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The Milk Bar

A Jason Digby tale

By Middlerun

One Saturday afternoon, Jason Digby walked at a leisurely pace along a street several blocks from his house. He had needed to go to the shopping centre in the next suburb to pick up a power cable for his printer, and with his car at the mechanic's getting a service he decided to walk instead. Although Summer was coming to an end, the day had been warmer that he expected and he found that after half an hour of walking he'd gotten pretty thirsty.

He lived near a row of local shops, and decided to stop in at one and grab a drink. Rounding a corner he saw the local milk bar. The milk bar had always confused Jason a bit. Every time he went past, he glanced in and in several years had only ever seen one or two customers in there. The shop seemed to keep long hours, and he had always wondered how it stayed in business. There never even seemed to be much to actually buy in there either, just a few soft drink bottles on shelves, apparently for display.

I guess milk bars are just out of fashion these days, he thought to himself. He recalled a milk bar that had been near where he used to live as a kid, going there frequently after school for milkshakes. By the time he started high school he had moved house, and he stopped going there. For a moment he reflected sadly on this, recalling that his old haunt had eventually been shut down and turned into a trendy cafe.

As he walked he was reminded of a conversation he'd had once with his friend Mark about this strangely empty milk bar. Mark came up with the theory that it was a front for a drug dealing operation. Jason thought this was pretty funny, if unlikely. He figured it was more likely that the guy running it owned the place and had been running it for decades, and was simply reluctant to close the shop that he'd put so much time into.

"What the hell, I might as well check it out," he said as he came to the milk bar. He walked in the door.

Inside the milk bar, it looked like the place hadn't changed since the fifties. Old wooden shelves with chipped paint were sparsely populated with faded chip packets and jars of lollies with peeling-off labels. A counter covered with old-fashioned, peeling Laminex stood, with some milk-shake glasses and shakers, an old-fashioned cash register, a bell and other odds and ends. A glass-doored refrigerator behind the counter, with the seals peeling off, contained soft drinks which were probably the newest (or maybe "least old" is a better term, he thought) items in the whole shop. The shopkeeper was nowhere to be seen, so he rang the bell.

From somewhere behind a doorway behind the counter, he heard a quiet, surprised noise, and a few seconds later the shopkeeper appeared. An man seemingly in his late sixties, he wore starchy, white clothes with an old-fashioned, striped apron. "Hello," he said, smiling as if the appearance of a customer had made his day.

"Hi," said Jason.

"What can I get you?" the old shopkeeper said eagerly.

"Uh, can I just get a Coke please?"

The shopkeeper smiled. "Sure," he said, and started to turn to the fridge. Suddenly he turned back to Jason and paused. "Coke?"

"Um. Yeah," Jason said, wondering how the old man could have forgotten so quickly. The old man looked at him for another couple of seconds, and then nodded as if in understanding of some unpoken message. He reached under the counter, and pulled out a small wooden box, placed it on the counter and carefully removed the lid.

Jason couldn't believe what he saw. Inside the box were dozens of snap-lock bags containing various amounts and types of white powder and pills.

"How much you want?" said the shopkeeper. Jason just stared at the bags, speechless, and then looked up at the man. Suddenly, he started to giggle, and before he knew it had burst into uncontrollable laughter. As he stood in the shop, bent double and laughing his head off, the old man looked slightly embarrased, closed the lid of the box and placed it back behind the counter.

After a minute or so Jason stopped laughing and turned back to the shopkeeper. "Coca-Cola, mate," he said, still giggling. "Brown stuff, comes in a curvy bottle?"

"Right, right," the old man said, still looking embarrased. He opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of Coke, placing it on the counter. Jason paid for the drink, said "cheers mate," and turned to leave, still chuckling to himself.

"Wait," said the old man. Jason turned to face him. "You won't... uh, you won't tell anyone about this, will you? What I'm doing here, I mean..."

"Nah mate," he said. "I won't tell anyone."

"Thanks," the shopkeeper smiled.

"I should be thanking you," Jason grinned back. "That's the best laugh I've had all week."