View from the Sweetshop
You wouldn’t believe it to look at them but they come over here every single day.
We can time their lunch breaks to the quarter hour
and if we don’t, the clock in the square will do it for us.
It must be the stress.
All those forms and numbers.
The giving out of bad news.
It must give them a craving for something sweet.
They work hard.
Everyone deserves a treat.
Get the measures and weights ready because here comes the team.
A quarter of pear-drops.
A half-pound of wine-gums, to share around.
Chocolate coins, unwrapped in the street – the gold foil discarded
to flutter away while they eat up the sweetness inside.
We break the rules: go imperial.
It’s what they expect – an older, softer kind of number
from a time when people did their own arithmetic
and money was something you could hold in your hand,
not a thought in the mind of a computer locked up in an office
you’d never be allowed into.
Sometimes they talk about their customers.
The old man with a kit-bag of notes that smelt like his farm.
Jokes about filthy lucre, muck and brass.
The woman surprised by an inheritance, having to find polite grief for a relative she’d never known.
The mystery customer who keeps a handkerchief full of broken eggshells in a safety deposit box.
Pays hundreds a year to protect this small piece of rubbish. Keep it locked up as it rots into dust.
They arrive in their ones and twos. Sherbet fountains.
Lemon sours. Fizzy laces and cola bottles.
No stories today.
We know what it is: can see it a mile off.
When one has his hands in the till it makes them all bitter as cough drops.
Who can it be? Am I loosing my touch?
It can’t be that much, or they’d know.
We polish the sweet jars and wipe down the counters and wait.
Over the road, they have the cameras out.
You can tell because they don’t sneak across anymore.
No point, anyway.
You can’t pass around a sneaky bag of all-sorts when every moment of your shift is being recorded and beamed up to the man from upstairs.
We can only imagine him. Lonely in his pin-stripes.
Watching their grey faces through the fuzz on the screen.
Trying to find the one.
It will only be one – this is no job for a team.
Just one to skim his cash drawer.
One to cheat the safe.
One to still the banter in the staff room and turn their night out into an early hangover.
They’re not so pleased with their uniforms now.
But this will blow over: one bad apple won’t spoil it for the rest.
We’ll weigh out our gum-drops and wait.