Although Clementine did not work at The Happy Store over that hot mid-June weekend, she did spend both days helping her former boss, Hyman Pease, to reorganize the inventory of his bookstore in the aftermath of a leaky roof.
This involved moving books, sorting books, dusting books, and drying books.
It also meant engaging in idle conversation with Big Floyd Smathers and Little Floyd Smathers, the handymen on call to Hyman for changing locks, plastering walls, rewiring lamps, building shelves, and in this instance, repairing a hole in the roof.
According to Webster’s New International Dictionary, the definition of irony is “a state of affairs or events which is the reverse of what is to be expected.” Which describes the Floyds perfectly, for Big Floyd, Little Floyd’s father, was barely five-foot four-inches tall, whereas Little Floyd measured in at well over six-feet.
The Floyds spoke slowly, moved slowly, and often allowed seconds to accumulate before answering a question. They were so plodding that people who did not know them often underestimated their ability and intelligence, even though they never met a thought they couldn’t poke and prod until they had it under control, and they never met a three-dimensional object or machine that they couldn’t fix.
Big Floyd was about seventy-years-old and no longer climbed ladders. His skin was the color of dark coffee, and puffy gray hair circled a bald spot on his head. He had round Santa Claus cheeks, and a cautious mouth that smiled rarely.
He also had a huge pot belly.
Other than Little Floyd’s skin being several shades lighter, he was a younger, taller, and thinner version of his father, with a full head of fluffy brown hair, a smaller pot belly, and the same reluctant smile.
Both Floyds lived in amiable compatibility with Big Floyd’s wife (Little Floyd’s mother) in a beautifully maintained trailer park north of Wrye, the suburb where Hyman Pease sold his books.
More than once over The Weekend of the Leaky Roof, Clementine had paused in her dusting to eavesdrop on their conversations. On one occasion, the father had wondered aloud to his son, “Well, Floyd, I heard on the radio this morning a preacher saying that animals don’t have souls.”
And Little Floyd responding, “That can’t be, Pop, because when Jasper looks at me and tilts his head just so …”
“I know what you mean, Son. Makes you think sometimes that the churches have it all wrong.”
Another time, when Clementine was alphabetizing Sue Grafton’s mysteries on a shelf, she heard Big Floyd begin, “That Marlow boy, Son. You know: Red hair. Freckles. Big ears.”
“What about him?”
“Arrested again. Only sixteen years old, and his parents such nice folks.”
“He’s adopted, Pop. Isn’t it?”
“Uh huh. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it.”
“Nature versus nurture.”
And later still, Clementine heard the older man remark to the younger, “Floyd, have you thought about what we should get your mother for her birthday?”
“All I know is it can’t be practical. Mom doesn’t like to get anything she needs for a present. And it’s got to be pretty. She loves pretty things.”
At which point Clementine interjected herself into the conversation and exclaimed, “I know just where you should go!” She told Big Floyd (his belly hung over his belt like dough rising over the lip of a bread pan) and Little Floyd (tar from the roof dabbed his arms like black splotches on a Jackson Pollock painting) about The Happy Store. Then she suggested that they come that week during her shift, “And I’ll help you find her the perfect gift!”
So it was that on Wednesday evening at a little after seven, two very atypical customers pushed open the doors to The Happy Store, looking something like giant teddy bears sauntering through the portal of an old western saloon.
Clementine spotted them immediately and marveled to herself how similar they looked in clean shirts and slacks as they did in their scruffy work clothes, thereby contradicting the principle that clothes make the man.
“Hi, Floyd! Hi, Floyd!” she called out. She shot a glance at her boss, and said, “These are my guys, Walter. I’ll take care of them.”
Over the course of the next forty minutes, Clementine elicited from the Floyds that their wife/mother’s name was Maureen; that she loved to watch 1940s movies about people being courageous during the war years;
that her favorite color was blue (to match her eyes); that she was a great cook (both men patted their protruding bellies and emitted one of their rare, slow smiles); and that when she wasn’t watching old movies, she was reading, reading, reading, usually two or three books a week from the library.
Clementine snapped her fingers.
“I’ve got it!” she exclaimed. “Does Maureen have a comfortable reading chair?”
Big Floyd looked at Little Floyd. Little Floyd looked at Big Floyd.
“Funny you should ask,” they both said at once, going on to explain that yes, she’d had a favorite chair, but it was on a swivel, which just last week had broken, and now was “listing to portside.”
By the time they left – fifteen minutes before closing – Clementine had sold them what really truly was her all-time favorite Happy Store chair. It was indigo blue, overstuffed, tufted, with a rolled back, rolled arms, and ornamental nail head trim.
It was ideal for reading or falling asleep.
Clementine got the Floyds thirty percent off the regular price, plus another twenty-five percent off for opening a Happy Store credit card. Even better, there was a chair in the stockroom wrapped and ready for them to take home that very day.
She told Floyd and Floyd that they should go to The Dollar Store across the street and buy a huge bow to pin to the chair before they made their presentation. And she insisted that they drop by the following week to tell her how much Maureen loved (Clementine was certain that she would!) the chair.
“Or better yet. Bring her in and introduce me. I’m dying to meet her!”
Clementine stood at the storeroom door to observe as they loaded the bulky carton into the back of their immaculate pickup truck. Not wanting to miss a word, she listened attentively as Big Floyd postulated to Little Floyd, “It’s funny about enjoying material things. Isn’t it, Son? I mean … do you think that owning a chair like this one we got your mother makes us weaker as a species, or do you think that being comfortable makes us more likely to be generous and understanding to others?”
During the languid few seconds that it took Little Floyd to ponder the philosophical ramifications of his answer, Clementine’s eyes started to sparkle, her nose started to twitch, she broke into an ear-to-ear grin, and for the second time in she-didn’t-remember-how-long, she said aloud to herself, to Walter, to indifferent customers, and to the world at large …
“I love my job!”
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.
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