Christmas: peace and good will to all mankind; well, that was certainly not the case in the London supermarket where I worked. My boss, nicknamed Mr Blotchy by all the employees forced to endure his red-faced rants, found running the store during the big Christmas lead-up stressful, to say the least. I’d taken on the holiday job as cashier and stock clerk to earn a bit of cash, help pay off the student bills, perhaps save a bit for Fran’s gift; I wasn’t expecting a bonus packet of high blood pressure and nervous tics. And that was before I botched up the big Christmas order.
“Janet, in here. Now!”
Sadly, my name is Janet so there was no avoiding the inevitable. I pushed back from my computer screen and made my way to the office’s glass box where Blotchy reined- King of the pulsing vein. He had his back to me, punching buttons on the printer, so I quietly made my way to his desk and sat perched on the edge of the seat, ready for a fast exit if the spittle started to fly. I didn’t have long to wait.
“What do you have to say to this?”
The vein on his temple was already throbbing like he’d been on the Christmas pre-dinner cocktails since 8am. I cast a glance at the sheet he’d printed out and slammed down in front of me. I didn’t have much to say regarding the rows of numbers. I knew what they were of course: stock orders, but I just plugged them into the system; they could have been alien phone numbers for all I knew or cared.
I decided it was best to feign interest.
“Looks like we’ve ordered a lot of stock; Christmas sales going well.”
“You can tell me we’ve ordered a lot of stock!” Out came a red pen and an angry circle enclosed one set of figures.
“Stock number 8527: you’ve ordered 1000 units. Big order. You’ll know what 8527 is of course.”
As if I had the faintest idea.
“Cranberry sauce?” It seemed like a plausible stab in the dark. I was considering quickly amending my guess to turkey or mince pies when Blotchy, true to his name, mottled an angry red.
“You should be so bleedin’ lucky- cranberry sauce! No, my girl, you’ve not ordered 1000 units of everyone’s favourite Christmas condiment. Know what you have ordered? 1000 units of, wait for it, mint sauce.”
Now I liked mint sauce, so delightfully artificial; and that livid green, such a pop of colour on the plate! But I wasn’t about to tell Blotchy any of this. Time for more supermarket charades.
“Oh no! How terrible!” I hammed it up. “How could I have made such a terrible mistake?”
Even as I was giving it my best thesp shot, the scene flashed fully formed into my mind. I had been blithely typing in the week’s orders, confirmed by Blotchy on printouts with his daily handwritten amendments. It was normal for orders to change; with party season starting, blinis say or shrimps might be flying off the shelves and we’d need to order a few more units than what was programmed into the system. Overriding and changing the orders, that was my job. Well, yesterday I was tapping in the changes, when a flash of crimson and a wave of dark hair caught my eye through the office’s glass.
I looked up- fatefully. The flash of crimson was a long red scarf, elegantly draped about the neck of a man whose long luscious dark locks made him look like a fitting romantic lead for an Austen adaptation.
I was casting myself as Elizabeth to his Darcy, eyes locked on him, picking out his lunchbreak sushi from the chiller cabinet, when he turned and caught my perving eye and winked! And, I decided, as Blotchy mottled and seemed to shake, the incriminating order sheets now crumpled in his fist, those eyes and that saucy wink were what caused my helpless fingers to go crazy, typing in a few extra zeros for the innocent mint sauce; it was only a natural response; what was a girl supposed to do?
The mystery of the mint sauce was solved, for me at least, but I could tell Blotchy exactly zero percent of the story. I would need to get inventive; cue me, Janet, recast as TV foodie-host:
“Lamb is very much on trend this season. Fashionable Londoners are falling over themselves to pre-order legs and racks. Our mint sauce will be the accompaniment; jars are going to just grow legs and walk off the shelves.”
Blotchy looked like he wanted me to use my legs and walk out of the office, the store- his life. I tried again.
“And what with avian flu, poultry numbers are taking a real hit. Turkeys will be harder and harder to come by and customers will be forced to look for alternatives, like lamb- with mint sauce!”
I saw myself in Blotchy’s eyes: a virus he wished he’d been vaccinated against; boy had he been naïve, thinking the Janet strain would be just a mild variant.
His voice shook and the full horror hit me: I wasn’t sure if he was going to vent or cry. I burst out:
“At least it’s got a long shelf-life; we’ll shift it all by next Christmas.”
He groaned and typed the digits into the keyboard: 8, 5, 2, 7.
A picture of the stock flashed up with corresponding description:
Fresh mint jus
£12.99 for 50 grams
Shelf life: 10 days
Must be kept chilled
His finger jabbed at the screen: the delivery date.
“Janet, your mint sauce is arriving 7am tomorrow. You get down here an hour early, offload the chiller and fill it up with the stuff.”
I nodded. Hoping the rant was over, I made my way to the door.
“And Janet, you’d better think of something fast to shift those 1000 units, otherwise you can forget about hanging up a stocking or presents under the tree.”
