SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction The Happy Store – A Surprise Visit

Updated 2 weeks ago By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction  The Happy Store – A Surprise Visit

Clementine has an unexpected caller in her 22nd adventure at The Happy Store

 

It was Clementine Fraile’s habit to visit her father at least once a week in the town of Paisley, a fifteen minute drive from her condominium. That was where he ran his ribbon factory, where he still lived in the Victorian house where he had been born, and where she had grown up.

Since she left her job as an art director at a big advertising agency, he had not once come to The Happy Store, and she was so busy reinventing itself, that she forgot to invite him. The subject never seemed to have come up.

But a father, particularly when he is the only parent left (Clementine’s mother Polly had died two years earlier) always feels compelled to make certain that his child is safe. And he felt that need urgently – it came upon him as unexpectedly as a sneeze – the first Tuesday in July.

That day, Walter Graybill, the store manager, told Clementine to greet customers, and told Betty Davis to work the cash registers and fill Internet orders. Walter himself would do whatever it was that Walter did.

Several minutes after opening, the door to The Happy Store emitted its characteristic tinkle, flew open, and Rufus Fraile walked in.

Not expecting to see him, particularly there and then, Clementine did not immediately recognize her father. All she saw was a tallish man (although at five-feet-nothing, everyone seemed tall to her) wearing a pale blue dress shirt, dark slacks, and boat shoes. He had a wide, squarish face, a high forehead, bushy eyebrows, and was graying at the temples.

Her initial reaction was that he was a “very handsome middle aged man. Her next, and it erupted with no forethought and less self-consciousness, was an enthusiastic, “Daddy!”

When they heard her, Walter Graybill and Betty Davis stopped what they were doing, turned, and stared.

Rufus and Clementine Fraile did not look at all like a father and a daughter. He, with a ruddy complexion, kinky red hair, and pale, almost pink skin. And she with curly brown hair and skin as dark and smooth as a chocolate kiss. But they had exactly the same yellow-speckled green eyes, and the same uneven smile that lifted up on the right side of their faces.

Clementine rushed forward, grabbed her father’s hand, and dragged him to the back of the store.

“Dad!” She said excitedly. “This is my boss Walter. Water, meet Rufus Fraile. Daddy makes ribbons. Isn’t that adorable? I could have had a father who pulled teeth or paved roads or taught trigonometry, but mine makes beautiful gold and blue and silk and satin ribbons … and all kinds of beautiful bows!”

Walter stuck out a hand. The two men shook.

“How’s my daughter doing?” Rufus asked. But before Walter could answer, Clementine tugged at her father’s elbow, dragged him another few feet, and said, “Betty! I want you to meet my father. Dad…”

And just then, there was another tinkle, and the door opened again.

Walter, in his no-nonsense boss-voice, said “Clementine,” and his eyes shifted toward the front of the store.

Two women entered. One was old…she must have been in her nineties. Frog-faced, stern-eyed and short. She waddled forward on two canes. The other was a younger, softer, and prettier version of the first. But both had the same light blue eyes and the same tightly curled frosted blond hair.

“You!” the old woman said, pointing her cane at Clementine like a rifle, “I vant help!”

Clementine shot a glance at the newcomers, looked back at her father, and whispered, “You’ll love Betty, Dad. She got me the job. I’ll be back in a second.” And she hurried toward the front of the store. But Clementine did not return in a second, or in ten seconds, or in half-an-hour.

The old lady’s name was Gerda. She spoke with a thick German accent, and she did not ask for things. She demanded them.

“I vant a pillow. No, I vant two pillows,” she spat out.

“Do you have a color scheme?” Clementine asked cheerfully, as yet unaware that she was dealing with the human equivalent of a wood chipper.

“Vat is color scheme?” Gerda’s malevolent eyes shifted to her daughter.

The daughter, Wilma, patiently explained.

Gerda harrumphed.

Clementine led them – Gerda stomping along rapidly on her two canes – to the pillow wall, where one after the other, she showed them the new designs. Red geometric pillows. Blue floral pillows. Plaid pillows. Silk pillows. Print pillows. Plain pillows. Round pillows. Square pillows. Dozens and dozens of pillows. But … “This too dark. This too red. This ugly. The fringe on this uneven” – one after the other after the other after the other, until Gerda finally settled on two that were embroidered with hummingbirds and flowers.

“These are 25 % off. No?”

“Actually,” Clementine explained. “It’s better than that. They’re buy-one-get one 50% off. The 25% comes off the lower price. And you can save another 15%, if you open a Happy Store credit card, which…

And so on.

Meanwhile, in the back of the store, Rufus Fraile had shed two years of the grief that he’d been feeling since the loss of his wife within ten seconds of meeting Betty Davis.

That morning, the forty-five-year-old lead sales associate moved as gracefully as a creature from a fairytale surrounded by a nimbus of sunbeams. She glowed with a luminosity usually possessed only by the very young, and as she walked, her long gold hair bounced as if possessed by a happiness all its own.

But Clementine saw none of this, for her frog-faced nonagenarian was demanding, “I get two discounts. Three with credit card. But these pillows are no good. Look,” she complained about an invisible imperfection. “A pull here. And here the color is bad. You have more pillows in the back? Same like this. Bring me new.”

By now, Clementine’s smile had gone from friendly, to obligingly frozen, to non-existent.

“I’ll check,” she said, grabbed the pillows out of Gerda’s hands, and strode to the storeroom, calling out to her father as she passed, “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ll be with you soon.”

She returned three minutes later carrying two pillows wrapped in plastic bags. She removed them from the plastic and handed them to the old woman. Gerda carefully inspected each. Then, with flared nostrils and contemptuous lips, she grunted, “Better. Better,” never suspecting that they were the same pillows she had previously rejected, but Clementine had simply put them in new bags.

“Fine!” Clementine snapped. And she walked away, thinking, “If you want to buy them, buy them. If you want a discount; get it. But I’m sick and tired of you, so do it yourself.”

To her retreating back, Wilma called out in a placating voice, “Thank you. I’m so sorry. I’ll take it from here.”

Whereupon Clementine rejoined her father and Betty Davis at the cash register, while Walter (he never missed a thing) rearranged wreaths on a wall not ten feet away.

Rufus had placed on the counter four ugly green bamboo napkin rings and five mustard yellow napkins. As Clementine watched, he fumbled with his wallet, trying to extract a twenty dollar bill without looking at his fingers, since he seemed incapable of removing his eyes from Betty Davis’s face.

Betty, too, appeared subdued. Quiet. Pensive. Her hair now more a halo than a joyful dance.

Clementine’s father paid for the napkin rings and napkins – items that he clearly did not want – and smiled shyly at the woman who gave him his change. He stuffed the bills into his pocket, turned to Walter and said, “Pleasure meeting you, Son. Take good care of my daughter.”

Then he started to walk toward the front of the store, seeming to have forgotten where he was or what he had just done. Clementine ran after him, shouting to both of her bosses, “I’m walking him to his car. I’ll be right back.”

The rest of the day was a hurly-burly of non-stop customers, which only began to abate towards the end of Clementine’s shift.

As she was clocking out, Walter Graybill, with a characteristic semi-smile on his lips, appeared suddenly at her shoulder (where had he come from?) and said, “Well, that was interesting.”

She looked up.

“What?”

“Your father and Betty.”

Clementine gave him a blank stare.

“What about my father and Betty?”

And Walter shook his head.

With an air of affectionate but superior knowledge, he looked down at his very short employee and said, almost pityingly, “Oh, Clementine. You’re cute, but you are so dense.”

 

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.

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