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    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Shop Girl

    Shop Girl
    Steven Hunley

    Hildy was a shop girl like all the rest. If you’re not familiar with the term let me help you out. A shop girl is a girl who, because she has no skills, works in a shop. Not because she’s isn’t pretty, not because she isn’t bright. Only because she’s got no skills. That was the case with Hildy. So she worked in a shop, a most common shop. She worked in the 99.
    You probably thought she worked in a huge department store in New York selling gloves or something. Something like a shop girl in one of O. Henry’s stories. But she doesn’t. Things have gotten tough since then. Things have gotten real 21st Century. She lives in L.A. (Paramount to be specific) and works in the 99 instead. She does however live with her aged mother and a cat, and supports them both, straight out of O. Henry. If he had known her she’d be the kind he’d write about. She’d make him proud.
    She lived in Paramount with her Mom named Celia and her cat named Willy. It was right on the railroad tracks near Rosecrans and Paramount Blvd. not far from the store. When the train came by it would shake the house, just like in I Love Lucy. It was that close. Fortunately for Celia, Hildy, and Willy, trains didn’t come by too often. She went to Compton College some nights when she didn’t work late. But, unlike the train, it wasn’t often enough.
    Like many shop girls she hoped to meet a man, a knight in shining armor who’d sweep her off her feet and as far away from the 99 as possible. That’s what she hoped. Sometimes it seemed it would never happen. Such men rarely made appearances, or shopped at the 99. Paramount is nice of course, just not the kind of ‘hood a knight shops in, in his shining armor or otherwise. About this very fact she was complaining to her equally shop-girl friend and fellow worker Sam. (Her real name was Samantha)
    “Sam,” she said after their lines of customers had evaporated, “it just isn’t fair.”
    She examined herself in a mirror a customer had returned and left on the counter. It was one of those Parakeet mirrors, quite small, with tiny beads on wires on the sides that birds can push about.
    “All this,” she said to Sam after looking at her reflection, “and no one taking advantage.”
    In it she was seeing only a bit of herself at a time, (after all it was a frickin’ bird-mirror) but these are the bits she saw; a bit of eyebrow and all of a lovely blue-green eye. She turned it a taste, and a curl of red hair was revealed. Then down, a bit of freckled nose, which she checked for shine. There wasn’t any. Totally then there wasn’t much of her to see, just a slip of a girl, but to men it was more than enough. They liked the bits they saw.
    “All this,” she said to Sam making a sweeping motion from head to toe, “and no man taking advantage. And I do want to be taken advantage of Sam, I do. ”
    “I know what you mean Mija,” Sam replied.
    Sam did know what she meant too, as she was in the same boat, being a dark-haired-dark-eyed Hispanic from Culiacan, and pretty cute herself.
    “There’s only gangsters and school kids shopping here,” she said looking around at the place.
    “No bueno aqui,” she continued, “ no bueno buscando para hombres,” and shook her head.
    Sam looked at her watch. It was her 10 minute break she was looking for and she found it.
    “Well Chica, I’m off.”
    She walked to the back. That left Hildy to work by herself. She’d never meet the right guy in here, she just knew it. That’s how it was going to be.
    That’s why she didn’t see him at first. In her state of mind she didn’t expect to. Maybe it was because he was so neutral. He didn’t wear a baseball cap on sideways or his pants sagging so far down that he was wearing scrungies around his ankles to keep the cuffs up. The pants didn’t have names across the crotch or butt in bold silver letters. Not at all. He was dressed quite differently. That’s probably why she didn’t notice him. He was dressed so non-bling.
    In fact he was wearing a suit, a three-piece suit. He had on a tie, a three-piece suit and a tie. His shoes were brown. Now here was somebody that was different. He was poking about in the school supplies, gathering up stuff. When he was ready to check out he happened to pick her line. She saw as he got closer that he was tall, and as he paid her, that his nails were cut close and clean. She liked his smell too, kind of fresh and spicy. He was her dream. When Sam got back from her break she said,
    “I just saw him, the most gorgeous guy, you shoulda seen him, he was just”… her voice trailed off…‘just gorgeous.”
