Record Store Day

By Jennie Ståbis 

He hurried down Call Lane and kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead of him. He passed the hideous Revolution Bar, the less hideous Black Swan, and finally, the Corn Exchange. He did not notice the slight rain that had begun to fall, nor did he pay any attention to the many unfamiliar faces that could not help but take an extra look at him. First, they noticed his unfashionable bowl cut: it made him look like an unkempt Lloyd Christmas. Second, they eyed his ill-considered black polo shirt, his anonymous, baggy canvas jeans, and the black sneakers that looked like they were at least three sizes too large. Last, they giggled at the long, gold chain and two-inch peace sign that dangled from his neck. It danced in time to his long stride.

Norman pushed the door open and looked around. A homey smell of rock ‘n’ roll relics, coffee, and cigarette butts washed over him. The unmistakable sound of ‟Careful with That Axe, Eugene” came to him from the hidden speakers. The walls were a nauseating green, scarcely visible behind a clutter of posters, photos, and stickers. The room was crammed and claustrophobic. A handful of people were scattered around the store – each flipping through stacks of records. One teenager scanned the CD selection. Norman shook his head at him. Novice! In the far left corner, the owner had arranged some kind of café area. Two young men that Norman recognised from his earlier visits sat by a single table, sipping coffee and tea. 

A girl stood by the stack of new arrivals and lifted a record from the pile. Norman’s eyes widened. ‟First Utterance,” he gasped. He took two steps towards the LP and stopped. The girl was studying the cover closely. She flipped it over and read the song list. Norman held his breath as she picked up her phone. If she googles that record, I’m doomed, he thought. Before she had time to realize how rare and valuable the record in her hand was, he stumbled over to her. 

‟Please don’t buy that record.” 

When Norman’s mother had first heard her son’s favorite album, and seen the album cover, she had prayed intensely for a week for his soul to be saved. He had tried to explain to her that he was not a satanist, nor were Comus. She would not listen. From then on he had to listen to it in secret and kept the CD hidden among his schoolbooks. It was a safe place: she never had any reason to check up on his homework. 

Growing up, he spent endless hours discussing obscure psychedelia in various online forums. He knew all about the first pressing of Black Widow’s classic, could name all of Pink Floyd’s back catalogue in chronological order – bootlegs included – and if you needed to know anything about the Roundhouse, Norman was your guy. Naturally, he knew the history of Comus inside out. He’d even travelled all the way to Sweden to see their reunion gig at a strange music festival on a ferry to Finland in 2008. It was the best night of his life. He bought the new pressing of ‟First Utterance” and got the whole band to sign it – except for Glenn Goring, who was sea sick. The record is safely displayed on a gold-rimmed shelf above Norman’s bed. 

And now he was so close to the first pressing that he could reach out and touch it. If it weren’t for the blue-haired, gum-chewing girl who held on to the record with both hands, he would have run to the counter, paid whatever the price tag said, and gone straight home. He had a special safe for his most valuable collectables, and this was worth more than all the others put together. 

He pushed the fringe of his bowl cut to the side with one hand. He was sweating. The girl was not sweating. Her grey gaze alternated between the record and Norman. 

‟Why not?” She looked like she was trying to solve a riddle.

‟Because–” Norman checked the room as if he hoped to find his victorious reply on one of the claustrophobic shelves.

‟Because?” She held on tighter to the record. Norman shifted the weight of his body to his right leg. 

‟Because I need it.” Oh, good one, Bore-man! His classmates’ voices echoed in his head. Ace argument!

‟How so?” She pursed her lips and squinted at him. ‟What’s going to happen if you don’t get it?” 

Norman sighed. This was exactly why he did not like people, and why he did his utmost to stay away from them: they were obnoxious. 

The guy by the CDs had turned his head to look at Norman and the girl. Norman felt as if he were back in school again, with the bullies and the onlookers. He wished he had chosen a light cotton shirt instead of a long-sleeved polo.  

‟Well, come on then,” she urged him. ‟Why do you need it so bad? It’s just a record.”       

Norman gaped at her, and tried to process her words. 

‟J–j–just a record?!” Seven years of speech therapy had not prepared him for a situation like this. What idiocy! He would be damned if he was going to lose the record of his dreams to this ignoramus. She smiled – he clenched his jaw. 

‟Wh–wha–what you have there, y–yo–y–young lady, is nothing short of a ma–ma–ma–masterpiece. If you were to p–p–pick just one record to bring to a desert island, this w–w–wo–would be it. It’s not just any record, it’s… It’s…” 

She interrupted him. ‟It’s really, really great?” 

Norman shut his mouth. A wave of color flushed his face until he looked like a very angry Mr Rude. He was used to being mocked, but this time there was too much at stake for him to retreat. He closed his eyes and inhaled composure. 

‟I have been looking for that record since 2001. Y–y–you don’t even know what it is. I think it’s only f–f–fair that I should get it.” He congratulated his own calmness. 

‟I saw it first.” 

‟I heard it first!” He fingered his clunky peace sign. Bore-man! Bore-man! All his poise abandoned him, along with the sweat exuding from his pores. He looked around to see if anyone was laughing, but the other customers seemed busy. He looked over the girl’s shoulder towards the counter, hoping for some assistance from the owner. He knew Norman, and he knew about vinyls – especially first pressings. The owner was engrossed in cleaning records and did not acknowledge Norman’s predicament. 

