Essay 22: How the Angell Sisters Went Shopping
You said it like “angel”. Claire, Rebecca, Jessica, and Rose, in that order. What they did was they put on their biggest coats, went to the supermarket, and they filled up their pockets. Rebecca’s was the best for this – it was an overcoat that had belonged to their grandfather, Elliot Angell. The pockets were deep, when she put her hands in they went right up to the elbow. It had those inner pockets as well, long and thin and good for things like bags of sugar and of beans. Rebecca had the best coat for it, but Jessica had the best face. Jessie had the features of a rich girl, the high calm cheekbones and see-through skin, the wide soft mouth of someone who had only read about stealing in novels. Rose, unfortunately, looked like a shoplifter. She appeared to be engaged in something furtive and strange all the time. It was just how her nose and eyes went. She had turned out to look like a bit of a skate. It was apparent even in her baby pictures. A bit pinched and hungry, eyes a bit small, thin lips. But Rose was also the littlest. She was 20, but with her hair tied back she could pass for thirteen, and the Angells had found this to be a useful quality in her. Sometimes she and Claire pretended to be mother and daughter. Claire had reminded you of a brisk mom since her early teens. You looked at her and you thought, “head of the school governing body”. You thought she probably played first team hockey. You looked at her and the word “bosoms” popped unbidden into your head. The Angells had found this to be equally useful.
So how they went shopping was Claire and Rose walked in first, deep in conversation. Claire having a go at Rose about something. Her marks, usually, or the poor quality of her friends. Rose would respond with real viciousness, getting much more into the spirit of it than Claire ever could. Rose wanted to be an actress, and said she used these sessions as practice. Of course by the time Rose turned eighteen, there was no question of any money for drama school or acting lessons or anything like that, so shopping was the best practice she was going to get. Claire, who had gone to medical school, used the lessons she had learned from her worst lecturers, the ones about talking down to people, about behaving as if you were engaged in things far more important than what most mortals could conceive. They’d walk down the aisles with a trolley and pretend to fight, Rose pulling things off the shelves and Claire pushing them angrily back. They volume of their conversation would get louder, and Rose would swear, which you sort of expected, but then Claire would swear back, which you really did not. Claire said “fuck” with a long “k”, somehow. Rose said it with a lazy “f”. Claire would say, “Alice, I cannot fucking take this anymore.” Alice was what Rose wanted her stage name to be. Alice White. Rose would say, “I don’t care.” Claire would say, “Alice, I’m warning you.” Rose would say, “Just relax. Just try and take it easy. You’re embarrassing yourself.” She’d say this in a very loud voice, and try to catch the eyes of other people in the aisles. The other people would look away. Claire would say again that she could not take it anymore, and Rose would laugh and put a lot of cheese or something into the trolley. Claire would slap at her hand and Rose would say, “HEY” in an even louder voice. People would look away more. Every time they did, Rose would put a packet of spaghetti up her sleeve, or a packet of chicken breasts up her shirt. While this was happening, Rebecca would walk in, being nondescript. Essentially being a coat with legs. Jessie would wait five minutes and come in after her. Neither of them would have trolleys. Rebecca would start one aisle away from the Claire and Rose show and just methodically slip things into her pockets. She’d found that she could be incredibly brazen about it, could just crouch down on the floor and jam Peppermint Crisps into her boots.
She’d follow the sound of Claire and Rose shouting, always trailing them an aisle behind. They had found that the pockets of Elliot Angell’c coat could fit an extraordinary number of things. Six wheels of Camembert, once. While she was putting tins of tomatoes into her inner pockets, or whatever, Jessie would be traipsing up and down aisles on the fartherest end of the shop. She always made straight for the wine section, and would awkwardly clutch at the two most expensive bottles of champagne she could see. Jessie never wanted to be an actress, but she was probably more convincing in her role than Rose could ever be. The effect they had decided she should go for was Hassled Rich Person, and she nailed it completely. She dithered up and down the aisles in the only pair of expensive shoes the Angells owned, chewing absentmindedly at her middle fingernails and looking as if an actual visit to the supermarket was an eccentric rarity for her. She’d get to the till, with champagne and something stupid like strawberries out of season, just as Claire and Rose were reaching their crescendo. Claire would say, “Okay, okay. Enough.” Rose would say, “oh please.” Jessie would roll her eyes at the cashier, or smirk, and Rebecca would just keep shoving packets of jelly down the back of her jeans. Claire would grab Rose by the shoulder and say, “You’re coming with me, madam.” Rose would say, “Madam? You’re so embarrassing. Just listen to yourself.” Jessie would make a face at the cashier, and then and only then would Rebecca walk out of the shop.
As soon as the coat with legs had safely made it out the doors, tins clanking, and as soon as the cashier had put the champagne through, Jessie would start feeling her pockets. Looking all anxious, patting harder and harder. She’d lean over to the cashier all confidingly, a demi-goddess showing she knew how to mix with the real people, and say that she was so sorry, so unbelievably sorry, but she’d forgotten her card at home, and she came here all the time, and was there any way the cashier could call the manager. She’d say it was a party emergency. She’d touch the cashier’s arm. The poor old cashier would call the manager over, and it would usually work so that as the manager came towards the till, Claire was dragging Rose out by the actual scruff of her neck, Rose shouting that it was child abuse. The manager, of course, would say to Jessie that he was very sorry, but he couldn’t help. Jessie would say that she understood, of course. She’d leave.
They’d meet about a block away. Rose, triumphant; Claire, irritable; Jessie, vaguely pleased; Rebecca, the coat with legs. `
*This is, patently, not an essay. This a story. BUT it is nearly an essay in that it’s true. This really did happen. I really do know someone who knew four sisters who used to shoplift this way.
** This was first published in “New Contrast”