The monotonous beeping of the scanner at Madison’s till was almost enough to lull her to sleep.
Milk. Bread. Butter. Squash.
“That’s £7.05,” she said, her eyes falling on the frail old lady as she shakily pulled her purse from her handbag. Madison waited patiently, watching her pour change into the palm of her paper hand.
“Sorry dear, you’ll have to help me. My eyes aren’t what they used to be.” In her hand were five-pound coins, one fifty pence and two twenties. Madison took the fifty and the pound coins, smiling.
“That’s all done for you. Have a nice day.” She handed over the bag, concerned whether the pensioner could even carry it.
“You too.” The lady shuffled towards the door that was now being held open by a group of school children.
There wasn’t another customer after the youngsters until towards the end of her shift. The bell chiming above the door broke the silence of the small convenience store. Madison looked up from the stock list she was checking. She watched the man head over to the cold drinks, his black trainers sticking slightly to the freshly mopped floor and peeling off with every slow step.
“Twenty Marlborough, please,” he ordered when he circled back round to her. His focus didn’t leave the old phone in his hand. It was the kind of phone that could be thrown at the wall and have more chance chipping the plaster than cracking the screen. She placed the cigarettes next to the can of Coke.
“That’s £13.95.” The stranger looked at Madison through his lashes, giving her a once over with his dark eyes. They rested for just a second on the name badge pinned to her red work polo. The name it read wasn’t her own, rather a spare she had found in the staff room to avoid getting in trouble for forgetting hers. After a brief silence between them, he handed her a twenty, slipping the change into his back pocket and leaving without another word.
He had been her last customer before Madison wrapped up her shift and clocked out, grateful for the late-afternoon finish she’d been blessed with before her day off and a brutal week of night shifts ahead.
When she arrived home her neighbour’s cat greeted her at the front door, brushing up against her shins and waiting to be let into the silent house.
“You hungry?” she asked, scooping the black cat into her arms and kissing his sleek head. The gentle vibration of his purr rattled on the hand that rested under his chin. The two of them had fallen into a routine of spending evenings together when her mum went on business trips, something she had been doing on a regular basis since her dad had gone away.
Madison’s phone buzzed as she placed a bowl of wet food on the floor in front of the fat cat. A text from her boss flashed up on the screen, asking her to work tomorrow’s night shift. Chewing her lip and deciding she could do with the extra money, she reluctantly agreed. It was only six hours, nine to three, nothing she hadn’t done before. Besides, she was working a whole week of them afterwards, one more wouldn’t kill her. The only reason she disliked them in the first place was because it meant she was alone with her creepy boss who sat in the office all night.
She shuddered at the thought of his eyes lingering on her chest for a little too long and picked up the television remote, settling down for the evening with mind-numbing reality shows.
The following day was spent doing the same until half eight when Madison headed to the bus stop where the number seven would take her almost directly to the shop. She looked for an empty seat when her eyes landed on the familiar face sat in the middle of the backbench.
The Marlborough guy looked younger in the white lighting of the bus. A deliberate close shave of stubble shadowed his chiselled jawline and his dark eyes were observing her through untamed curls springing down from beneath his hood. That same phone clutched in his hands between his outstretched legs. She took a seat four rows in front of him, next to an older man that smelled of stale cigarettes with a wheezing cough. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she could feel him continue to stare at her.
Having worked a handful of nights before, Madison knew what to expect on the customer front. The adolescents seeking alcoholic drinks for the after-party, other people heading to their own twilight occupations, the odd teenager desperately trying to get served for cigarettes. Nothing out of the ordinary over the course of the six hours. Stifling a yawn, she watched the digital clock on the till as it switched to three. She’d made it.
“Would you like a lift home?” Peter asked, walking into the staff room as the clock in machine swallowed her card and spat it back out after a loud beep. Her eyes were involuntarily drawn to the yellow-tinged sweat marks on the pits of his white shirt straining against the gut that hung over his belted trousers. Peter was Madison’s boss. He was in his late forties with tobacco-stained teeth and a greasy exterior. She would much prefer the fifteen-minute walk over getting within close proximity of him and his lingering eyes.
“No thank you, I’m getting a ride,” she lied. He grunted.
“Okay, be careful out there, those streets aren’t safe for young girls like you.” She refrained from shuddering at the insinuation behind his words.
After saying a quick goodbye and shrugging her jacket on, she left through the staff exit into the cold bite of the dark morning. His warning playing in the back of her mind.