“When the eclipse happens, I’m going to run around the car park naked,” says Arnott.
I’m still processing this when he performs some kind of dynamic lunge next to the till and emits a deep, rattling fart that sends Lisa scuttling off to the storeroom for cover.
This is my place of work. This little neglected stationary shop, tucked away in the farthest corner of the shopping complex. We are about a month away from closing for good. No customers.
“People know that we are here…” said Lisa once, “…they know we exist, geographically, but they never visit. We are Luxembourg.”
Yesterday, we spent over two hours shredding everything we could get our hands on to make bedding for Arnott’s guinea pigs. Phone books, flyers, newspapers, even a ream of paper from the shelf. The place looked like Enron’s accounting department.
I am the nominal captain of this sinking ship. Lisa is my first mate and long-term object of lust. Arnott is Arnott. He’s great to work with. He stumbles through life unencumbered by common sense or conscience, an exercise in charm over wisdom. Everyone should know an Arnott. Sometimes he turns up, sometimes he rings in sick. Other times he doesn’t even ring. I love it when that happens, because then it’s just me and Lisa.
Watching the eclipse had been her idea, but one we took to immediately. This was because it involved being out of the shop for a while, away from the oppressive dullness of A4 lever arch files and long-arm staple guns. I have my own plans for the eclipse. When the moon comes over, I’m going to ask her out. At 12:22 PM, the sun and moon will align. I’ll turn to Lisa and kiss her. I’ll say something of gravitas and tenderly touch my lips to hers, soft and slow.
We close the shop and assemble on the pavement overlooking the car park and supermarket opposite.
The sky is dark already, the colour of bruised concrete, with only the slightest of haze to indicate where the sun sits. Lisa has organised some sunglasses which she hands out.
“Er, Lisa, I don’t think we’re going to need these,” says Arnott, but puts them on regardless. We look up at where the sun ought to be.
“The Hindus believed that when an eclipse happened, the sun was being swallowed by a demon called Rahu,” says Lisa. “Rahu was a head without a body, so when the sun passed through the hole in his neck, that was the end of the eclipse.”
“I never knew that,” I say.
“I Googled it when I should have been stock-taking. I think it’s a shame, that we know it’s not true, about Rahu the demon. Science spoils everything.”
“I’m getting a cornetto,” says Arnott. “What time is it?”
“12:15. You’ve got seven minutes.”
He disappears in the direction of the supermarket, leaving the two of us gaping upward.
“I thought it would be nice, you know, to do something. The three of us,” she says; “I think the shop is doomed.”
I nod and steal a look at her.
“If we watch the eclipse together, we will remember it always and the three of us will be intrinsically linked forever.”
“Is that Hindu mythology?” I ask.
“That’s Lisa mythology.” She smiles at me for a moment and I wish I could see her eyes.
The shoppers hustle by, apparently oblivious to the imminent event above.
“Where’s Arnott? He’s going to miss it,” says Lisa, looking toward the supermarket.
“Lisa, I wanted to ask you something…”
“It’s time! Where’s Arnott?”
Then it happens, the dark skies grow suddenly even darker. The light portion of the sky slides to a dirty grey and some of the shoppers stop to look upwards.
“This is it!” She punches my arm enthusiastically.
It’s not the spectacle we were expecting, but if you look at it long enough, you can just about see the moon and the sun’s halo around it. We stand like that for several minutes. Finally I turn to her and bring my hand up to touch her face, awkwardly. I can tell she’s a little shocked. Then a broad smile appears on her face and I realise she’s looking over my shoulder.
“Oh my God!”
I look around. Arnott, naked as lunch, save for his trainers and sunglasses. He runs between the parked cars, flapping his arms like an ascending flamingo, with two security guards in tow. He traverses the car park, dodging and weaving, squawking loudly. People stare at the spectacle. Some laugh, others frown and escort young children away. Older children point and laugh.
A man shouts: “Cold today, isn’t it, son?”
Arnott catches us looking and grins maniacally, taking a bite of his cornet. Lisa and I are crying with laughter. She leans against me.
“I think we will remember today,” I say.
It’s over, suddenly. A security guard catches Arnott by the wrist. The other pulls his arm up behind his back. He goes quietly. They cover his embarrassment with a yellow ‘Wet Floor’ warning sign. This is the final thing for Lisa, who’s breathless with laughter, buckled and hanging onto my shoulder.
When she finally gathers herself, she reaches up and takes off my sunglasses.
“Come here,” she says and pulls me to her open lips.
Before I close my eyes, I notice a man standing by the shop. He cups his face to the glass and looks in, and then looks at his watch.
Richard Rippon lives in the North East of England with his wife and baby daughter. He has also appeared in cautionarytale and Mannequin Envy, and is due in 6S, Monkeybicycle and The Pigmy Giant.