SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction The Happy Store – Behind Closed Doors

Updated 6 weeks ago By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction  The Happy Store – Behind Closed Doors

Great love and great daring dominate Clementine’s 25th adventure at The Happy Store.

 

Once again, it was November 12th. A year since Clementine Fraile had first walked through the doors of The Happy Store, been seduced by the smell of oatmeal cookies, and charmed by a beautiful brisk saleslady with bouncing blond hair.

On impulse, Clementine had blurted, “Are you doing any season hiring?” And two days after that, found herself wearing a red Happy Store apron and telling customers that if they needed assistance, her name was Clementine.

Twelve months later – it was a Thursday – she was still helping customers and still named Clementine. That particular night, she waved at Betty Davis as her co-worker pulled out of the driveway. Then she walked to her old-but-usually-reliable car and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing happened. .

Not a growl. Not a groan. Not even a pathetic purr. She tried five more times. More nothing. So she took out her cell phone and called Emergency Roadside Assistance. A sympathetic operator apologized for the delay, and said that an authorized mechanic would be there in about sixty minutes.

Which is why Clementine Fraile was standing alone outside The Happy Store, and why she saw what she saw. Or saw what she thought she saw. Or, perhaps, imagined the whole thing.

Night may have descended upon the rest of the world, but the interior of the store remained dramatically visible in soft, low light. Clementine stared through the wide glass window and, as always, was enchanted.

She loved the way her boss, Walter Graybill, created thematic islands of merchandise, each arranged in perfect symmetry to highlight specific color palettes. Blue, gray, and silver. Brass, wood, red, and gold. Cascades of sapphire velvet. Bouquets of burgundy silk. Table settings of glittering goblets, sparkling China, and lace-edged napkins. Garlands entwined with pillar candles and decorative spheres. Piles of pillows. Mountains of warm woven throws.

But, consistently artistic as the displays were in spring, summer, and autumn, the climax of the year was always Christmas. For during that two-month sabbatical from dour professionalism, Walter Graybill’s Secret Service eyes ceased to pivot in search of imperfections. He smiled, he hummed, he sang Christmas carols, and by the time he was finished decorating The Happy Store, he had turned it into a Fairyland.

Clementine pressed her nose against the plate glass window, looked inside, and forgot that her ride home had become a useless hunk of metal.

People who worked at The Happy Store – even our favorite sales associate – did not know what, if anything, occurred when doors were locked, lights were low, and no one (at least no one human) was inside. All

activity, however, did not cease. For during those magical hours, manmade objects took on lives, hopes, dreams, and even loves of their own.

Small snowmen wearing vests trimmed with bells hopped off shelves to visit gnomes in Santa hats so big they drooped over their noses. Angels flapped gossamer wings and flew from the tops of Christmas trees to join elves carefully balancing tea candles on the tips of their fingers.

Reindeer made of silver tinsel or brown sisal or white resin galloped, cavorted, and pranced. Nutcrackers dressed as naval officers, drummers, and musketeers chomped out cheerful words between ugly teeth. And everyone – big Santas, small Santas, polar bears, funny furry sloths, white foxes, even a small stuffed ostrich wearing earmuffs, chatted, gossiped, and compared notes, impatient to be purchased by admiring customers and taken to their new homes.

Well … not everybody.

For two ill-fated ornaments remained at their posts, as apprehensive as twins about to be separated for life and as motionless as bugs pinned to a bulletin board in a museum.

The “he” of the duo, Dwayne, was a felt beagle, plain in comparison with the other ornaments, as he wore only a short red kerchief around his neck and had a somber yet sweetly trusting expression on his face. The “she,” Priscilla, was a stone powder dachshund, prettily petite in a demure Santa hat and wearing a bright red vest embossed with snowflakes and holly.

They had met at The Happy Store distribution center, where they were packed together by mistake, since felt ornaments were always put in one box and solid ornaments were always put into another. The mishap that transported them in the same carton was as fateful as Romeo meeting Juliet, Cathy meeting Heathcliff, or Mickey Mouse meeting Minnie.

Yes. It was love at first sight. But stuck as they were, dangling from a wall filled with hundreds of similar ornaments, they could not escape their display area to celebrate their freedom like the others.

