‘It just looks like a naff cash-in.’ I finally reply, referring to our rival’s frontage, which is cluttered with garish ghoul-based items. You can almost smell the sick-making stench from the pumpkins, the Scream-franchise mask is probably a reflection of their asking prices and I’ve a feeling the cobwebs were already attached to the window display.
‘Yeh, but you never want to join in on the fun stuff.’ Continues S, as I stifle an inappropriate reply that would definitely cause a horror show and probably a sexual harassment claim as well.
S is referring to my seasonal stubbornness. Decorations of any kind – other than sold slips – are anathema to me. Every Christmas there’s a running battle over the validity of a naff plastic-figured crib scene, finding marketing space in the office window. My gag about not wanting first-time buyers to think it’s a scaled down barn conversion for sensible money, wears thinner than my hair, each December, but I persevere.
‘You know what your trouble is don’t you?’ Chips in assistant manager T with the sort of pre-cursor I hear from my bean counter boss at every performance review.
‘You just don’t want to move with the times.’ Continues T, undaunted by a fright-night-worthy scowl and my half-formed spell inflicting something unpleasant on him – other than his current career.
‘People love Halloween.’ Urges T. S nods in agreement, as do her breasts. ‘It’s a good way of drawing attention to the window display.’
‘You’ll be suggesting we all dress up in zombie costumes like those idiots at Tesco Express.’ I say scornfully. T’s face falls and I realise that’s exactly what he wants to do. I can understand one of our local surveyors mimicking the living dead as they’ve killed enough hopes, but I draw the line at cheap American imports - particularly after the last Top Model series…
Mortgage man M waddles through the door clutching a bag of doughnuts and I look to him for support, but before I can enlist his help he says.
‘That crazy crew in the convenience store are all in costume.’
‘The boss thinks they look tacky.’ Interjects T with a look of distain.
‘The only things scary in there is that bloody self-scanner.’ I grizzle. Aware I’m coming across as a misery but unable to stop myself.
‘I guess they didn’t have Halloween when you were a boy.’ Posits S in a conciliatory manner. She’s right, I hadn’t heard of the festival until my kids were small. I still frown at calling round to strangers’ homes and asking for favours – even though that’s what I do most working days. I don’t get given many treats mind…
‘We just did Guy Fawkes night.’ I tell her, suddenly feeling old and spent again. ‘And before you ask,’ I add quickly. ‘We don’t want some dummy in raggedy clothes in the window either.’ As I say it - whiz-bang on cue - imbecile trainee F returns from a viewing, tie crooked, shirt hanging out.
‘What?’ he pleads as the office rocks with laughter. Tears wiped away, I ask everybody to get back on task. F still looks at me bemused but that’s nothing new. I sit in my office and chuckle softly. Sometimes this job drains your life force just as surely as fangs at a jugular, but just occasionally you wish the moment would last, that you could live it forever. Then the bean counter rings.
‘Your fall-through ratio isn’t looking to healthy.’ He carps, as I toy with the letter opener menacingly. ‘Is there no way you can resurrect any of them?’ A tsunami of sarcasm bubbles-up, potion-like, in my throat as I long to tell him what a nightmare he is to work for.
The scream was silent – but no less heartfelt.