‟Look, y–yo–you–” Norman began, but the girl interrupted him again. 

‟Sarah,” she said.       

‟What?” 

‟My name is Sarah, not you,” she said with a wry smile. 

‟Well… eh… look, Sarah…” He folded his arms and regretted not taking that rhetoric course his mother had nagged about in the Upper Sixth. ‟You might want to get into politics one day,” she had said. ‟Perish the thought,” his sister had muttered. 

‟I believe you were about to give me another reason why you should buy this and not me,” Sarah helped him. She still held on to the record. 

Norman’s fringe fell back in his face. He pushed it back again, shifted his weight once more, and glanced over to the CDs, but the teenaged browser was no longer there. Sarah waited. She’s kind of cute, Norman thought, if you like record stealing hipsters. He decided to try a different strategy. 

‟Why would you want to buy it anyway?” 

Sarah shrugged her shoulders. ‟I don’t know. It looks kind of cool.”

‟I bet you don’t even know who made the cover.” Norman picked at the lint on his sweater. 

Sarah looked at the record. ‟Well, it says here it’s by a Roger Wootton. And up here it says he’s the singer. And guitarist… One of two.” She smiled triumphantly, while Norman sulked and ran out of arguments. 

‟But – you don’t need it. You can have any record you want.” His determination crumpled as his shoulders sank. ‟I deserve it–” 

Sarah did not reply. She picked up her phone and googled the record. Then she raised her eyebrows, whistled, and smirked. She turned around and headed for the counter while Norman realized who she reminded him of. 

When he was thirteen, he’d had a girlfriend. At least he thought she’d been his girlfriend. She might have been just a friend, or a girl with whom he hung out for a couple of weeks during the summer. A week before school started, she dumped him. ‟You look too much like a hippie” was her reason. At the time, he didn’t really know what a hippie was, but he suspected it had something to do with the corduroy flares he wore. They were hand-me-downs his mother had worn in the early seventies. When school started, Norman hid them in the back of his closet and hoped his mother would forget about them. 

Now, Norman’s face was feverish, and his ears were like protruding, red traffic lights. He could feel the mocking glares of every customer in the store. He could hear his mother’s expectations of him crash against the grimy oriental rug. He could hear the condescending sneers in the changing room after gym class. He stood motionless inside a stifling bell jar: the outside world moved in slow motion, habitually disregarding him. His holy grail was within reach and yet a hundred miles away. 

Somehow he had to keep her from buying it. But how? I might still overtake her. Can I really hit a girl? Perhaps just a little shove? But if he shoved her she might drop the record, and if it broke he would never forgive himself. After all, wasn’t it better owned by an ignorant hipster than breaking in bits? She might report him to the police. He wouldn’t shove her hard enough for her to get hurt, so he thought he would probably get away with only a fine. Perhaps his family would help him pay it – they would understand, surely. 

Sarah handed the record to the owner and swiped her credit card. The owner smiled and moved his lips, but Norman couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was probably congratulating her on the purchase. A true gem. And in mint condition. It was unheard of. They scrutinized him and laughed. Their faces blurred and they could no longer be distinguished from people on the street, people from school, or people at work. Norman didn’t laugh. He looked away. 

What if I follow her home, and snuck inside to steal it while she slept? Or she might leave it by an open window… But what if it was sunny?! Norman started to sweat heavily as he imagined the record warping in the heat. The black polo was itching, and it was sticking to his damp skin. The chain around his neck weighed him down like an anchor. 

He knew the odds of coming near a first pressing of ‟First Utterance” in mint condition ever again: it was not likely to happen. Did he not deserve this record? After everything he had been through in life: all those years of fighting off school tyrants and of reading adventure novels in his room while others were dancing, drinking, and snogging. All the battles won and lost at Head to Head – all for nothing. 

The owner put the record in a white plastic bag. It said ‟Record Heaven” on it, but Norman was in Record Hell. 

Then Sarah was standing before him. She held out the bag. He stared at her, but couldn’t move. Her eyebrows furrowed. 

‟Go on. Take it.” 

He raised his heavy hands and took the bag from her as if it would dissolve at the touch. 

‟Enjoy!” And she walked past him with a great smile. 

A bell tinkled and a gust of August cooled his clammy back. Did I hit her? The owner smiled at him from behind the counter. Surely he wouldn’t be smiling if he had just witnessed Norman hitting another customer. A girl, at that. 

Norman opened the bag and peeked at the record, expecting a dummy. His heart was pounding and he tried to wet his dry lips with his equally dry tongue. The lump in his throat would not go away no matter how many times he swallowed. ‟First Utterance” really was there in his hands after all this time. And it was a gift! Someone – a girl – had given it to him, seemingly without wanting anything in return! Norman searched his mind for some clue left by his mother regarding what to do in situations like this. He couldn’t find one so he turned to the owner, pointed to the door, to the record, and then back to the door. 

‟Should I…?” His voice wavered. 

The owner shrugged and lit a cigarette. ‟It’s only a record, man.” 

Norman nodded slowly. Then he looked down at the gift in his hand and made up his mind. He darted through the room, flung the door open, and broke the glass bell jar.