The Happy Store – Besotted

Friday, May 17, 2019 by Shelly Reuben

Clementine makes a snap judgment in her 16th adventure at The Happy Store.

On more than one occasion in the past few weeks, Clementine Fraile had encountered couples like this one, but they were always Betty’s or Harriet’s problem. Not hers. This was the first time that she had two of them to herself.

He – the male-half – was fiftyish, tall (but to Clementine’s five-foot nothing, everyone seemed tall), with a full head of sandy brown hair, silver at the temples, a gaunt-but-handsome face, and brown eyes that puddled like melted chocolate whenever he looked at his female companion.

She – the distaff half of the pair – couldn’t have been more than twenty-four years old, with shoulder-length brown hair, bronze skin, beautiful cheekbones, and bright green eyes.

“But you promised…” were the first words Clementine heard pop out of her mouth.

Followed by the man’s deep, burly, and (one would hope) uncharacteristically submissive response, “I know I promised, Hon. But …”

“No buts. I want exactly the same look that Coco had in…” She pronounced the name of the famous dead French designer with the casual familiarity of a friend referring to an old college roommate. Then she turned to Clementine.

“We have a dark brown sofa and two side chairs. They’re …” Her eyes roved the showroom until they espied a floral pillow on a nearby chair. She pointed to a trio of petals in the pillow’s design and said, “That color.”

“Oxblood,” the man mumbled.

“Burgundy,” his consort snapped, faster and louder, and giving him a dismissive glance. Then she directed Clementine’s attention to a gray velvet ottoman. “Would this go with a brown sofa and burgundy chairs?”

Clementine looked at the ottoman. “What color are the walls, rug, and curtains in that room?” She asked.

“Tan walls. Burgundy drapes. Oriental rug with a lot of burgundy, gold, brown, and black.”

The man, clearly bored by the conversation, wandered off to inspect a television console. Then the woman, losing interest in the answer to her own question, drifted toward a display of end tables and nightstands.

Clementine, left standing alone like a cat tossed out the window of a moving car, stuck two fingers into her mouth and let out the kind of ear-splitting whistle that New Yorkers employ to hail a cab.

The man, the woman, and everyone else in The Happy Store abruptly stopped what they were doing and turned toward the sound.

The petite sales associate smiled serenely and said to the man, “My name is Clementine. What’s yours?”

“Hudson,” he barked back, as if responding to a formidable drill sergeant.

Clementine raised an inquiring eyebrow toward the young woman, who as quickly responded, “Valerie.”

“Great, Hudson … Valerie. Now I don’t have to shout: ‘Man and woman who want to buy an ottoman,’ if I need to get your attention.” She met Valerie’s eyes. “To answer your question, you already have enough colors in your living room, and it would be distracting to add any more.”

“But Coco…”Valerie began hopefully.

Clementine said firmly, “The gray won’t work. But this brown ottoman would nicely complement the…”

And so began forty minutes during which Valerie dragged an unenthusiastic Hudson from ottoman to area rug. From area rug to tapestry pillows. And from tapestry pillows to dining room tables. Finally abandoning furniture all together when she became infatuated by a selection of giant, Grecian-style floor urns.

“A hundred and ninety dollars for a big jug?” Hudson protested.

But a quelling look from Valerie, and he nodded meekly. As he did for the six multi-stemmed faux-pink Japanese Magnolia branches she picked to go inside the “jug,” purring ecstatically, “These are so Coco!”

After which Hudson winced aloud, “Twenty-bucks for a stick with fake flowers?”

“Faux, not fake,” Valerie insisted.

“Reduced from $19.99 to $14.96,” Clementine interjected optimistically.

Hudson sputtered. “Si…si…six fake flowers? Wouldn’t four be…?”

“Coco,” Valerie began.

“To hell with Coco,” Hudson growled loud enough for Clementine to hear and Valerie to ignore.

Minutes later, Clementine rang up their purchases, and from the corner of her eyes, watched the young woman coo gratefully to the much older man, who was clearly both annoyed and smitten by her as he returned his credit card to his wallet.

After they left, she continued to follow them with her eyes, so absorbed in her own thoughts, she did not notice that Betty Davis, her beautiful buttery blond no-nonsense boss, had come to stand at her side.

“Interesting people,” Betty said as Hudson and Valerie exited the store.

Clementine turned.

“Oh. Hi,” she said. And then asked, “You mean the sugar daddy and his arm candy?”

Betty’s face scrunched in confusion. She turned from Clementine to the disappearing duo and back to Clementine again. “You think…?” And she burst out laughing. “Hudson isn’t Valerie’s sugar daddy.”

The young sales associate gave her boss a blank stare.

“He’s her real daddy. Her biological father. The grandfather of her unborn children. Her pop. Her padre. Her dad.”