    “Was he married?” Sam always came straight to the point.
    “How would I know?” Hildy answered, “All I said was thank you for shopping at the 99. All he said was thank you. I couldn’t just ask him you know.”
    “The ring?” she held up her left hand extending her fingers. “His finger? Duh! Did he have a ring?” She pointed to the ring finger. Hildy understood and felt foolish.
    “I didn’t notice,’ she said.
    “Chica,” Sam replied, “I know you went to school, girl, but you still didn’t learn.”
    Hildy looked crushed, as if she’d failed a test, which she had.
    “Don’t worry Mija, Samantha is going to take you under her wing.” And that’s precisely what she did.
    The next day there was a full crew so they got to take their lunch together. They put their lunches on a box on the loading dock where they wouldn’t be disturbed. They faced each other.
    “The number one thing is the ring,” Sam counseled, “Of course, you can’t rely on it completely; some married men take them off. But there are other clues, lots of other ways to tell if they’re married and who they are.”
    The boss came by and announced lunch was over. That was the end of lesson one.
    When Hildy went to school that night she had her English class. They read a story called The Red-Headed League about some detective named Sherlock Holmes whose powers of observation were, as they put it, “acute.”
    “There’s nothing that guy can’t figure out,” she concluded. Then she went home.
    Later, after watching a movie called Magnum Force, she went to bed. When she was snug, her blanket and the white sheet folded over it tucked neatly under her chin, all the thoughts of her day came rushing back to her with a purpose. They didn’t do it logically, they did it chronologically, which, though it sounds it, isn’t logical at all.
    First she remembered work. She remembered talking to Sam on the loading dock and spreading her paper towel on the box and placing her sandwich on it. It was a tuna sandwich. She remembered the handsome well dressed man. Then, for some reason, she remembered the song Well Dressed Man by ZZ Top. That was odd. Then she remembered going to school and reading about that detective, what was his name? Sherlock Holmes.
    “I’ve heard of him before,” she thought, “and that funny Doctor Watson.” That made her smile.
    Then her thoughts flew back to the well-dressed man, and to a knight in shining armor. He would ride up to her, right into the check-out line, and scoop her up.
    “Funny,” she thought,” he isn’t wearing shiny armor this time; he’s wearing a three-piece suit and glasses.”
    They rode off together. Where? Into the sunset of course, that’s always how it went. And somewhere between the check-out line and sunset she fell fast asleep.
    When she woke the next morning she knew what she had to do.
    “I’m gonna Sherlock-Holmes him,” she said sitting straight up in bed. And that’s exactly what she proceeded to do.
    She was lucky, because fate (who is a heavy-hitter in stories of this sort) was on her side. The well-dressed man had just moved into the neighborhood. Between what he had lost in the move or left behind and what he needed to fill up his new empty place he needed a lot. He would have to make many trips to the 99. That was real good. Real good for Hildy. She had learned a lot from school. Like all good students she had learned to extend her lessons to real life. Because hadn’t she remembered that a few years ago that the F.B.I or some police had got in trouble for picking through someone’s trash? She had. They picked through someone’s trash and found out all about him. Each discarded wrapper, each empty carton or box, each cigarette butt, told something about the owner, about what he liked, about who he was. Didn’t someone once say “Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you who you are.”? And didn’t she have all that there? I mean, they carried almost everything at the 99. Food, books, all sorts of stuff was there; discarded wrappers before they were unwrapped, before they were discarded. Unlike the police she wouldn’t need a search warrant.
    You see, just like Dirty Harry Callahan she knew, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” She knew hers. It was the check-out line. A customer and checker can never talk. Their conversations could never go beyond a “Thank You.” Sometimes not even that. So she’d work around it, work around the limitation. If Sherlock Holmes could learn all about somebody by observation, so could Hildy. She’d observe him and everything he bought. She’d Sherlock Holmes him. She’d Sherlock Holmes him to death.
    Her first opportunity came sooner than expected, for he was in that very afternoon, slightly after three o’clock. He looked different.
    “My God,” she thought, “he’s wearing glasses! I don’t much go for glasses!”
