoved the bag of sweets against his chest, looking away from him as they walked back home. “Don’t be like that, Malls. I’m sorry, ok. Look what I got you.” He opened his palm showing her his plunder. Mallory looked at them curiously with a hand ready to take one but hesitated. She took one and clasped it between her fingers, as Michael put the rest in his pocket.
“Aren’t these for Mummy?”
“Mr Travis said you could have one too. It’ll make you feel better. The purple splotches will go quicker with this,” he said reassuringly.
She thought for a minute then asked him whether she was ill in the same way that her mother was too. The pebbled path that they walked along was doused with the smell of petrol as cars went by. His reassuring reply came out as nauseating as the stench around them. They turned into an alleyway between the gardens of people’s houses where shards of broken bottles lined the pavestones. A mobile of coloured gems hung outside one of the house’s windows, illuminating the pebbles of glass with a prism of fractured colours. The children walked beside the flares of light like Hansel and Gretel following their moonlit path home to their father. After enough time convincing her, she swallowed the pill dry. It stuck to the sides of her throat as it slowly went down, leaving her clutching at her neck.
“Michael, it’s stuck!” she screamed at him in a panic.
“Calm down, it isn’t stuck. It’s fine. Here have some of this.” He took out a bottle of water from his satchel and handed it to her. “Better?”
She smirked then carried on chewing on her lace.