Clementine experiences a timely sleight of hand in her 20th adventure at The Happy Store
Clementine Fraile had come to think of her boss, Water Graybill, as something akin to Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” – promoting beneficial results without really intending to do so: A force, but not exactly a Force of Will. Comparable to gravity or photosynthesis. Inevitable. Predictable. Everywhere and nowhere. Like a deity that is content to observe, but never to interfere.
At least, that is what Clementine thought until she met three peculiar shoppers over the course of a single day. Or, rather, one shopper, Daisy Bailey, 87 years old; Daisy’s daughter, Mrs. Olivia Montague-Smyth, aged 59, fit, tanned, surgically enhanced, and country-club perfect; and Daisy’s harried personal attendant, Persephone of no known last name, fortyish, small-boned, big-bosomed, and suspicious-eyed.
The meeting took place on the first Monday in July.
It was a great day to shop at The Happy Store because everything – from furniture to pillows to candles to wind chimes – was an additional 25% off. Which meant that a Parson’s chair usually selling for $99, on sale for $49, would cost only $36.75. Or a linen napkin ordinarily $3.99 on sale at 50% off, could be purchased for just .98 cents.
Daisy Bailey, whom Clementine later realized came in every few days, loved The Happy Store. She always arrived with Persephone who, in a flurry of fussing, rushed away almost immediately to run errands, leaving her charge blissfully unattended, like a child deposited in the Children’s section of a library by a busy parent. But much better, since Daisy, having one or two hours to herself, was in retail heaven.
Nor did she treat her time there casually, as she was methodical and meticulous about her shopping, carefully removing and inspecting items from shelves – say a $24.99 blue floral teapot with a butterfly and tulip motif (less 50% and an addition 25% off for the Fourth of July Sale); or an amazingly real-looking metal flamingo; or a white serving platter with a dragonfly design; or a sugar bowl with a bunny-shaped lid.
All of Daisy’s choices were charming or pretty or sweet, selected with an eye to bringing joy to her home and a smile to her heart. And all, in effect, reflected and/or complemented her essential self.
For even in her mid-eighties, Daisy Baily was slim, erect, and pretty. She was wearing a floral skirt, a crisply ironed white eyelet blouse, white ankle socks over thin legs in slip-on shoes, and a dab of pink lipstick on a fine-boned and finely wrinkled face.
The most noticeable thing about Daisy Bailey, though, at least in The Happy Store, was her air of blissful contentment.
Or, at least it was until three things happened almost at once (four if your consider Walter).
The first occurred shortly after she had finished shopping, when Clementine greeted her at the cash register and helped her to remove the blue butterfly tea pot, pink metal flamingo, dragonfly serving platter, and funny bunny sugar bowl from the little red shopping cart into which she had placed them.
The second was after her personal attendant returned from running errands and found Daisy ready to pay for her purchases (even though she did not possess a credit card, cash, or a wallet). The aide stared at what her employer had put on the counter, snatched away the sugar bowl and the serving platter, and snapped, “You already have enough plates and bowls at home.”
This stern reprimand horrified our favorite sales associate who, eager to diffuse the situation, sang out cheerfully, “Hi. I’m Clementine. What’s your name?”
The personal attendant answered, “Persephone.” But her face was grim and her eyes were wary,
“Ah!” Clementine exclaimed with false good cheer. “Persephone. A beautiful name. The goddess of spring.”
The “goddess” responded with a blank stare.
Clementine continued with a perky, “Have you been with Daisy long?”
The sullen aide said nothing, but the old lady volunteered, “Seven years, and we are each other’s’ best friends.”
Upon hearing which, Persephone glanced at her employer, and for a few seconds, genuine affection softened the worried lines on her face. She dropped her eyes guiltily to the platter and sugar bowl she was holding, exhaled a world-weary sigh, and put them back on the counter. Then she said defensively, “If she spends a penny more than $25, her daughter doesn’t yell at Daisy. She yells at me.”
And this brings us to the third of the concurrent events: The arrival of the villainess in our story, Olivia Montague-Smyth. She swept up the aisle to the check-out counter, glared at Persephone, sniffed at Daisy, and said, “Mother, you simply have to control your spending.”
Which was the exact moment that the miracle – or Water Graybill’s invisible hand – made its appearance. For when Clementine, Daisy and Persephone looked down again at the counter, all four items were gone.
As in not there.
As in “Poof! Now you see ‘em. Now you don’t.”
Mrs. Olivia Montague-Smyth, geared up for a fight that seemed to have been cancelled before the opening bell, was, in effect, “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” Belligerent, frustrated, and foiled, her lips curled into a contemptuous sneer. She snarled, “I’ll see you back at the house, Mother.”
And she stormed out of the store.
Clementine turned to her left. Walter Graybill was not there.
She turned to her right. Not there either.
Finally, she craned her neck backward, and there he was. Standing silently behind her.
One of his bushy ginger eyebrows was raised in amusement.
Clementine gave him a “Huh?” look, but he ignored her completely. Instead, he said with great warmth over her head to their customer, “I put your tea pot, flamingo, platter and sugar bowl on a shelf in the back room. You can pick them up tomorrow.”
Daisy Bailey beamed at Walter Graybill like a teenaged girl who had just fallen in love.
“Thank you,” she cooed adoringly.
Even Persephone shot Walter a look that was remarkably absent of distrust.
However, Clementine wasn’t finished.
She glared at the store manager and demanded, “How did you do that?”
Walter Graybill looked back at her, and with absolutely no expression on his face, replied, “Do what?”
But beneath his handlebar mustache Clementine saw – or could have sworn that she saw – h lips twitch into an almost-smile.
And his black eyes twinkle.
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