Betty’s laugh turned into a twinkle. “I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. Two years ago, Valerie’s mother had a stroke. So Valerie – and Hudson didn’t even have to ask her – volunteered to take a year off from college and help out. Once her mother recovered, Hudson promised that after Valerie graduated from college and got a job, he would furnish her new apartment.”

Father and daughter entered the parking lot, opened the rear door of their Jeep, and carefully positioned the huge mosaic urn and half-a-dozen large magnolia branches in the back seat.

Betty continued cheerfully, “Hudson has successful car dealership in Burton Springs, so he isn’t hurting for money. And Valerie may be a little pretentious with her Coco this and Coco that, but she just a sweet and silly twenty-two year old making sure that her father keeps his promise.”

Clementine shook her head in wonderment. She muttered contritely, “I was so wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Betty, still cheerful, shrugged.

“An understandable mistake. But … like so many of the men who come into The Happy Store, Hudson is not a besotted sugar daddy.”

She paused and winked at Clementine.

“He is just a besotted dad.”

Copyright © 2023, Shelly Reuben – Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY – Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit

The Happy Store – The Tiara and the Nativity – Part II

Friday, May 3, 2019 by Shelly Reuben

Bad art continues to haunt Clementine in her 14th Adventure at The Happy Store.

In all of Clementine Fraile’s life, she had never considered that a ball the size of a grapefruit might be considered “room décor.”

Maybe (just maybe) a baseball signed by Joe DiMaggio could be exhibited in the den of an avid Yankee fan. Or a collector of snow globes could justify the display of a winter scene or a snowman on a curio shelf.

But a ball that did absolutely nothing but BE A BALL and cost anywhere from $3 to $10 – that Clementine would have considered impossible. And she would have been wrong.

For that day in The Happy Store, she was led by a weary but determined customer to a previously unnoticed array of shelving with bins that contained nothing but balls:


The customer – her name was Daphne – held out her cell phone and showed Clementine a photograph of a framed nativity that hung over a small shelf in her bathroom.

“If I put some of these balls in this bowl I got. I think they’ll look good on that shelf.”

The robes worn by Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the painting were executed in vivid shades of red, blue, pink, green, and gold; and the figures were drawn to a standard neither better nor worse than of Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman in DC comics of the 1940s.

There was something about the work as a whole, though, that suggested the artist had invested every last ounce of talent in its creation. It may not have been a Work of Art, but it was certainly a work of passion. And it was obvious to Clementine that her customer loved it.

She looked from the painting on Daphne’s phone to the bins of balls on the shelves. She saw dozens of glossy, mossy, stubby, shiny, beautiful and ugly spheres in every conceivable color, texture, material, and design. Clementine shook her head perplexedly and muttered, “Who knew?” Then she turned to owner of the painting and asked, “What kind of a bowl?”

Daphne held out her hands. She said, “About this long and this wide.” She pointed to a table not far away. “I can show you a bowl over there. It’s got some napkin rings in it, but it’s just like the one I have at home.”

Clementine nodded. “Excellent. We’ll bring it to the spheres, see what looks good, and decide what to do.”

But just as they started toward the table, Harriet walked by.

Harriet, you may recall, was a high school senior, neither thin nor fat, more adorable than pretty, and one of Walter Graybill, the store manager’s, favorite part-time employees.

Earlier that day, he had placed a tiara of twinkling lights on her head in the hopes that customers would be inspired to buy one. The teenager took Walter’s whimsy in good humor, and went about the business of assisting people to purchase this or that.

Clementine thought that her customer’s response to Harriet’s appearance was, well … interesting. The hard creases in Daphne’s weary face melted away, her eyes took on a look of sweet contemplation, and she stopped walking; for the briefest of moments, she smiled. But just as quickly, Daphne’s attention reverted to the table which held a bowl similar to her bowl, and she continued across the room

Over the next fifteen minutes, Clementine asserted her artistic sensibility, saying to herself, “The nativity may be awful, but there’s no reason why the bathroom has to be.”

Thus, when the painting’s owner selected a sphere covered with in a mosaic of plum and purple, Clementine stated emphatically, “We don’t want to introduce more colors and textures. Let’s keep it simple.”

Equally, she vetoed the macramé sphere, the faux succulent plant sphere, and the sphere embedded with black and white studs. Eventually, she and Daphne agreed on four decorative balls, and even Clementine had to admit that they looked very pretty in the ceramic bowl.

The glossy blue sphere was a perfect match for the blue sky in which the Star of Bethlehem shone; the red foil sphere was a nice complement to Mary’s pink dress; the iridescent green sphere agreeably offset Joseph’s lime green robe; and the creamy abstract pearl sphere nicely harmonized with the various skin tones and counterbalanced the bright colors everywhere else.

Her selection complete, Daphne brought their choices to the checkout counter and placed them beside the cash computer. Just then, Harriet, still wearing Walter’s tiara of glimmering lights, once again walked by. Clementine looked up and smiled at her co-worker.