    But then she did. She decided this when he got up close to check out. It was when she saw through the lenses that his eyes were blue-green just like hers. It was also when she saw how the frames, which were tortoise-shell, got lost in his wavy brown hair somewhere there just before his ears.
    “Glasses are not so bad after all,” she thought.
    He was gone with a “Thank you,” and out the door. But she had a list of what he bought on the register tape and here’s is what it was:
    1. Tortellini top 3:15
    2. Shoe laces
    3. Sheets of notebook paper (4 packs)
    4. Tetramin tropical fish food
    5. DVD High Command staring James Mason

    She compared it with the tape from when he first came in which was:
    1. Tangerines top 3:25
    2. Inkpens (two dozen)
    3. Spagetti sauce
    4. deodorant
    You have to admit it wasn’t much to go on. The most she could figure from this was that he might like Italian food; he tied his shoes, watched old movies, wrote something, and didn’t stink. But then, like all good detectives she had a flash of insight. What if she didn’t have all the clues? What if he’d been there when she wasn’t? She ran to the computer, hit a few keys, and like a French magician, Viola! There they were. Three more lists.
    Top3:10 top 3:33 top3:30
    1. Black pepper 1. Tangerines 1. Candy bar (dark chocolate)
    2. Toothpaste 2. Pencils (two dozen) 2. Stickers
    3. Oregano 3. White out 3. Folders (two dozen)
    4. Erasers (two dozen) 4. Aquarium tubing 4. DVD Hound of the Baskervilles
    5. Applesauce 5. Copy paper 5. Soap
    6. Olive oil 6. Tangerines
    “Well,” she thought, “that’s more like it. It’s time for a conference with Sam.”
    The next day they worked together so conference time it was. She showed her the lists. She already knew the plan. They spread the lists on a large box and examined them. Sam sat on a stool. Hildy was nervous, and starting to pace. It was a scene straight out of Baker Street.
    “So what do they tell us Sam?” said Hildy, walking north and south.
    “He buys a lot of office supplies?” Sam countered.
    Hildy was nervously twiddling with a toothpick in her mouth as they’d just finished lunch. It should have been a meerschaum pipe.
    “And?” she now walked south and north, twiddling, twiddling.
    “And he likes Tangerines?”
    “Elementary My Dear Samantha, elementary. But we may assume something more. That he has an addiction. An old movie addiction. And not just any old movies. We may assume he prefers the films of James Mason.”
    “Why Hildy, only the one movie has James Mason. That’s High Command,” she argued.
    “As usual Samantha you have perceived the obvious. And as equally usual you have missed the details.” She now paced east and west, twiddling.
    With this Hildy flung down on the box the two DVDs. She stopped twiddling.
    “You see before you the proof. High Command is a singular film, quite obscure as well. Only a James Mason fan would avail himself of it. The production values are low and the copy poorly made.”
    “But the other DVD Hildy, Hound of the Baskervilles, it doesn’t have James Mason at all.”
    “Not as an actor, but he is there Sam, read the details, it’s all in the details.”
    Sam looked at the fine print. It said, “Narrated by James Mason.”
    Hildy raised one eyebrow and narrowed her eyes.
    “I put to you that only a true fan would invest 99 cents in a rather badly made film just to see his favorite actor. And even more of a fan to invest in hearing just his voice!”
    At this deduction Sam was amazed. Hildy was as sharp as a tack. She’d never seen her this way before.
    “I’m astounded Hildy, astounded.”
    “It’s nothing Sam, just deductive reasoning. But what else can we learn? What other clues are there? What is it we’re missing?”
    Sam scanned the papers for something else. They were hot now, hot on the trial.
    “Look at the times, they’re almost the same.”
    Indeed they were. Up in the corners were the times of purchase. All between 3:00 and 4:00. He never came in the morning. That must mean something.
    “This is kinda weird,” Sam said, “figuring out stuff about a guy I’ve never seen.”
    It was true. Sam was working a different shift then, and had never seen him.
    “That’s O.K.,” Hildy responded, “It makes you more objective. But I think we’re missing something, some other clues. What do we know about him, his habits?”
