Saturday, 5 August 2017

Becky // Gallery & Shop Assistant

Little plastic cups of beer hidden in the cupboard. And after 7pm on late shifts changing the music, giggling with our cups, dribbling warm stella amongst the rotas and wiring. Joe and I conspired on these rebellions at least once a week. But I was consistently indolent and whiny that summer in ways I hadn’t thought possible, having previously thought of myself as winningly conscientious, obliging my employers and peers to a fault.

I arrived punctually, but thereafter the day was mine. Ignored instructions and stood reading Sharon Olds poems on my phone. Ate raisins stored in my pockets in full-view of customers and gallery-goers. Stared blankly at disorganised stock for hours at a time. Wrote little notes to myself on the underside of till receipts that I’d type out later to account for the day. There was sneering and eye-rolling and much slumping against available surfaces. I’d call in sick so I could do 11am yoga with elegant elderly women at the gym in East Putney, a woman with a lilting Australian accent urging me to let go, exhale, release. I took toilet breaks of endlessly dawdling length, blotting my nose with tissue paper, re-washing my hands, practicing my breathing. Couples in expensive cotton outfits bought special edition crockery that I wrapped with deliberate inattention, never using enough tissue, cellotape in wild crosshatches. All the small solaces of pettiness. One night I hosted a pair of friends on their first date, let them trash the shop, troubling a pyramid of bouncy balls until the whole room was animated, the three of us hysterical scrabbling after them.

Punishment for this and much else was the shop in the middle of the Southbank Centre: eight hours feigning at tidying piles of books and overpriced children’s toys. And nobody to talk to, no other staff and scarcely any customers. But I was a recalcitrant inmate. I would lean my full weight into the counter and read The Rest is Noise (the on-offer book that summer) or exchange melodramatic pronouncements on our lives via text with Jenny. The glass cases had to be emptied and dusted, a task I performed with now characteristic listlessness.

I wish I remembered my last shift clearly. There is just my manager’s face, his permanent harried look -- by then I had been formally disciplined twice in as many months -- and Waterloo bridge in late August twilight, the staff-pass I should have returned twirling round my wrist.