This is the third in a series of stories about Clementine Fraile and her adventures in retail.
It was difficult for Clementine Fraile, holding a cup of hot chocolate in one hand, an oatmeal cookie in the other, and surrounded by whimsical things, to stay cynical.
There was nowhere to sit in The Happy Store – probably a wise precaution or customers would never leave – but, as she sipped at her cup and nibbled on her cookie, there was no shortage of places to wander and explore.
And, contrary to her incredulity when she had first seen merchandise advertised at what she considered to be ridiculously low prices, the items existed, and the sale was real.
Velour armchairs reduced from $299 to $49.
Rattan bar stools that had once sold for $149 with a $9.99 price tag.
Harvest themed pillows (embellished with pumpkins, a scarecrow, and shafts of wheat), originally $49 and now $10.49.
Truly, Clementine realized as she inspected item after item, she was in home goods heaven. And since her shabbily equipped condominium was in dire need of furnishings, she should have just grabbed a shopping cart and started to fill it up.
But that did not happen.
Instead, her mind did three things. First, it went into overdrive, thrilled by all of the affordable options. Then, overwhelmed by so many objects to choose from, it short circuited. And finally, paralyzed by indecision, it shut down completely.
Well…maybe not absolutely and totally completely. Since the oatmeal cookie had been very tasty. The hot chocolate had warmed all of the winter out of her cold bones. And she did feel competent to make one decision.
She would go back to the refreshment table for more.
On her way there, she heard the now familiar tinkle of an opening door, and saw Betty, the sales lady who had welcomed her to The Happy Store a short time ago, materialize gracefully to greet the customer who had just walked in.
How interesting, Clementine thought as the door closed behind the woman. So poised and elegant. So self-contained, in an old-lady-serving-tea sort of way, that she might have belong to a different species.
Her short silver hair was perfectly coiffured. Her forehead was high and proud; her cheeks, pink from the cold, were lightly powdered and pale as porcelain; her coat was well cut; her sensible shoes were polished like those of a military cadet. And dainty pearl earrings sat primly on her delicate ears.
Everything about the woman was tailored, classic, and expensive. The only inconsistency in her appearance was a slight stoop to her shoulders and a look of utter exhaustion on her face.
Betty, her voice much softer than it had been when she greeted Clementine, asked, “Is there anything I can help you find today?”
The elderly lady raised her head. She met Betty’s compassionate brown eyes with her own eyes of watery blue, and in a voice filled with sad dignity, she said, “My husband is waiting for me in the car. I like to come here after he’s had his chemo treatments. This is my happy place.”
And she stepped forward.
Betty wordlessly moved aside.
And Clementine Fraile knew that some sort of magic had just taken place, and that she had been there to see it.
Even though she did not know how or why.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2019. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com