    This was hard for Samantha, she’d never seen him, but she was like a blood-hound hot on the trail and nothing would stop her now.
    “It’s when he comes in. It’s always after 3:00. Look at the receipts, the time of purchase is always after three. He must get off around 3:00.”
    “That’s true,” replied Hildy, “he comes in from that way,” she pointed south.
    “And you said he wears a tie, so he’s some kind of professional, they always wear a tie.”
    “He’s well dressed but not flashy, and has stylish but not expensive clothes,” Hildy pointed out.
    “Maybe they don’t pay him enough at what he does,” Sam concluded, “But you know Hildy, it’s not quite right. Take the stickers. Who uses stickers at an office? I saw our stickers the other day; they’re all Hannah Montana and Spiderman stickers. They’re kids’ stickers. And the pencils and erasers too, what office uses them? No office I know.”
    “Maybe he has a lot of kids,” Hildy cried. Though she said it herself it was the last thing she wanted to conclude.
    “I think so Hildy. Take a look. He’s underpaid, and starts work before we open at 9:00 and gets off about 3:00. He has a lot of kids alright, about two dozen I think. He’s a professional, but so poor he shops at the 99. And they’re not office supplies they’re school supplies. And I believe he works just down the street.”
    Hildy could smell Samantha’s coffee percolating now.
    “His kids are his kids but they’re not his kids, get me Mija?”
    “Oh My God,” Hildy was astonished at the thought. She looked at Sam who was nodding in agreement. They were thinking the same thing. Staring in each other’s eyes they said in unison,
    “He’s a teacher!”
    “You’re the one who’s astounding Sam, just astounding!”
    “Elementary my dear Hildegard,” Sam replied with surety, “elementary.”
    And the funny thing is… it was perfectly true. He worked just two blocks away at an elementary school named Paramount Park. Sherlock and Watson would have been proud.
    The next day Sam was off, and found herself at Home Depot looking for bug spray. Near the end of the store, next to the nursery she saw something she thought looked familiar. It was out among the flowers. It was the head of a man. On it was a face she’d seen before, a face from her past, the face of Robert Fortesque. She hadn’t seen it in five years. But was it really him? This man was a bit taller and more handsome. If it was Robert the five years had served him well. Then a blond girl who’d been hidden by the palms joined him and she knew. It was his half-sister Gwendolyn. They were always together in high school, and there they were now, arm in arm circling among the pansies. How could she ever forget Fortesque with his endless pranks and practical jokes? Not likely. They were usually harmless, but not that one in history class. Not the one that happened to her. It was real quiet. Everybody was writing or at their books. Then he farts. He farts real loud. Then quite suddenly, evil genius that he was, he turns and looks at her, his eyebrows furrowed, his eyes showing contempt, and scoots his desk away at breakneck speed. She looks around, and all eyes on her. On her! That’s why she’d never forget him.
    “I’ll never forget him, the jerk,” she thought, “and I’ll never get even either, evil genius Fortesque!”
    They made a u-turn and were heading toward her now. Robert saw her and their eyes latched.
    “Samantha, is it you?” he said.
    “Yes,” she said lamely, “it’s me…who else?”
    Gwen screamed and gave her a hug.
    “It’s been ages Sam, just ages!”
    When all the hugs and kisses were out of the way they talked.
    “We just moved to Paramount, I started a new job in September.” he announced.
    “He does look good,” she thought, “and she does too.”
    People who didn’t know them always thought they were a couple. She was his half-sister so they didn’t look alike. Her hair was straight and blond, and his brown and wavy.
    “I live on 3rd Street in Paramount, right across from the school. It’s so convenient just hopping across the street in the morning.”
    A thought started brewing on Sam’s back burner.
    “I work about two blocks away, at the 99 cent store.” She could smell the coffee.
    “Oh,” he said condescendingly, “I go there all the time.”
    The coffee boiled over. That was it. It was him. He was the well dressed man!
    “Oh,” she blurted out, “you’re the well dressed man!”
    “Well dressed man?” he replied, looking down at his clothes. Gwen gave her a puzzled look.
    It all came out. Sam could never keep a secret. It came out about Hidly, Sherlock Holmes, the clues figured out based on what he bought, the whole nine yards.
