I remembered that I needed to buy Nat a birthday card. If I sent her a ''Sorry It's Late'' version for the fourth year running I think our friendship could be severely compromised, and she deserved to have her birthday remembered on time at least once every four years, didn't she? To be fair, I always remembered it, usually two days before, but something in my stupid brain seemed to cut out the following day and I'd forget again, usually remembering again a day or two later, then it would be a dash to the One-Stop and straight to the belated birthday card section, followed by a texted ''Oops, I did it again'' to her mobile.
I picked up my basket. Might as well put the beer back, like the responsible person I can be occasionally. I didn't have to be completely beer-deprived, after all. I'd been spending too many nights in front of the PC with just four cans of Stella for company. I'd treat myself to a few pints in the Mulberry Bush tonight. Yeah - I wouldn't even have to find my ID then. They all know me in the Bush. Hey, I could even give Nat a call and take her out for a birthday-eve drink. Kill two birds with one stone - it'd get me back into her good books and re-energise my social life too.
I walked along the backs of the checkouts, zig-zagging a bit to accommodate the different queue lengths. I reached the booze section and dumped the cans back on the appropriate stack, then headed back towards the front of the shop where the non-belated greeting cards resided, next to the newpapers and magazines and the fag kiosk with the two grumpy women. If I were a smoker, having to be served by those two ill-tempered harridans would put me off smoking for life. Maybe the NHS should employ them for a bit of aversion therapy. Maybe they already had.
On the way back, zig-zagging past the checkouts again, I spotted a trolley piled high with tubs of ice-cream, being pushed by a harried looking little woman with a tall, fat toddler in tow. He was lifting the tubs out of the trolley and attempting to reconstruct what looked like the Twin Towers on the floor behind her. Strangely, she was making no attempt to stop the little brat. No doubt too weary to bother. This pre-school architectural endeavour was being monitored disapprovingly by the five people in the queue behind them. I carried on, then stopped. Ice-cream seemed like a good idea. I still had my basket, now empty. I could get Nat to come back for a post-drink, pre-birthday ice-cream feast after the pub. Yeah - good plan. I headed for the freezer section.
The ice-cream freezer was almost depleted of its usually abundant stock. I shouldn't have been surprised. Isambard Kingdom Brat and his mother had probably taken most of them. I spotted a solitary tub of Crema di Mascarpone lurking half-hidden under a box of Snickers Ice Cream bars. That'd do. Nat and I both liked that one. I lifted the lid and leaned forward. I almost had the rim of the tub between my fingers when...
''Oi, stupid!'' I heard, in stereo. ''That's ours.'' In mono. I turned my head in the direction of the single voice, and nearly fell into the freezer. I recovered and stood up straight, ready to scarper. The creature standing beside me was male, but other than that I had no idea what he was. His face was grey and scaly and his nose was dangling upside down, connected to the rest of his face only by a strand of greenish fibrous matter. His lips were long gone, and the three lower teeth remaining in his exposed purplish gums stood at a jaunty angle. I turned to run, but my exit was blocked by his partner, who bore a passing resemblance to a female, but I couldn't be too sure. Her nose was still completely intact, but one greyish eyeball swung cheekily...on her cheek. I backed into her husband? partner? brother? and felt slightly sickened when I saw his nasal appendage fly off and land on top of a box of strawberry Cornettos. Nice. Luckily for me, he bent down into the freezer to retrieve it, and seeing my chance, I slammed the lid down on his back, hearing a rather nauseating crunch. I dropped my basket and ran.