Daphne raised her head, followed the teen with her eyes, and said abruptly, “I want one of those, too.”

Clementine blinked. “One of what?”

“That thing on her head. I’ll pay for it now. I want to wear it out of the store.”

So it was that five minutes later, our favorite sales associate watched a too-thin but no longer weary woman of indeterminate middle age who was carrying a bag filled with colorful spheres and wearing a tiara of flickering white lights, walk jauntily out of the store.

Clementine shook her head in wonderment. She grinned. Then her grin turned into a laugh, and she proclaimed aloud to everyone…to no one…and to the world at large,” I love my job!”

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit

The Happy Store – The Tiara and the Nativity – Part I

Friday, April 26, 2019 by Shelly Reuben

Clementine deals with a diadem and bad art in her 13th Adventure at The Happy Store.

Clementine Fraile knew that Christmas was heating up at The Happy Store when her shift coincided with that of the store manager.

Walter Graybill, much to her astonishment, since she viewed him as remote and unapproachable (although a brilliant boss with a true artistic sensibility), had come in that morning wearing a brown t-shirt embossed with Rudolph the Reindeer’s head, featuring a big red nose dead-center on his chest. To complete the outfit, he wore a hat-like contraption that sprouted small deer antlers.

This was all the more astonishing as it contrasted so comically with his bushy eyebrows, handlebar mustache, and the stern immobility of his face.

Despite his outlandish get-up, however, Walter Graybill (heavy the head that wears the crown) always did what it was in his nature to do: Arrive early. Leave late. And quietly rove throughout the store, his eyes moving constantly like a presidential secret service agent, leaving in his wake displays that he had subtly or drastically rearranged – without seeming to have moved a thing.

Also, as Christmas drew closer, Clementine noticed a playfulness in Walter’s demeanor that went beyond a novelty t-shirt and an antler hat.

He did not manifest this towards her, perhaps because he did not know Clementine well enough. But he did towards Harriet, one of the high school students who had worked at The Happy Store the previous holiday season as well.

Harriet was not particularly pretty, but Clementine thought she was a darling. In a little game of “what if” that she played with herself … “If Harriet wasn’t a senior in high school, what would she be?”… Clementine answered her own question: “a stuffed animal.”

Or, in contemporary parlance – a plush toy.

Harriet had a square face, a well-padded (not fat) body, warm chocolaty brown eyes, smooth chocolaty brown skin, and a keen intelligence that somehow managed to coexist with a nature as trusting as a newborn pup.

Clementine adored her, and by the end of her first week at The Happy Store, they were hugging each other good bye at the ends of their shifts like longtime friends.

Walter’s interest in this young employee was neither inappropriate nor salacious. It combined merchandizing acumen with seasonal good humor. He was the artist and Harriet was his Galatea as he … well, there’s no other word for it – “decorated” – the teenaged girl.

He did this as if she were a Christmas tree that needed a star topper.

As if she were an angel whose halo needed sparkle.

As if she were an elf in dire need of a jingle bell hat.

For atop Harriet’s head, Walter positioned … but wait. I’ll show you how it went:

Eying her after she helped a diminutive shopper to remove a gold dinner plate (clearance price $4.35) from a high shelf, Walter said in a soft, seductive voice, “Harriet, come here. I have a present for you.”

Harriet crossed the aisle and stood in front of her boss, whose hands were concealed behind his back.

“What?” She asked suspiciously, giving the impression that they had enacted a similar scene the year before.

“Close your eyes.”

Remarkably (greater trust hath no teenager), she did.

Walter then raised his arms, and like a host crowning a beauty pageant queen, he put a delicate silvery tiara interwoven with tiny glimmer lights on top of her head. He then clicked an invisible switch on the side of the tiara, and it lighted up like a diadem on a princess in a fairytale.

Harriet was no princess.

She was better than a princess.

She was a charming and affectionate student working part-time in retail.

Walter said, “There. You look beautiful. And it only costs six dollars and ninety-five cents.”

“Are you giving it to me?” Harriet asked.

“No. You’re the model. Anyone who sees it on you will want to buy one for herself.”

Clementine, overhearing Walter’s pronouncement, interjected, “They’ll want to buy ten if they could look as good in it as Harriet.”

“Do I have to wear it?” the teenager moaned in the great “I’m being put-upon by grownups” tradition.

“No,” Walter said. “But if you do, I’ll give you another present.”


Walter said nothing. Thinking. Then he drawled out slowly, “I’ll give you a cookie.”

Harriet laughed and walked away, her tiara prettily twinkling on and off, just as the door to The Happy Store opened and a very thin woman of indeterminate middle-age walked in. Whereupon she stood, as if she had been teleported from a different planet, on the mat in front of door.

