FICTION ... Shelly’s World The Happy Store: De-Sooner. De-Better (Part 2 of 2)

By Shelly Reuben
FICTION ... Shelly’s World  The Happy Store: De-Sooner. De-Better (Part 2 of 2)

Romance and elephants are in the air in Clementine’s 45th adventure at The Happy Store.

 

It was just after 3:30 in the afternoon when a dark blue sedan pulled into a parking space across from The Happy Store. Bernice, ununiformed and conservatively dressed with a large pouch-like purse hanging from her shoulder, exited the car and entered the store.

Her eyes quickly found the elephant end table where she had left it, with a HOLD tag appended to one ear.

Clementine saw Bernice, waved enthusiastically, bounded across the room, and was soon standing on the other side of the table. “So what have you decided?” She asked.

“I’ll take it.”

“Great,” Clementine smiled happily. “You know, elephants are supposed to bring good luck.”

A curt nod.

“They have five-inch eyelashes. The longest eyelashes in the world!”

“Whoopee-do,” the lady mailman said dryly.

Clementine went on, “They’re afraid of bees, can have babies until they are fifty years old, and they’re the only mammals that can’t jump.”

Bernice stared at Clementine as if she had begun to recite “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck.”

Unfazed, our favorite sales associate continued, “But they can balance on two legs, stand on their tippy toes, and use their trunks as snorkels when they swim. And elephants are the…”

Bernice interrupted, “Don’t you ever stop talking?”

Clementine gave her a cockeyed grin, shrugged, and countered with, “Don’t you ever smile?”

As might have been expected, Walter Graybill, the store manager, had been drawn forward by the interchange. But he did not intervene. Whatever Clementine’s sales technique was (and nobody could quite figure it out), she got results. So he crossed his arms over his chest, raised an eyebrow, and of what followed, he did not miss a word.

The off-duty lady mailman raised her head, glared, and repeated uncomprehendingly, “Smile?”

“Yes. Spelled S.M.I.L.E. It’s a physiological attribute of human beings. Babies smile right out of the womb. Smiles release endorphins and relieve stress. Smiling boosts the immune system. A smile is contagious, too. Like a yawn.” Clementine studied her stone-faced customer, and added, “But I guess not always.”

She pulled the HOLD tag off the elephant table and asked, “Did you want to get the extra 25% off by opening a Happy Store credit card?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Excellent. Follow me.”

It was then that Bernice reached into her large purse and pulled out the thick ivory envelopes that Clementine had seen earlier. She thrust them forward, saying “I forgot to deliver these this morning.”

Clementine took them and glanced briefly at the one on top. It had a LOVE stamp in the upper right corner, and in elegant calligraphic letters, was addressed to Walter Graybill. There was no name accompanying the return address, but she recognized the street name and number as coming from The Ribbon Factory.

The second envelope in the pile was addressed to Athena Eliopoulos, the assistant manager. The third to Clementine. She squinted down at it with curiosity, but led Bernice to the check-out counter, and left all three envelopes there. Then she asked to see Bernice’s driver’s license, got the information she needed to open a credit card, applied the appropriate discounts, and rang up the sale.

On the way back to the front of the store to help the lady mailman carry the heavy elephant to her car, Clementine stopped and said, “Come here a second, Bernice. I have something to show you.”

Disagreeably obedient, Bernice followed Clementine to shelves filled with decorative items ranging from ornamental boxes, to onyx alarm clocks, to glass spheres filled with seashells and sand. From the top shelf, she lifted down a small carved wood elephant. Similarly to the end table, this one had a raised trunk and seemed to be smiling. Perched on its back were three small, jolly looking baby elephants. Also smiling.

Clementine handed it to Bernice, who turned it this way and that in her hand before, irresistibly, she smiled, too. Then she bit back the smile and returned it to Clementine. Her voice cold and her face once more blank, she said, “Very nice.”

“Your 25% discount is good for the entire day,” Clementine volunteered optimistically. “And we’re open until 10:00 p.m.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

There followed a few cumbersome minutes during which the heavy end table was transported out the doors of The Happy Store and into the backseat of Bernice’s car. Clementine helped the older woman to strap it in with a seatbelt, and sighed with relief as customer and pachyderm drove away. Then she hurried back to the counter where she had left the intriguing envelopes.

But all three were gone!

When she raised her head to search for them, she saw Athena leaning against a wall of pillows, reading from a card that she had removed from its envelope. Clementine spun around to look for Walter. She spotted him standing beside an Empire dining room table (maple finish with urn shaped legs) in housewares. His ginger hair was on fire with a bright beam of light shooting in from the window, and beneath his handlebar mustache, she saw the incipient stages of a sardonic grin. He held up two envelopes and waved them in Clementine’s direction.

She did not run over, as she usually would have. But walked slowly. Suspiciously. Cautiously. Walter tore open the top envelope, pulled out a heavy ivory card, and read aloud:

Betty Davis and Rufus Fraile

Invite you to join them in the celebration

Of their marriage on …

 

The nascent grin pushed aside both halves of Walter’s mustache, and he said tauntingly, “So Rufus finally surrendered to the charms of our beautiful blond belly dancer.”

Clementine grinned back, too happy to take the bait. She snatched the second envelope out of her boss’s hand, tore it open, read every word, and beamed.

Walter asked, “On a scale of one to ten, how disgustingly happy does this make you?”

Incapable of suppressing her joy, she threw her arms around the store manager and exclaimed, “Ten. Twenty. A thousand!” But when she pulled back and saw a look of shock on his face. She said, “Oh, rats. Now I’m in for it. I’m going to get fired for sexual harassment, aren’t I?”

Walter lowered his chin and stared at her from under his eyebrows. “Probably. You’ll be arrested, sent to prison, and never work at The Happy Store again.” He sniffed superiorly, “We don’t hire felons.” Then he noticed Athena walking toward them. He held up his envelope and cheerfully asked, “So what do you think?”

The red haired goddess smiled. “I think it’s great.”

Walter sighed heavily. “Well, if you think it’s great, and if Clementine almost broke my ribcage thinking it’s great, and if our roller derby queen and her ribbon maker think it’s great, I guess I’ll have to…” But he never got to finish his sentence, because the electronic bell on the door tinkled, and two women who looked like twin sisters walked in.

He dropped his eyes to Clementine, jutted his jaw toward the front of the store, and said, “Chop, chop. Fun and games are over. Work to do. Customers to greet. Money to make.”

 

Copyright © 2020, Shelly Reuben - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.