Saturday morning. The December, windswept parking lot is empty. A car appears and heads from the highway toward the store.
“Shit,” says Morten. He recognizes the car. The ten-year-old Buick parks directly in front of him. Through the protection of the huge window he watches the driver who finally emerges, tightens the scarf around her white hair and proceeds around the car to open the passenger door. Morten catches the sun’s glint off the metal walker which precedes the man from the car. He leans into the walker’s embrace as the woman guides them around the Buick toward the store’s entrance. Ten minutes have elapsed since the car parked.
“Good morning!” Skin-numbing air shocks Morten as he opens the heavy glass door in greeting.
“Let’s get you out of this cold…” Morten’s eyes tear up as the ancient pair move past him into the warmth of the store.
Morten remembers: one week ago; same morning, same couple. The horror revisits him. They’re really old; eighties, nineties. Who in God’s name could tell — and they’re disabled! He’s almost blind, and she can’t hear a damn thing. Customers from hell.
“So nice to see you again…” Morten lies through clenched teeth. The three settle in expensive leather just inside the door.
“We’re so glad you’re here this morning. You were so helpful last time.” Her lined face smiles; chalk gray parchment punctuated by watery, blue eyes. Her laminated teeth are dazzling chicklets.
“I’m certainly glad to be of service to you…”
“We want to review what you showed us before… and anything new.” Morten goes over his mental checklist and shudders. They had toured almost the entire store. Morten had come up empty.
“Well then, let’s get started. Sir, may I help you…?” Morten moves toward the old man who seems completely detached from the goings on.
“Oh, no. George and I are quite capable.” She’s at her husband’s side and helps him stand. He groans with effort. More customers enter the store. Antoinette, who’s now ‘up’, greets the young couple. Morten had first ‘up’ this morning and had gotten the old folks who would have asked for him anyway.
“Welcome to Grady’s!” says the foxy Antoinette. “What brings you in this morning…?” Morten leads the slow procession past her and she flicks her eyes at him. A tiny, knowing smile crosses her face. Out of the twelve salespersons in Grady’s, Antoinette is top dog. December is the slowest month and she’s still number one. Morten is third. He silently mouths the word “Bitch” as he passes. He knows she sees it, but she is not distracted. She knows what she is.
“Let’s start with some family room upholstery…” Morten leads them into the maze of sofas, love seats, chairs, and occasional tables arranged in decorated collections and price points designed to sell as ‘packages’. “Folks spend most of their time in the family room… you know, watching TV and talking…” Morten lies. He has no idea where people spend their time. Since George can’t see too well, his wife guides his hands over the various pieces as she describes them. Every piece is touched, squeezed, fondled — and discussed — in an achingly slow process. Morten wishes for a bolt of lightening to strike and kill him now.
It’s early afternoon and the painful tour is over. Morten stands at the urinal and empties his bursting bladder. The store has been busy. Every salesperson has been productive. Antoinette has two fat sales in the bin. Morten has shit. Jesus H. Christ! Two goddam Saturdays lost! This is gonna be one hell of an end to the year. Morten laments his bad luck as he moves through the store toward the dinettes and George and Marie Zeminick. Antoinette stops him. “We all appreciate what you’re doing… keeping the Q-tips busy while the rest of us make money. Maybe they’ll come back next week…” She holds his necktie in both hands and slowly pushes the knot into his throat. He smiles at the attractive little brunette.
“I’ll bet you’ve figured a way to actually screw yourself. Why don’t you do that right now — go screw yourself!” She releases his tie and walks away.
Morten returns to George and Marie and apologizes for the interruption.
“No need for that, young man. You’ve been patient with us, and we appreciate the time spent. I think we’re through here. We’re both tired and wish to go home.”
Morten wants to hate George and Marie. They had taken his irreplaceable floor time. No sales gimmick or clever closing technique would win the day. But he could not hate them; they were just… old. The black hole of an empty December yawned in front of him. What the hell. Maybe the new year would be….
“Take this, young man, before I forget to give it to you.” Marie pushes something at Morten. Absently, he holds out his hand and she puts a piece of paper in it. He looks down at it. It is a check for thousands of dollars.
“It’s a deposit,” she says. She walks to George and takes a page he has torn from a spiral notebook, returns to Morten and gives it to him. “George has written down the things we want. He doesn’t see good, my Georgey, but that engineer’s brain works quite well. Right, sweetie!” She glances at her husband who barely nods. “The name, delivery address, and phone are my granddaughter’s. She and her husband have just bought their first home. This is our gift. They’ll give you the balance on delivery — if that’s okay with you.”
Morten finishes writing in two hours. The office tells him it is the largest order they’ve even seen. Antoinette sneaks to his shoulder and peers over.
M. J. Rafferty has completed (in rewrite) a novel titled: Wake County. Will be submitting it soon for publication. “I have written all my life, but I am now retired and can put my time to work.”