This is the fourth in a series of stories about Clementine Fraile and her adventures in retail.
The first time that Clementine Fraile visited The Happy Store, she stayed for over an hour.
You already know about her fixating on the merchandise (she had just discovered a delicate glass Christmas tree no bigger than the palm of her hand). You also know that she met Betty, ate two oatmeal cookies, and observed the arrival of an aged and elegant fellow customer.
All of which happened in the first half hour.
But you don’t know about her first purchase. Which, being unaccustomed to spending money on herself, was not an easy thing for her to do. It went like this:
Clementine walked into the furniture department, nicely arranged with big, comfy, sink-into armchairs where a person could flop with her book, read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (Thank you Charles Dickens), and then promptly fall asleep.
Our newly unemployed adventuress admired a blue velour lounger with a wide seat and brass studs. She ogled a Queen Anne wingchair with huge splashes of color – Green. Purple. Orange. Yellow – how could they all look so good together? She was intrigued by a mauve loveseat with fat scroll arms. And she was…
Betty, long blond hair bouncing and still looking as pretty as her Archie Comic Books counterpart, strode up to her now-familiar customer and stopped at her side. “You look like a kid in a candy shop,” she said cheerfully.
“That’s exactly how I feel,” Clementine turned to the sales associate. “How did you know?”
Betty chuckled. “We’ve all been there. I used to be a ballet dancer, and…”
“Really?” Clementine interrupted. “I love the ballet. Where? A local company?”
Clementine’s eyes flew open. Balanchine! The world-famous choreographer. She gawked at the attractive woman standing at her side. She saw the height – all Balanchine dancers were tall – the slender body, and the angular face that, properly made up, could be ascetic, but now just looked friendly.
Betty continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “And when I danced, I was always broke. The rent on my apartment ate up my paycheck. So when I quit ballet…”
“You quit? Why?”
The former dancer ignored the question “…and had money to spend on myself for the first time, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it.” She gave the shorter and younger woman a sideway glance. “Like you.”
Clementine smiled for the first time since she had entered the store. She extolled, “You’re psychic!”
“No.” Betty motioned for her customer to follow. “You’re obvious.”
Clementine hurried to keep up. “Where are we going?”
Betty raised a finger to her lips and said, “Shush.” A few seconds later, they were standing before a table displaying the kinds of items we might buy as birthday presents or housewarming gifts. But never for ourselves. Betty asked, “What do you actually need in your apartment?
“Everything. All I have are other people’s cast-offs. Old sofas, chairs, tables…”
“Do you have a favorite color?”
Clementine frowned. “I never gave it any thought. But I’m not crazy about gray. And I hate pink.”
Betty tapped her lips thoughtfully with a forefinger. “Next time you come in here, we’re going to find a centerpiece for your living room. A rug, a sofa, or a reading chair. You have a living room, don’t you?”
“Yes. And a dining room, a bedroom, a bathroom, a tooth brush, a potted violet, and a full kitchen.”
Betty smiled briefly. “Excellent. We’ll get to those eventually. Today, I want you to buy just one thing.”
“What one thing?”
Betty shook her head. “That, you have to decide for yourself. But it must be something you don’t need.”
Clementine blinked. Confused. “Something I don’t need?”
“Exactly. It can be ornamental or frivolous or useless.” Betty dropped a finger to a bottle topper that looked like a demented moose. “It can be cute, silly, or even borderline insane.”
Clementine let her eyes rove over mugs decorated with snowmen and coasters shaped like Christmas wreaths. Only after gliding past goblets rimmed in gold did she see, barely visible under the flap of a table runner, the spout of a pale blue teapot. She pushed aside the flap, pulled out the teapot, and studied it.
The spout was a slender upward swoop. Its handle was a wide, elegant swirl with a small curl at one end. Two dainty birds, one with wings folded, the other with wings spread, perched on a delicate branch that circled the top half of the pot. Beautiful flowers – they looked like dogwood – clung to that single branch, and a third flower sat on the teapot’s lid.
Clementine held it out to Betty, her smile having widened into a grin so broad that, if she had been wearing it on her feet, it would have been dancing a jig.
“This,” she exclaimed proudly.
Betty’s eyes fell on the teapot. Then they latched onto Clementine. “Do you need a porcelain teapot?”
The petite neophyte shopper shook her head.
“Say it,” Betty demanded.
Clementine almost giggled. “No. I do not need a porcelain teapot.”
“Do you drink tea?”
“Yes. I put a tea bag and water into an ugly mug, and heat it for two minutes in the microwave oven.”
“So,” Betty persisted, “If you don’t need this hand-painted, fragile, impractical item, why do you want it?”
“Because it’s pretty.”
“What will you do with it?”
Clementine’s smile was now so big, it almost made craquelure of her face.
“I’ll stare at it,” the unemployed art director said.
“I’m proud of you,” she said. “Next time…”
But Clementine cut her off.
“I love it here!” she said spontaneously.
Then, not having the slightest idea of what she was going to say next or why, Clementine blurted, “Are you doing any season hiring? Can I have a job?”
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2019. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com