Hearing the bell, the shopkeeper hid behind a rail of coats. A man in a dark suit came through the door and stood before the gun metal till. The merchant dropped to his knees and crawled behind the counter, unseen. He waited.
There was much to look at in the old shop, many racks to peruse and flick through. The customer pressed the lapel on a scratchy tweed jacket, stroked it with pink fingers. He took the jacket from the hanger with both hands and held it close to his face. As he sniffed the lining, the shopkeeper rose silently to his feet.
“May I help you?” he said.
The customer’s bowler hat fell from his head. He replaced the jacket and then his hat, straightening the brim carefully.
“Yes,” he replied, eyes vertical and narrow, “I’m looking for a costume”.
“Certainly,” said the shopkeeper, adjusting his weskit, “What do you have in mind? A stone age tribesman? A chef? A Native American brave?”
“Perhaps this,” said the well dressed man, standing in front of an astronaut’s suit.
“A very good choice,” said the dapper little shopkeeper, “Would you like to try it on sir?”
“No thank you,” said the man, “Just wrap it up for me and I’ll take it home”.
A breeze blew through the store, like Winter finding its way home. It smelled like frozen mothballs.
“You should really make sure it fits. The changing room is just over there,” said the shopkeeper. His tiny moustache twitched.
“I think it will be fine,” said the man.
“But, sir,” said the shopkeeper, his voice a fraction too loud, “The changing room is right there”.
The man placed his hands flat on the glass counter.
“I can see that. I can see it very well,” he said, “I’ll take the suit now, please”.
As the well dressed man left the shop, cradling a paper bundle in his arms, the merchant’s gaze turned to the changing room door. His eyes were laced albino pink.
Later that evening, in his house on Festive Road, the man took off his bowler hat. He took off his stripey tie and black jacket. He put on the space suit.
With the flicker of television reflected in the visor and foil plated neoprene chafing his skin, he began to wish that he had gone into the changing room after all. The costume was far too small.
Then, as tears prickled dry ducts, he sneezed inside the helmet.