FICTION....... The Happy Store # 27 - Day of the Diabled

Updated 1 year ago By Shelly Reuben
FICTION.......   The Happy Store # 27 - Day of the Diabled

Tact and resolve rule the roost during Clementine’s 27th adventure at The Happy Store.

Tuesday morning began with a truck that was supposed to have arrived by 7:00 a.m., but did not.

Athena Eliopoulis, the assistant manager, frantically phoned the transport company to locate the missing vehicle (a double load since The Happy Store had been pretty much cleaned out after Christmas), but the new spring merchandise was nowhere to be found.

When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., Walter Graybill, the store manager, surveyed the bare spaces on the showroom floor where bookshelves, end tables, ottomans, armchairs, and huge Grecian-style urns ought to have been, and he quietly got busy with the scarcity of items that were left.

Clementine Fraile’s first customer of the day was a stocky, middle aged man with soft brown eyes and a pugilistic nose.

In a gruff but not unpleasant voice, he’d called out, “Hey, Miss. Over here.”

Clementine followed him to the tableware section of The Happy Store, where he stopped in front of a man seated on a dining room chair. He was in his 50s, slim, with silver hair, an aristocratic face, and beautiful hands. There was a black Labrador retriever at his feet.

Sensing their presence, he looked up. “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” he asked.

Clementine introduced herself, and with a smile in her voice, said, “And whom do I have the pleasure of assisting?”

The blind man answered, “I am Andrew. My friend here is Lefty Larry.”

Lefty grinned and bowed. Then he unfolded a piece of paper, thrust it at Clementine, and said, “Mister Andrew is giving a dinner party tonight. He needs these here things.”

In awkward block letters and with several misspellings, the list specified: Two ornamental vases. Different sizes, different patterns, for either side of a Victorian mahogany sideboard; faux flowers to fill the vases; and dinnerware for twelve, preferably blue.

As Clementine and Lefty explored The Happy Store together, she learned that he was once the middleweight boxing champion of Pittsburg, and that he had met Andrew when he was driving a cab in New York City. Andrew, once a famous set designer for the Metropolitan Opera, had hired Lefty to drive him and help around the house after he lost his sight.

“I’m his factotum,” Lefty Larry said proudly.

The party that night, he went on, was for the family of Andrew’s daughter’s fiancé, and (as Lefty put it), “the boss wants to freshen up the house and get a whole lot of new crap.”

For the next forty minutes, Clementine brought her customer items that she thought he might like for his tactile inspection. Of each, he inquired, “What material is it made of? What color is it, and be specific? Is it light blue or dark blue? Navy or sapphire? Glossy or matte finish?” And so on.

Eventually he chose a turquoise mosaic vase for one end of the sideboard and a gold and silver crackled glass vase for the other. Clementine talked him out of stems for the vases, assuring him that they were sufficiently decorative in and of themselves. And she heartily agreed with his selection of the Chateau Claire indigo blue pattern for the dinnerware.

Meanwhile, Walter rearranged his meager supply of merchandise to make a vast space look elegant instead of empty. He created room settings atop rugs, accessorizing the last two sofas in the store with arm chairs, coffee tables, throw blankets, pillows, and (because he had them) even more pillows. He did the same for the dining room tables, arranging chairs around them that could be described as not too “matchy-matchy” – the clear implication being that matched sets of dinnerware or matching chairs were beneath contempt.

Aaah, Walter!

Later that day, Betty Davis – after investing two hours with a darling old man who looked like Pinocchio’s father Geppetto and had purchased over $5,000 worth of sofas, cabinets, and arm chairs and also had opened a Happy Store credit card – experienced a sudden reversal of fortune. A short, stylish woman in her eighties rushed into the store and searched it frantically with her eyes. When she found Geppetto, she rushed forward, thrust her arm gently through his, and led him to a chair about twenty feet away. Then she hurried back to the checkout desk where Betty had just rung up the sale.

In a hushed voice, Mrs. Geppetto apologetically explained that her dear husband was “experiencing the early stages of dementia, and…”

Betty raised a compassionate hand.

“You don’t have to say another word. I’ll cancel the credit card, and void the sale.”

On her way out, Mrs. Geppetto was so grateful for Betty’s understanding that she bought an enormous red plush Valentine pillow.

“For his naps,” she explained.

Across the store, Clementine was finishing what she’d started to think of as “The Day of the Disabled” by assisting five customers to buy a chair, four of whom were deaf and one of whom – a teenaged girl – was not. It was a comparatively painless experience, except for not-knowing where to look or who to talk to, since the girl’s mother would tell her infinitely patient daughter what she needed to purchase, and the girl

would then tell Clementine, who answered the mother, who could read her lips if she had wanted to, but instead looked at the teenager, who would sign Clementine’s responses, and so on.

After that, the hours proceeded more or less uneventfully until Athena, having spent the entire day tracking down the missing truck, emerged from her office. She stopped to study the showroom, which had been transformed in her absence.

Empty vases gave the illusion of being filled with cherry blossoms, although they contained only one stem. Tables strewn with huge magnolia napkin rings and brightly colored glass spheres hid an embarrassing lack of goblets, candlesticks, and plates.

She stood in stunned admiration, ran a hand through her wild red curls, and said, “Walter. You’re a magician.”

The store manager, in the middle of arranging a cobalt blue napkin between a green dinner plate and an ivory soup bowl, looked up. It had been a long day, and he was tired. He said to his assistant, “So?”

Athena responded, “So I don’t know if you’re going to want to hear this or not, but they found the truck.”

“And?”

“And it will be here at 6:00 o’clock tomorrow morning.”

Walter nodded.

“Good,” he said. Knowing all he had done that day would have to be undone within hours to make room for the double consignment of merchandize they would be unloading shortly before dawn.

Clementine walked up to Walter, a sympathetic look in her eyes, and she said, “Boss?”

He looked down at her and smiled ever-so-slightly in his barely-perceptible Walter-like way. Then, answering the question she had not asked, he said, “Don’t worry, Clementine. It’s just the nature of the job.”

Copyright © 2020, 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.