Freedom Records is open. It is open to the public and to the sky above, and behind the customer service desk both me and Malu are open too. We’re open to the public and open to the sky. We’re open to each other. We’re open to the hosed-down, steaming pavement outside. We’re open to the soup of fuggy air inside, and to the fat lazy bluebottle that coasts it looking for egress, an exit whereby he might pinball outside to die clean in the open air. We are open to the quiver and flirt of the covert smiles that pass between the teens at Indie, leaning into each other, weaning themselves off pop; to the music made by the flutter of eyelashes and the clearing of throats, the parting of hair. We are open to the rumble of ants bowing carpet tufts as they crawl out of the broken socket down by Jazz. We are open to clean noise and bad, the delight of sundry vibrations and the shock of good will. Ladies and Gentlemen we are open to the fucking cosmos, all history and pre-history well or ill, to all of our brethren stars and sister quasars. We bow and salute in openness to every wave function in every photon, every delirious cloud of probability in every particle, we tumble at the foot of every spooky action at any conceivable distance. We’re just not sure that we should have dropped acid this early on the early shift.
Least I’m not sure, looking at Malu looking at me with worried moons in her eyes. The worried moons, spiralling minutely towards the event horizon in her enormous pupils, are orbiting tricky, protean dark masses constituted of what appears to be pure anxiety. On top of that she appears to be shifting, phasally speaking, and I could really do with a glass of fucking orange juice to straighten me out.
She’s opening her mouth to say something and in the eons it takes for her lips to unseal, her face blanches in dread, I worry the ants will find her in their industry and fill her mouth with foraging parties, and just as the brass bell tinkles above the door to herald an incoming customer she asks me “Are you a wolf?” I pause, mute and sweating, because she might be right and because the new customer, a big guy with serious trapezius action bunching up beneath his raincoat – and why god is he wearing a raincoat? – is eyeballing me, coming straight for me and I swear hoovering up the air beneath me, through his nose, learning all he needs to know about me, no doubt, through some arcane manner of olfactorial inquisition. I hazard a growl, so the guy knows I’m cool, but he’s smelt out my weaknesses and origin story and the growl comes out sounding like wet bagpipes, and even though I close my mouth and stop breathing the sound of the drowned bagpipes will not cease.
Until he drops a bag on the counter and withdraws from it the entire Crass back-catalogue. Jesus he’s speaking to me shit.
“You sold me these didn’t you?” says him.
“Easy petal, calm wolf, no harm,” whispers Malu.
“Indeed of course” I bi-answer the pair, venturing fraudulent confirmations on matters I am clearly unequipped to consider. The fluorescent lights above the customer are conspiring not only to flicker to the exact cadence of Moondog’s Rabbit Hop, but they are shadowing the features of the man’s clean shaven face and its various protuberances in such a way that when he speaks it looks exactly like a scene playing out on a zoetrope of an ostrich being de-feathered and hung.
Which is alarming because he’s saying,
“So glad you remember, I thought this was going to be an ordeal”. He fucking knows what I remember.
And why’s he wearing a fucking raincoat? Is it for splash-back? The bagpipes are playing up again, but I leave them be because they’re respecting the time laid out by the fluorescent lights and my bones are strengthening because of them, down where bones get born.
“And eh” I say, waiting patiently as he waits for me to cease waiting on my words. Shit. Go again. New inspiration.
“And eh, how could I help what you want?” Aced it.
His face-mounted zoetrope cuts out, is replaced by two arching eyebrows, two eyes, a buzzing neon “WORRY” sign, an insatiable nose and pursed lips, sealed up in the hermetic cosmology of a clean shaven face. The neon signage begins to speak as his pursed lips purse further and retreat back inside his mouth.
“I forgot my receipt is the thing, and I’ve got to return them if possible. They were a birthday gift gone wrong.” He chuckles then, which makes me realise I’ve fucked this whole thing royally and I’ll never get back. Is he laughing because the receipt is lost? Will he laugh and make me find his receipt for him? Does he think I know his receipt, or that I lost it for him? Am I to right the wronged birthday?
I turn to Malu for help but having shifted fully, phasally speaking, she’s successfully camouflaged herself with the micro-environment of the store, and I only know that she’s located somewhere near the entrance to Goods In because I can hear her trying to sniff out the rest of my pack on her all-fours. Which frightens me terribly because this means I might have a Pack and if I do I don’t know where they are, which means I’ve been abandoned. So I turn to the customer for help which seems to please him because his neon signage shifts to the colour blue and a downgraded frequency.
“So could I return them?” he’s saying.
“Of course” I say over bag-pipes, speaking just loudly enough that I don’t have to shout. “Will you return with them?”
“Or even just a swap is fine, vouchers or whatever”. He pushes the Crass towards me, and desperately relieved, I realise I get the game and push them back towards him as a return serve.
“Oh” says him.
His move. This is a cunning gambit. He’s a more experienced player than me.
“Can I not return them then?” says the neon signage, message-approved by him.
I’m lost. I no longer know the game. And I’m alone. The air is refusing to make contact with my skin and creates a centimetre-thick surround of pure terrifying vacuum. I try to tell him he’s won but there’s no air for sound waves, or scent, so I can’t even signal my abeyance through gustatory communication. And so I give him the thumbs up.
And then, Jesus, he pushes the fucking Crass back towards me, like we’ve moved on to the next set.
“Fuck this,” I say. “And fuck this,” I say. And “fuck this,” I say, marvelling at the rush of returning air and the dispersal of hated vacuum. “And fuck this” I say, jubilant and eager for him to share the experience with me, so closely bonded are we now. “And fuck this?” I prompt him, knowing, being long-experienced in customer service, that his overly large soul needs the music of call-and-return to house it.
“And fuck this?” I say. But his raincoat is playing atonal jags as he takes the Crass off the counter and retreats, diminishing out the door. “And fuck this?” I ask Malu, knowing her to be somewhere close and always protecting me. “And fuck this?” I ask the leaning teens and the toiling ants and all blessed beneath all above.
“And fuck this” I say in ecstasy and spasmic understanding. And Malu, phasally unshifted once again, hands me a tiny bottle of Outspan fizzy orange juice and all that can be returned returns to us all right then, and right there, right where Return is bound and made joyful and ceaseless.