Vincent gazed through the window at the dawn lending its growing light to the now quiet High Street. He had looked through the same window for nearly fifty years, looking at the slightly changing scene; at the weather and seasons, which changed but repeated; and the people, who changed outwardly, but inwardly – he suspected – remained much the same as they always had been: always scurrying about the High Street with the same aim in mind. Outwardly they changed, but even that sometimes repeated itself: he noted, for instance, that flared trousers were back in fashion. They had been going out of fashion when he had first started.
Vincent knew all about fashion; he thought himself a leader of it. He took great delight in wearing the latest clothes, and felt pride when he saw people looking at him; looking at his clothes; being influenced by what they saw; and entering his shop to try them on and buy them. Many people over the years had bought the same clothes that Vincent had displayed in the shop window. He remembered, with slight horror, his first pair of trousers – Rupert Bear trousers – that he had worn in the early Seventies. For a few weeks every teenager coming out of the Corner Cafe on the High Street opposite seemed to be wearing the same, until everyone realised how silly they looked and they saw that Vincent had sensibly changed into brush denim jeans – flared, of course.
Flared trousers had become redundant when skinny legged corduroys and jeans had taken their place. Hippies were out; Punks and New Wave were in. Hair was cut shorter and Vincent’s wigs reflected this, but his legs looked just as good in tight trousers as they had looked in flares. The only thing he hadn’t sported was a safety pin: it’s hard to pierce a safety pin through a plastic nose. The Corner Cafe became Sid’s and the hardware store next to that closed down when the local manufacturing industries closed down and a lot of people lost their jobs. To counter the increase in misery clothing became more flamboyant, and for a while Vincent wore frilled shirts underneath a pirate’s jacket – and the window dresser had painted his face with Cherokee stripes. Two months later the stripes had gone – replaced by a karyenda in the crook of his arm.
There were more changes in the High Street: cars replaced buses and people walked less and rode on motorised buggies; white vans full of shop fitters from Liverpool parked illegally on the pavement and ripped out the hardware store, filling a skip full of plaster and wood – and Denny’s Deli was opened which sold lattes to passing shoppers. Workers from Reading and Wolverhampton busied themselves on the bank and the Wheatsheaf. The pub was changed into a solicitor’s office; the bank into a pub. And Sid’s became a charity shop.
Fashions still continued to change and people still walked or rolled up and down the High Street: looking; buying. But people looked less into Vincent’s shop window; less at Vincent. His clothes changed that little bit less frequently and were that little bit less stylish. And the paint on the window frame had started to flake.
Vincent gazed through the window at the dawn lending its growing light to the now quiet High Street. For many days previous, a white van had been parked illegally on the pavement opposite and shop fitters from Bedford had been filling a skip with plaster and wood. A hand-written sign Shop opening soon had been pasted on the window of the charity shop (formerly Sid’s; formerly the Corner Cafe). This morning, however, the white van and skip had gone and a new shop sign above the window proclaimed: Sara’s Boutique.
Vincent watched as the sunlight slowly lowered itself down the face of the building, picking out the purple lettering of the sign above the window, then continuing down, slowly revealing the window’s contents.
He saw hair – dark flowing hair – then the olive skin of a forehead. And under that proud brow, dark eyes appeared, and the unmistakable face of a female manikin; lips red and full. The sunlight revealed a light blouse over shoulders both firm and well rounded – and admirably filled out by breasts both rounded and firm. She had nipples that the thin blouse material couldn’t hide. Vincent thought about his own plastic chest, sadly: smooth and nipple-less.
The morning sun revealed the rest of her: her slim torso; the curve of her hips encased in a short black skirt; her long legs tapering down to elegant feet. For the rest of the day, Vincent gazed longingly at the female manikin, willing himself to leave the shop and cross the road to be near to her. He had fallen in love but he could only stand and stare – until dusk returned and she was lost in the darkness.
The following morning brought a change. Her eyes looked back at Vincent and her lips had the hint of a smile. Hope grew in Vincent’s plastic chest.
For days and weeks and months, Vincent stared across at the manikin. She had many changes of clothing but her eyes always looked back at Vincent and her lips always returned a smile. Vincent hardly noticed the changes going on in the High Street: a white van had parked on the pavement next to his shop and loud banging could be heard during the day. A skip appeared and was filled, and then the noises stopped and the van and the skip were gone.
That night, when darkness had covered the High Street, Vincent saw reflected in the shop window across the road a new sign from the shop next door to him: Clint’s Clobber. In the window stood a manikin, a handsome male, naked, with a muscular upper torso and a well filled out plastic bulge between his legs. Not all manikins are equal, thought Vincent with embarrassment.
When morning came, the usual people and traffic passed the shop front and everything seemed the same. But Vincent noticed that the manikin from Sara’s Boutique – her gaze had changed. Her smile was even wider than normal and her eyes were wide open in surprise, but they no longer looked at Vincent – they were turned towards the shop next door. All morning Vincent looked at her, longingly, but she didn’t return his gaze. Sadness grew in his plastic chest.
In the days and weeks that followed, Vincent lost interest in the world outside his shop window. He failed to notice the noisy crowd of young people entering the shop next door, he just knew that the bell on his own shop door had fallen silent. He didn’t notice the grime accumulating on the outside of his window, nor the dust on the inside. He failed to notice the sun-bleached appearance of his clothes, or the moths that nestled in his hair. A shadow filled his heart, and then one day a shadow crossed his eyes – a sign on his shop window: CLOSED. A white van drew up and parked illegally on the pavement outside and the shop door bell rang for one last time – and Vincent was lifted and carried outside towards a waiting skip.
Peter Coomber’s latest book in The Red Crayon Series, One Hundred and One Strange Stories, debuts this May at Rakuten Kobo Books. Check it out and don’t embarrass us.