SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction The Happy Store – The Papasan Chair

Updated 3 weeks ago By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction  The Happy Store – The Papasan Chair

An elderly man, a brief delusion, and Clementine’s 17th adventure at The Happy Store.

 

That day at The Happy Store was strange in more ways than one. Or, rather … it was strange in just one way, but enough so to fulfill a quota of “strange” for the entire year ... although the morning had started out ordinarily enough.

Since Mondays were always slow – regardless of weather, holiday sales, or special promotions (50% off on all Christmas wreaths), only Betty Davis, the lead sales associate, and Clementine Fraile, our diminutive retail heroine, were minding the store.

As usual, Clementine grabbed a broom and dust pan and did what she called “My Cinderella thing,” while Betty performed the mysterious administrative duties required at the start of the day.

After having worked in The Happy Store for almost a month, Clementine had seen her boss in several guises: Real-life double (but prettier and older) for the Betty of Archie Comic Book fame; no-nonsense and instructive Supervisor Betty – “If a customer ever talks to you like that again, just walk away;” and comic-relief Betty – “This vase is absolutely ghastly. Let’s sell it to the next person who walks in.”

That Monday, Clementine would see her in yet another incarnation.

At 9:05 a.m., she did one last swipe at fingerprints on the entry doors and put away her cleaning tools. At 10:00 a.m. exactly, she unlocked the glass front doors. As she bent to release a bottom latch, she noticed a pair of what she called “men’s grown-up shoes.” The kind her father and grandfather wore with three-piece suits to business meetings and to work. They were dark brown leather with brown laces and an almost military spit and polish shine. And the slacks that met the instep were ironed into a sharp crease.

Clementine stood, stepped away from the door, and studied the first customer of the day. He was a striking man in his eighties with slightly rumpled silver hair, bushy eyebrows, a sharp nose, and a square chin. His eyes were summer-sky blue.

But there was something wrong with them.

Clementine, caught off-balance by the incompatibility of a determine jaw and unfathomably wounded eyes, forgot to utter her usual, “Good morning. May I help you find…” speech.

The man, not seeing her, strode up the aisle toward the cash registers, and about a dozen feet away, turned purposefully into the furniture department. There, after a short search, he located what he seemed to have been looking for – a tub chair with a plush purple cushion and a tag bearing a SOLD sticker – and he slowly, almost arduously, lowered himself onto the seat.

Betty Davis, busy sorting through corporate office memoranda, saw peripheral movement to her left. In shock, she dropped her sheaf of papers and exclaimed, “Mr. Mallory!”

She walked to the papasan chair where he was sitting, crouched, and said, “I was so sorry to hear about your wife’s passing. Did you get my card?”

He turned to look at her.

Now would probably be a good time to tell you about papasan chairs – one of The Happy Store’s best-sellers. They consist of three elements: A rattan base. A huge rattan bowl. And an equally large and wildly comfortable cushion, which comes in a wide variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns. Sold separately, it would cost close to $200. During Christmas, the three-piece set was on sale for only $129.

Clementine had already decided she wanted one for her apartment, and was just waiting for the time and energy to discuss color schemes with Betty. Who, tears in her eyes, was gently stroking the hand of the gentleman occupying said item of furniture.

He also had tears in his eyes.

He said, “I came here today to pick up Holly’s chair.”

Betty said, “Mr. Mallory … Quentin … I know this was to have been her birthday present, but now that she’s gone, I would be happy to cancel the sale and return your…”

He cut her off.

“My wife isn’t gone.”

Betty got to her feet, walked to a display chair a few feet away, dragged it to where she had been crouching, sat, and leaned forward.

“Quentin, she said. Her voice a crying towel of compassion. “I’ve known you and Holly for over ten years, and all that time, I’ve had great fun helping you to pick her birthday, Valentine, Christmas, and anniversary presents.” She dared a low chuckle. “Behind your back, Holly and I did the same for…”

A second time, he cut her off.

“I know that you think she’s dead. But she isn’t.”

He glanced briefly at his wrist watch. “I should be hearing from the hospital any minute now. If you don’t mind, Betty, I’ll just rest here for a while and wait for the call.”

Clementine, avidly eavesdropping, was cut off from hearing Betty’s response, because the door tinkled, and she had to attend to a new customer’s needs. Another customer followed that, followed by yet another, and so on throughout the morning. Clementine worked alone the whole time, because Betty Davis (fortyish and beautiful) would not leave the side of Quentin Mallory (eightyish and inconsolable).

And so it went until 1:00 p.m., when the store had once again emptied out.

Betty Davis and Quentin Mallory still sat side-by-side.

The concerned expression on Betty’s face was unchanged. The expression on the old man’s face, however, was different. Unfathomably wounded eyes had surrendered to fate … reality … what have you … and with shoulders hunched, he sobbed into his hands, “So Holly really is gone. She’s gone. She’s gone. And she isn’t coming back.”

Sad and bereft, he continued to occupy his wife’s purple papasan birthday present for another half-hour. Maybe he would have stayed there all day. But at 1:30 p.m., the entry door tinkled again, and an attractive, well-dressed woman in her 60s rushed up the aisle.

“Father … Dad … There you are. We were so worried!”

Quentine Mallory tried to get to his feet. But he fell back against the plush cushion almost as if – in the same way that he did not want to give up the illusion that his wife was still alive, the papasan chair did not want to let him go. His daughter helped him stand, turned to Betty, and warmly breathed out the words, “Bless you for calling me.” And as she ushered the broken-hearted old man down the aisle, she continued to murmur, “Thank you, Betty. Thank you. Thank you,” until they were out the door.

Clementine followed them with her eyes. Then she walked over to her boss, stood silently, and waited.

Betty said, “There is a lesson in what you saw today, Clementine. Do you know what it is?”

The novice employee shook her head.

Betty Davis – who had once been a ballerina and whose name was not spelled like that of the movie star – looked directly into her co-worker’s eyes.

Somberly, her expression as compelling as it was inflexible, she said, “Being a sales associate at The Happy Store is not just about making sales.”

 

Copyright © 2019, Shelly Reuben - Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - evesun.com Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.

Comments powered by Disqus