Yes, yes. I knew; but he wasn’t finished with me yet.
“And do you know what you’ll be getting for a Christmas bonus?”
Hell, it was worth a try: “One of those lovely Harrods hampers?” The wicker case filled with a cornucopia of mince pies, puddings and Christmas crackers sprang unbidden into my mind.
“No,” he exploded, throwing the crumpled sheet into the bin, “any flaming mint jus we don’t shift, and your marching orders!”
In that moment, I knew: my turkey was well and truly stuffed.
Letting myself into the apartment I shared with Fran, I suspected I should be feeling contrite about my scatter-brained slip up, but somehow, I just didn’t. My mind kept returning with salivating circularity to Mr Red Scarf and his scrumptious figure. I couldn’t blame my foolish fingers for just typing in any old numbers; at least they’d been semi functioning while my tongue was hanging out and my brain was having a hot flush.
Fran was sitting on the sofa, bottle of wine in hand, feet resting on the box of Christmas decorations she’d promised to go through, when I came in.
“My favourite Christmas cashier!” she beamed, yanking the cork out and splashing wine into two glasses.
“Fran, how long are you planning to keep these Christmas jingles going for?”
“Until the first snow falls, which will probably bring us round to February! Why the long face? Grinch steal your Christmas cheer?”
I gave her a shove and clambered onto the sofa.
“Oh well, might just have lost my holiday job. Do you like mint sauce by any chance?”
The wine flowed and so did the laughs. As expected, Fran found it all an absolute hoot.
“1000 units instead of 10. Tell me, was Mr Red Scarf well worth the extra two o’s?”
“Boy he was worth a whole string of them. He was like oooooohhhh”.
Fran fell over the arm of the sofa and writhed passion on the floor.
“And maybe a few mmm’s thrown in?”
I tumbled onto the floor too, clobbering Fran with a cushion.
“We’ve got to sober up Fran, and think of something! Unless you want 1000 pots of fresh mint jus for your Christmas present?”
“Ok, ok, serious face.” She said, pursing her lips. “You should dress up as a giant mint leaf; no, perhaps not- the police might think you’re marketing weed or something.”
“How about a lamb?” I ventured. “I bet I could get a fluffy costume and stand in front of the chiller, bleating a bit.”
“Even better: Little Bo-Peep, looking for her sheep! You can have the whole get-up; shepherdess crook and all”
For a moment she looked at me with absolute earnestness, then we both fell about laughing again. It was no use. We drained a second bottle, danced ridiculously to Abba and fell asleep on the sofa with loud snores and zero ideas on how to shift the stock, making its way to the London store for 7am sharp.
I arrived at the shop early the next day, more alarmed about my shameful lack of a hangover than the prospect of loading the chiller cabinet. My liver must be more used to wine than water, I mused, taking the worker’s entrance and swiping my card.
Blotchy wasn’t about; he’d probably had a coronary in the night, dreaming about drowning in a sea of mint jus. I glanced at the roster: surprise, surprise I’d been taken off stock order duties and all my shifts were on the tills.
Oh well, at least as cashier I’d avoid Blotchy waving his sheets of numbers at me.
It was my first time stocking the chiller cabinet and my hands were soon red raw and numb, fingers like ten icicles, tingling from the cold. I was like some frozen automaton that somehow still keeps working, enduring Siberian icy blasts: stoop and lift and stack; stoop and lift and stack. Repetitive strain injury, repetitive strain injury, I robotically intoned while the blasted Christmas tunes blasted out. Yep, I was in for repetitive ear injury too.
Things might have turned out differently had I been able to maintain mechanical efficiency; but with only 348 pots of fresh mint jus unboxed and stacked, I realised something: I’d slowed right down.
Motivational talk was what I needed.
“I hate you mint sauce.” I whispered at the 349th green tub with its sloshing frog-spawn coloured contents. It helped a teensy bit.
“I hate you mint sauce” I said expressively, shoving the 350th tub onto the shelf. Yep, my fingers were still in danger of getting frostbite and were probably hanging on by just one icy thread, but I definitely felt better.
“I HATE you -mint sauce!” I shouted, half-throwing tub number 351 into the unit and, with a whoosh of euphoria, I heard a deep laugh behind me.
“Funny, I love a bit of sauce.”
I whipped round and immediately forgot all icy sensations, flushing instead like a furnace: it was Mr Red Scarf!
My mouth was hanging open as if I were a fish catching flies and I hurriedly shut it. Quick, think and look sexy, think and look sexy! I told myself, banishing the horrible thought that I was wearing brown polyester supermarket overalls to the reject bin in my brain. Above me, the sign started flashing like it had a nervous tic: “Specials!” it blinked. “Specials!” And then there was a crackle and it just switched itself off. We both burst out laughing.
“So, Janet,” he said completely at 101% relaxed ease, reading my name badge and reaching casually past me to lift a tub off of the shelf, “perhaps you can tell me why mint sauce is this store’s seasonal special instead of, say, cranberry?”