    “Hildy,” he said, “is she the cute redhead?”
    “That’s her.”
    “When’s the next time you work? What time?”
    “Day after tomorrow, one to nine.”
    “Is Hildy there then?”
    “We’ll see you at 8:00, Gwen and me. Now keep this a secret Sam, will you?”
    “Sure,” she said, “I can do that.”
    He put out his arm, Gwen put hers into his and they walked off. As they left, Sam heard him say to Gwen, “I think we’re going to have some fun.”
    Finally the day came. At 7:58 Sam placed herself near Hildy to watch, as Fortesque put it, the “fun”. Here it came. Hildy saw them walk in together.
    “Sam, it’s him, and he’s got a blond with him.”
    “You mean him?” he pointed with her eyes and chin.
    “Yes him.”
    They watched them closely. The blond was a bit too pretty to Hildy’s way of thinking.
    Sam saw this and whispered, “Don’t worry; they’re probably brother and sister.”
    Hildy looked closer. “No,” she said, “they’re not alike at all just look at them.”
    They were being too chummy for siblings. She’d hang on his arm giggling at every little thing he said. After picking up a basket, they started shopping. They seemed to be having quite a romp. Hildy’s line grew busy just then so she couldn’t see them. She was so distracted that when she finally looked up, they were already in her line. The divider came up. Their stuff would be next. The blond was putting stuff on the conveyor belt slowly, not bunching them up, leaving spaces between items.
    “I like it when they put the stuff like this,” she thought, “it’s such a mess when things are in a jumble.”
    First there were scented candles.
    Hildy looked over; the blond was whispering something in his ear.
    “Scented candles are nice,” she thought, everybody wants their house to smell good.”
    Next came a bottle of wine.
    The blond was playfully pulling on his earlobe.
    “Wine is O.K.” she thought, “Everybody needs a drink now and then.”
    Then came a jar of lotion. “Midnight Massage” it said.
    Now she was nibbling his earlobe.
    “Lotion is good for the skin and everybody…”
    Next was a six pack of condoms.
    Her tongue was out and approaching his ear.
    “Social responsibility is good and everybody…”
    Then it was a twelve pack of extra large, extra sensitive, rainbow-colored, well, you know what they were.
    She was putting her tongue in his ear.
    “Protection is so important nowadays, what with…”
    Hildy began to feel a bit queasy, then looking quite pale, rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, stepped back, and fainted, dead away.
    Samantha, Robert, and Gwendolyn surrounded her on the floor.
    “She’s fainted,” pronounced Fortesque with authority, “I’ll revive her.”
    Being a teacher he knew C.P.R. He pressed his lips to hers and gave her his breath. She came around and groaned, holding the back of her head. Evidently she’s struck it on the way down. Sam helped her stagger out the door where they took her to the E.R. at St. Francis. Robert and Gwendolyn left. Long before they got home they realized their joke had gone too far. Robert sat up all that night, unable to sleep. He had the strange sensation that when his lips touched hers there was a certain something about them, something familiar. Something he liked.
    “That’s odd,” he thought, “I’m sure I tasted her somewhere before.”
    The next day he came into the 99 with a bouquet of carnations. He found out from Sam that Hildy was alright. It was only a slight concussion.
    “Here, give these to her,” he told Sam, “with my apologies.”
    “Give them to her yourself,” she answered, “she’s only one block from here.”
    She gave him the directions.
    “It’s the least I can do,” he said sheepishly, and was out the door.
    Hildy was lying on the bed, watching Days of Our Lives, eating Famous Amos cookies with milk. The phone rang.
    “Yes?” she said, and standing on her toes, said, “Yes!” and slammed down the receiver.
    She put the cookies and milk away, grabbed a long bandage, and looking in the dresser mirror wrapped it around her head. She’d stop occasionally to artfully arrange an errant lock of red and let it stick out. Then she’d leaned close to the mirror, up on her toes again, and checked her mascara. She grabbed a DVD, put it into the slot and looked around.
    “Is that all?” she asked herself. No it wasn’t.
