This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1300 words. Please read it in order.
It was all very well having a business to run, but that meant being up in the morning, to open up. Getting out of bed had never been one of Benny’s skills, and despite Nan moaning at him, he wasn’t developing it. She had got him up the first day, but had delivered a warning over breakfast. “Don’t think I will be doing this anymore, Benny. I am nearly seventy years old, and my getting up early days are long gone. After this, it’s up to you. Set an alarm on your phone thingy or something. You’ve got to learn to stand up for yourself, I won’t always be here”. He had apologised, but wasn’t that bothered. Most of the business in the market didn’t get moving until well after midday, once the tourists found their way to the underground station at Camden Town from wherever they were staying. He might have to shake himself up at weekends though. That was the busy time, and the stall took seventy-five percent of its takings in those two days.
Trouble was, Friday night was Nan’s pulling night. She would get dressed up, and go out drinking early. She favoured the pubs off the beaten track, the ones where the locals preferred to drink. Less crowded, and more familiar faces. It was hard to believe, but she almost always returned with a bloke. Sometimes they were a lot younger, and quite presentable. What they saw in an old woman wearing a too-short, low-cut purple dress, combined with day-glo yellow fishnet tights, and wearing enough make-up to qualify as a Kabuki dancer, he had no idea. And that was before you factored in the cone of dyed-red hair, piled up on top of her head like a wobbly wasp’s nest. But pull she did, and rarely came home alone. The noise of her sexual antics sounded like a couple of excitable school kids trying to kill a terrified pig, and when he was younger, he had started the habit of ‘headphones night’. He would go to bed on a Friday wearing the headphones from the stereo midi-system, and keep them on. He would have to carry on doing that, if he was ever going to get up early on Saturdays.
Running a business full time wasn’t something that featured in an academic English curriculum. Benny soon realised that you were either cut out for it, or you weren’t. There were some significant problems to deal with; the first being that he couldn’t drive, and didn’t have a car. Cozy stored his surplus stock in a lock-up two streets away, which didn’t seem very far, until you had to carry a box of six large pierced-metal lamps from there to the stall. The solution was obvious, he slipped the next door stall-holder a few quid to go to the lock-ups with her in the van, then stuffed the shop with enough bits and bobs to last a month. Like most small businesses in that market, it had doors you could lock at night, so you were spared having to get everything back to the lock-up. The amount of stuff made it unappealing to customers of course, and they were reluctant to weave their way in and out of the piles of stock, just to have a look at a rug or ornament they had spotted. Benny didn’t catch on, he just thought it was a slow week.
Something else about running a business escaped him too. Takings were not wages. You couldn’t just spend everything in the till at the end of the day. But he felt cash-rich, and did just that. One night, he treated Nan to a special meal in the achingly trendy restaurant, Gilgamesh. It was a new-style fusion place, but Nan called it a ‘Chinese’. She put on what she declared were her ‘special best’ clothes for the occasion, emerging from the bedroom like a vision of a faded Hollywood star. Gloria Swanson would have paled by comparison. She flung her arms out, and winked at him. “What do you reckon? Monroe, eat your heart out, or what?”
Benny surveyed his beloved grandmother, taking in the scene before him. The flared black dress was see-through on the cleavage and sleeves, and hovered a few inches above her knees. She finished off the ensemble with a pair of seamed stockings, and her swollen feet were crammed into some black velvet high heels that she could just about stay upright in. The eye make up was a tribute to Dusty Springfield, with false eyelashes, and something thick and black that resembled fresh tar on roadworks. She did a twirl for him, wafting an unusual aroma of heavy cheap perfume, combined with a trace of urine. Benny did the decent thing. “Wow, Nan. You look like a million dollars. You are gonna knock ’em dead.”
And Benny forgot to send any money to Cozy. Well not forgot exactly, just chose not to. Besides, he had spent most of it, so Cozy would have been less than happy with what was left. It just didn’t occur to him that his partner was still paying the market fees, and was responsible for the taxes. The business was in his name, after all, and Benedict Fortune didn’t appear on any of the paperwork. In many respects, Benny didn’t exist. He wasn’t on Nan’s rent book, or the electoral roll. He had forgotten to apply for a national insurance card, and hadn’t even registered with a local doctor. In a world obsessed with identity and credit rating, Benny was on the outside of it all.
The staff at Gilgamesh didn’t bat an eyelid when they turned up. This was Camden after all, and people like Nan were the norm, rather than the exception. But the customers had a good look at her, as she tottered to the table, supporting herself on Benny’s shoulder. As soon as they sat down, she kicked off the shoes, and rubbed her stockinged feet vigorously. “They weren’t the best idea, Benny love. They’ve crucified my poor feet. I know it’s not far, but we might have to get a cab back”. Two gay blokes on the next table were transfixed on Nan as she twirled her legs around. One of her stocking tops was fully visible when she crossed her legs, and the metal suspender glinted in the lights. Nan turned and leaned over to them. “Like what you see, boys? Wait until I have had my dinner, and I’ll take you both on, no problem”. They snapped up their menus, and pretended to browse the selection, avoiding her gaze. Nan winked at Benny. “No takers. Perhaps they think you’re my toy boy”. Nan didn’t get the gay thing. To her, a bloke was a bloke, and fair game.
She didn’t reckon much to the food, and thought the portions were too small. When a waiter as thin as an anorexic brought the main course, she looked up and said, “We’ve already had our starters love. These must be for someone else”. Realising that was in fact the meal, she shook her head. “Oh well, we can always get a kebab on the way home”. Nan had enough gin and tonics to float a battleship, so when the bill came, Benny could just cover it, even having to use the change in his pockets, much to the unconcealed scorn of Mr Skinny, who knew he wasn’t going to get a tip. Nan flagged a cab down by lifting up her dress, and waving a leg around. She was carrying her shoes, and Benny never saw that pair again.
Luckily, she had enough in her purse to pay the driver.
To be continued…