SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction The Happy Store – Enter Stage Right. Exit Stage Left

Updated 1 year ago By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction  The Happy Store – Enter Stage Right. Exit Stage Left

A visitor from the past menaces The Happy Store in Clementine’s 30th Adventure.

 

After innumerable pilgrimages to The Happy Store, it was obvious to Clementine Fraile’s co-workers that her father, Rufus Fraile, was unapologetically enamored with their beautiful, blond, effervescent lead sales associate, Betty Davis.

Rufus – and everyone at the store knew this – had laid his heart, like a pair of three-wick candles (two for twenty dollars) on the counter before his inamorata, in the same way that a valiant Knight of Old would lay his heart at a princess’s feet. It was equally obvious that when Betty, slender, graceful, and fortyish, was anywhere within ten feet of Rufus, her hands trembled and her fair skin blushed bright red.

Other than once, however, when Rufus joined Clementine and her colleagues at a coffee shop on Christmas Eve, neither Betty (the beautiful princess) nor Rufus (the sort of good-looking Knight) had ever met privately outside the walls of the store. Not once.

To refresh your memory, before Betty Davis came to The Happy Store, she had been a ballet dancer. In which companies had she appeared? Under what name was she billed? What roles did she dance? Was she in the ensemble or a principal ballerina?

No one knew.

She wore no wedding ring, and it was assumed that she was not married. But had she ever been? And if so, when? For how long? To whom?

Again, no one knew.

When Walter Graybill, the store manager, teased Betty about having been a truck driver, a mud wrestler, or a stripper before she came to The Happy Store, Betty would just roll her eyes and walk away.

Rufus, too, strove to get over, under, above or around the impenetrable wall of her reserve. Daily, he invited her to join him for dinner, a walk, or a visit to the Bancroft Museum. But her response (poor princess!) was always the same.

“I’m sorry, Rufus. I’m just not ready yet.”

Why?

No answer.

Why? Why? Why?

Then one day the explanation for her reluctance came striding, gliding, and stalking (stage right) through the door. Clementine and Amanda Eliopoulis, the assistant manager, instantly recognized him as “someone famous.” Neither could remember why he was famous, but he moved with an air of self-assured authority that could only be bred in the bones.

He entered through The Happy Store’s two glass doors and pushed them aside like Mephistopheles materializing through clouds of vapor.

It was an Entrance with a capital “E.”

He was slender, elegant, and lithe, yet he looked powerful, too. Like those slim male ice skaters who balance their partners (fairylike, but weighing at least 110 pounds) on the palms of their hands.

A tailored tan jacket was flung around his shoulders like a 1930s movie star. The collar of his white shirt was open, and there was a black ascot loosely tied around his neck. For two seconds, he stood in the entryway. Piercing gray eyes peered out of a gauntly handsome face as he searched the store. Then they found and focused on what he had been looking for.

Seeing him, Betty Davis froze behind the counter. A “deer in the headlights” analogy comes to mind.

He marched forward. If there had been a brick wall, he would have walked through it. If there had been an alligator-filled moat, he would have levitated over it. If she had been surrounded by flames, he would have spit and put them out.

He continued until he reached the counter. He stopped when he was less than three feet from his paralyzed prey, and in a preemptory voice – perfect English but with a strong Russian accent – he said, “You were an imbecile to leave me. I was a fool to let you go. Come home.”

Betty Davis, always pale, turned bone white.

She seemed to be shrinking and disappearing at the same time. She was also moving forward, as if her body could not resist the magnetism of his will. He held out a beautiful hand with long, elegant fingers.

Mesmerized, Betty, too, raised a hand.

Amanda took a step toward the checkout counter.

Walter, a look of grave concern on his face, flexed his right hand, as he often did when about to confront an unpleasant situation. But before he could move, Clementine – all feisty five feet of her – green speckled eyes blazing and a resolute expression on her elfin face, approached the fierce, famous, personage who was intimidating THEIR co-worker. THEIR friend. In a voice louder than usual, she said, “We have some wonderful sales going on today at The Happy Store.”

She stepped closer. Closer still. Way into his personal space.

“All of our dining room furniture is on sale,” she announced. “So is the table top. That includes dishes, serving items, glassware, placemats, napkins, and napkin rings. Also trays, table runners, coasters, and wine racks. Those are buy four and get two free. It’s complicated, but I can help you to figure it out at the register. Vases, stems – that means faux flowers – and lanterns are mix and match. So if you buy one, you get the lower priced item at fifty percent off. And if you open a Happy Store credit card…”

Clementine went on in that manner for another five minutes, without hesitating or stopping to take a breath. She gave lengthy descriptions of sales promotions that were long discontinued, and she plugged products that the store had never sold. It was a bravura performance that stunned all within hearing into silence.

But only temporarily.

For as Clementine spoke, the very ordinariness of her prose – “Valentine’s day merchandise is seventy percent off; and cardholders get double or triple points” – began to rouse Betty from her trance. Slowly, her shoulders uncurled. Slowly, color returned to her cheeks. Slowly, slowly, slowly, she began to distance herself from He Who Had Come to Take Her Away. And by the time that Clementine ran out of words, Betty had become Betty again.

Standing as straight as a Queen and with a glare at her oppressor of magnificent contempt, she raised one hand, pointed toward the double doors to The Happy Store, and commanded, “Go!”

Nobody quite remembers him leaving. One terrible second he was there. The next (exit stage left), he was gone.

During her lunch break, Amanda scrolled through images of famous people on her computer and put a name to the face of the man who had stunned everybody (except Clementine) into silence. He was a world-famous choreographer. Or, rather, he was the most famous choreographer in the world. Presumably, in another incarnation and in a different universe, he was the one for whom Betty Davis had danced.

Had he once also been her lover? Her husband? Her…

That night when they were closing the store, Walter, not even bothering to hide the twitch of a smile beneath his moustache, said to Clementine, “You realize, of course, that I taught you everything you know.”

Clementine laughed.

Later that night, she plucked a volume of Shakespeare Quotes off a shelf, arbitrarily flipped to a page from The Merry Wives of Windsor, and read ““Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”

Nodding, she snapped the book shut, reached for the phone, and called her father.

When he picked up, she said, “Dad. You might want to give Betty a call tomorrow after work.”

Then, without waiting for a response, she yawned out the words, “I love you,” hung up, and went to bed.

 

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.