Everyone at The Happy Store, by which I mean everyone not human, understood and commiserated with the plight of the two lovers. The sleek silver reindeer understood. The plush polar bear understood. The pink ceramic flamingo understood. So did the ostrich, the penguin, and the lemur.

But it was Santa, who “knows when we are sleeping and knows when we’re awake” who conceived of a plan (could it succeed?) to keep the two together.

This particular Santa was an ornament sitting in the cockpit – a snug fit – of a single engine bi-wing airplane. In his omniscience, he not only knew about Dwayne and Priscilla, he also knew that Walter Graybill, despite his strictly-business approach to life ten months of the year, was a carol-humming, tree-decorating, employee-indulging sentimentalist during the weeks before Christmas.

Santa also knew that despite The Happy Store’s policy on damaged merchandise (“Throw it out!”), at the end of each day, Walter would inspect the wastebasket in the stockroom, retrieve bunnies with broken ears, foxes with bent tails, and birds with shattered wings, and using tweezers and a glue gun, carefully mend what was broken. When finished, he would position the repaired ornaments on a long shelf over the break room door where they would remain from year-to-year, adding merriment and continuity to the otherwise bleak utilitarianism of the space.

Santa had a plan. One in which his bi-plane played an important part.

First he described it to Dwayne and Priscilla, apprising them of the danger and the risk. Then he broadcast its details to the other Christmas critters in the store, all of whom … every single one ... enthusiastically offered to assist.

Whereupon ensued a harrowing adventure during which the once-doomed lovers showed courage, inspired admiration, and …

Here is what happened.

Santa started his bi-plane’s engine, spun its propeller, and flew off the hook where he had been hanging on the ornament rack. Once airborne, he tilted his wings and dove at the beagle. With his propeller blades whirring, he severed the string that tethered Dwayne to the metal prong.

Dwayne fell to the floor, but because he was made of felt, he did not break. So a small enamel Frosty the Snowman scurried over, and with arms made of tiny silver branches, tore at the beagle’s handkerchief until it hung from his neck like a wet rag. Dwayne looked broken.

Santa next flew at the string that tied Priscilla to her prong. He severed it, too. But when she fell to the floor, she let out a cry of excruciating pain, for her tail had completely chipped away!

Neither Dwayne nor Priscilla, however, had time to react, for their friends instantly gathered them up, and pushed, carried, and lugged them into the stockroom. Once there – and after a series of acrobatic maneuvers that included a snowman standing on a deer’s back and a sloth reaching down a furry arm to be used as a ladder – they plopped the disheveled beagle, the injured dachshund, and the broken tail atop the pile of damaged objects in the wastebasket. Then they silently strode away.

Meanwhile, Clementine, still starring through the show window at the store’s dimly lighted interior, heard a car honk. She spun around, saw an AAA truck pulling up to the curb, and returned her attention to her car.

Early the next day, she arrived at The Happy Store disconcerted by her recollections of the night before.

However, the minute she clocked in, Walter told her to fill orders that had come in over the Internet, and to write details of that day’s promotions on a sandwich board sign. Followed by an interminable stream of pre-holiday customers, returns, and sales. So it was not until 2:00 p.m. that Clementine had time for a quick

cup of coffee. Or maybe coffee was just an excuse to leave the showroom, test her memory (or was it a delusion?) of yesterday night, and study the shelf above the break room door.

On it, she saw two new Christmas ornaments. Both were canine. One was a sweet-faced beagle wearing a dapper red scarf. The other was a petite and pretty dachshund with a pert and perfect tail. The beagle was staring tenderly down at the dachshund, who was staring adoringly back up at the beagle.

Clementine was certain that neither had been there the day before. Her brow furrowed in thought just as the door flung opened, and Walter Graybill stuck in his head.

He saw Clementine and signaled, “Psst.”

She turned, caught his eye, and said, “I’m coming!”

And as she followed him out of the stockroom, she remembered how, during her first few weeks on the job, she had often wondered if The Happy Store really existed, or if was just a figment of her imagination. But before she could decide, Walter began to sing “It's the most wonderful time of the year. There'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.”

Clementine Fraile sighed. Then she smiled contentedly. And she stopped caring about what was real.

And what was not.

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

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