    “Now, where’s that remote?” she said aloud. Finding it she made a super jump and landed back in bed. Just in time too, as the doorbell rang.
    “Yes?” she said rather weakly, “Who is it?”
    “It’s me, Fortesque, the guy from the 99,” the voice said.
    “Who?” she said aloud, but in her head she thought, “Fortesque, the poor guy, a Hell of a name.”
    “Me, Mister Idiot,” he replied.
    “Oh, you,” she said with just the right taste of irritation in her voice but still all weak, “Come in.”
    Fortesque was an evil genius but he was no fool. He led with the carnations.
    “Oh, how nice,” she said demurely, “just put them there, by the aquarium.”
    “You have tropical fish I see, me too.”
    “Just Tetras. Serpaes, Neons, a few Cardinals, they’re so colorful but so hard to breed.”
    He was impressed. He said,” Breeding is the thing that separates the true aquarist from the common fish fancier.”
    With each passing minute he was starting to feel more comfortable.
    He thought, “How soft and feminine she looks, even with her head all bandaged.”
    “Does it hurt much?”
    “No,” she replied softly,” not much.” She was more than telling the truth here.
    “I’m so sorry,” he said, “I know I’m responsible.”
    He saw her pale hand hanging down near the edge of the bed. What he did next he was compelled to do. He took it, got down on one knee and began to confess. He told her everything. When he’d finished she said,
    “I’m a bit hungry now, but can you do me a favor?” as if she’d heard nothing at all.
    “Anything.” he said, feeling quite melodramatic. He loved melodrama.
    “Could you heat up some lasagna for me? I get dizzy when I get up. Have you had lunch?”
    He admitted he didn’t.
    “Then fix some for us both, I made plenty for two”
    So he did. In ten minutes they were eating lasagna together.
    “I’m a bit bored, so I’ve been laying here watching old movies, see?”
    With that she clicked on the DVD, then the TV.
    “Wow,” he said between mouthfuls of lasagna, “it’s one of my favorites; it’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea!”
    “It’s got Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorry,” she said.
    “And James Mason,” he replied.
    “Don’t you just love his voice?”
    He was too engrossed in the film to answer but she knew he did. So they sat there, eating lasagna, watching old movies, on a perfect afternoon, the curtains softly swaying from the open window. Later, they ate tangerines for desert, which he’d noticed in the kitchen in a bowl. He held her hand, peeled tangerines for her, and somehow, he had to admit, felt more comfortable in her company than he ever had ever felt before. Three months later they were married.
    You might say then that she won him with his own lists. But it wouldn’t be completely true. There was one other list. It was her list. I found it when I was helping her move out, on moving day. She was moving in with him. You know how people always get best friends to help them move. They’re the only ones they trust. So there I was and there they were. A bunch of papers lying in an empty drawer.
    “You want these?” I said, “What are they?”
    “Just some old recipes,” she answered, “toss ‘em.”
    Always on the alert for a good recipe and totally unable to throw anything out I went through them. I saw one for spaghetti sauce, one for chicken salad, but the last one was different.
    Here’s what it said:
    1. James Mason---research his films
    2. Italian cooking—get killer lasagna recipe
    3. Research Tetras—borrow aquarium
    4. Teachers-----must know CPR
    5. 1 tube tangerine lip balm
    “What’s this recipe for?”
    At the time I wasn’t aware of the story.
    We were working hard, carrying boxes back and forth. Hildy had always been a hard worker.
    She put a box down, wiped a sweaty red curl from her forehead with her arm and replied,
    “That’s my recipe for success,” she said, “it’s comfort food.”
    You know, whoever said shop girls don’t have skills really doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

  2. #2
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    I think this is a great story, clever and well written. The only tiny criticism I can level at it is that the stylistic, reiterative device employed in the early paragraphs was, perhaps, used too often. But that is just my preference, Once past that I thought it was brilliant. Thanks for sharing.

  3. #3
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    response to response

    That's true. I did overdo it a bit. Funny thing is, I think it's because I'd been reading D.H.Lawrence. I can never read anything without it rubbing off on me. But, as they say, "Thanks I needed that!" If anyone has the eyes of a hawk it's you.

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