My mouth fell open again. He’d brushed past me; his scarf had actually, for a split- second, touched my bare hand. I shut my mouth, then opened it again and told him the whole silly story, leaving out his part; after all, a man so gorgeous must already have an ego to rival the Greek gods he was surely descended from, he didn’t need any more bolstering from me! He laughed that suggestive laugh I was already addicted to, casually tossing then catching the little tub of sauce he’d taken from the shelf.
“Well, if it helps at all, I will be your first customer; this mint jus is coming home with me.”
I laughed, giving Blotchy a run for his money in the frantic flushing stakes. He pulled a pen and a slip of paper out of his jeans pocket. Leaning the paper against his thigh, he wrote his name and telephone number and handed me the slip.
“Well, just in case you’d like me to come and take a few more tubs off your hands. Right, need to head back: lunch break was over five minutes ago.”
That sexy smile, another super sexy wink and he headed to the express till, paid and left, leaving me clutching the slip of paper -it had touched his thigh for heaven’s sake! - and wondering if he had read my mind, as surely his name couldn’t actually be Adonis.
Fran was already lacing up her skates when I finally arrived at the outside ice-skating rink where we'd arranged to meet. I plonked myself down on the freezing bench and winced as I eased my feet out of their warm winter boots and into the hired skates which felt as comfortable as two blocks of ice. Through gritted teeth, I told her about Adonis.
“No! Mr Ooo and Mmmm came back?”
“You’re going to be his Christmas special! I just know it!” Fran squealed like he’d already gone down on one knee.
“Even better; I’ve got his name and phone number!”
I faked coyness and twisted the little slip of paper between my thumb and forefinger. Fran reached to grab it and with a laugh I spun off onto the ice, feeling like I was gliding into a future just as smooth as the glinting surface. Fran scrambled after me, clutching onto the sides. Most people avoided her, probably presuming she was drunk. Eventually I took pity on her gasping, hauling technique and looped my arm through hers, and we skated off together.
“So, Miss Frantastic, what do you think I should say to this man, bearer of luscious dark locks, giver of super sexy winks, who goes- wait for it- by the name of Adonis?”
For a moment I thought Fran was going to fall over again as she tugged me to the perimeter and we propped against the wall. She tapped the name into Google on her phone, and his face flashed onto the screen. Mr Red Scarf who went by the stage name Adonis Olivier – real name Benedict Olive- was an actor on the up, after a low budget flick had suddenly become a cult classic. More than on the up, if the number of followers he had on Instagram was anything to go by. As we ogled him, a new post flashed up with a link to the BBC. Fran clicked and we both watched, wide-eyed, a clip from the six o’clock news which must have just aired.
“And finally, the BBC have it from a reliable source that your jar of cranberry might well be staying at the back of your cupboard this Christmas. Yes, it’s time to give your heart away to something special: mint jus!” The camera zoomed into the screen behind the grinning presenter and there was Adonis, decked in his red scarf, singing in full-blown crooning Mariah style to the tub of mint sauce he’d bought just a few hours ago:
“Make my wish come true- all I want for Christmas is jus!”
Cut back to the laughing BBC presenter: “So, you heard it here first Londoners! Drop the cranberry sauce and pick up the mint jus- hotter than a steaming mulled wine- and on sale tomorrow at your local Knightsbridge store.”
“Call him!” shrieked Fran. “Text him at least, for heaven’s sake!”
With fumbling fingers, I tapped in his number. Feeling drunk, without a drop in me, I fired off:
“If I don’t have to eat 999 tubs of mint sauce, you’ve definitely made all my wishes come true! Thanks! Janet.”
The reply came straight back.
“Happy to help. Bit busy at the mo. I’ve got something in store for you, can’t say more!”
The brazier burning on the side of the rink had nothing on my glowing face.
“Come on Fran,” I said grinning, “this calls for a celebratory drink. Adonis has something planned for me!”
I could hardly believe my eyes when I made my way to work the next day and saw the queue trailing round the block, people jostling to keep their spot. At the front of the long snaking line, standing behind a blue ribbon fixed between two Christmas trees, brandishing a pair of over-sized scissors, was Adonis.
Blotchy was beaming and started a countdown: “Ten, nine, eight, seven…” I’d never seen him so happy, smiling at Adonis as if Santa had just landed right outside his little store. “Three, two,”
“Make my wish come true!” Adonis called out, and the crowd answered as one:
“All I want for Christmas is jus!”
Snip went the scissors, the automatic door slid open and the queue surged forward as if the store was selling the last of the Christmas turkeys.
I ran up to Adonis and flung my arms around him.
“You wonderful, wonderful man!” I laughed. “Are you sure you don’t want another jar of mint jus?”
And Christmas wonders were already happening as he hugged me back.
“I think you know that’s the last thing on my mind, when in my arms is the oh-so delicious you.”