Clementine approached and said cheerfully, “You look a little lost. My name is Clementine. May I help you to find something?”

In a voice filled with brisk determination, the woman said “I’m Daphne, and I got this painting…” She had a thin, bony face, watery gray eyes, and a weary presence that suggested temporary, if not permanent, triumph over fatigue. She pulled a cell phone out of her purse, scrolled through what looked like hundreds of pictures, found what she was looking for, tapped the screen, and held it out to Clementine.

But before the sales associate had seen anything, Daphne pulled it away and said, “I need balls.”

Then she marched quickly up the aisle and did not stop until she arrived at a shelf on which half-a-dozen baskets displayed dozens of multi-colored and multi-textured spheres.

“Here,” she said resolutely.”

Again, Daphne held out her phone. This time long enough for Clementine to see a nativity painting, executed, she noted with horror, in the same cartoonish style and with the same reverence as portraits on velvet of Elvis Presley.

The baby Jesus was dressed in a cream colored gown, and he had a huge, metallic-looking gold halo around his head. Leaning over him in a pink dress with an ocean blue cape was Mary. She, too, wore a gigantic gold halo. Beside her was Joseph, garbed in a lime green smock, a fuchsia cape, and the regulation oversized halo. The sky behind the holy family was sapphire blue; the hay in the manger was glowing amber, and the cows in the stalls were reddish brown.

“Pink, blue, gold, red, green,” Daphne said, her voice the hammer. Her idea, the nail. “I got a big glass bowl under the baby Jesus in my bathroom, and … don’t you think it would look pretty if I put some of these colored balls in the bowl to match the picture?”

“Good grief,” Clementine thought. But that is not what she said.

Cheerfully and with a great determination to please her customer, she said, “Okay, Daphne. Let’s get started.”

Read Part II of “The Tiara and the Nativity” in next Pier 1 Imports post.

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit

The Happy Store – Palmer Penmanship

Friday, April 19, 2019 by Shelly Reuben

Two souls collide at the cash register in Clementine 12th Adventure at The Happy Store.

Clementine Fraile did not see Mrs. Sylvia Winlock walk into the store on that Saturday afternoon.

Nor did she know that the elegant, reserved, and self-possessed septuagenarian was named Winlock – Mrs., Miss, Sylvia, or otherwise.

If she had seen the door open and shut, Clementine would have recognized the neatly coiffured silver hair and the aura of sad self-possession; and she would have recalled that two weeks earlier, the old lady had told Betty Davis, her boss, that she always came to The Happy Store after her husband’s chemotherapy treatments, because being here made her feel happy. 

Clementine, however, was busy helping a customer find “the perfect Christmas present” for his niece.

The man’s name was Tony, which Clementine had extracted from him after she introduced herself. Tony had a nice, craggy face, thick eyebrows, a big nose, a strong jaw, and unwavering blue eyes that saw what they saw, bided their time for a while, and then quietly moved on.

Tony was about 40 years old. He wore a battered leather flight jacket, corduroy trousers, and construction worker boots. He had strong, capable, work-hardened hands, a deep voice, and if Clementine hadn’t been so busy asking questions, she probably would have fallen in love with him.

But he had come into the store because he needed something, and it was her job to provide it.

“How old is your niece,” she asked.


“Are the two of you close?”

“She’s my girl.”

“How much are you thinking of spending?”


“What’s she like? Are the two of you friends?”

“She’s wonderful. She loves me.”

“What’s her name?”


“Okay, Tony. I get it that Kathy’s wonderful and that you adore each other, but help me out here. Is she a girly-girl? Does she like to dance? Is she athletic? Does she have a pet? Is she a reader?”

And so on.

Eventually, Clementine pried out enough information to help him select a jangly necklace made of green and red bells, three small glass ornaments (a unicorn, a swan, and a snowman), and a beaded box covered in a snowflake design. She suggested that he also get a bigger box with Kathy’s initial on it, but when she asked if it was Kathy with a “K” or a “C,” Tony changed the subject and said he was ready to leave.

Clementine led him to the cash register. At the same time, Betty Davis was helping the aforementioned silver-haired lady to unload her selections at a different cash register on the same counter.

Of such coincidences are stories made and lives changed.

Mrs. Winlock mutely stared at her purchases while, just three feet away, a nice-looking man in a leather jacket was doing the same. Responding to the proximity, she studied him briefly and then turned away.

But she was still listening. 

Clementine scanned the barcodes on the necklace, the ornaments and the beaded glass box. Then she said, “The total is thirty-six dollars, Tony. Are you paying with cash or a credit card?”

“Credit,” he answered curtly, and he inserted his card into the small device on the counter.

Clementine clicked a few more keys on the cash-computer, smiled, pointed to the device’s small screen, and said, “May I ask for your signature, please?”

Tony froze where he was standing.

And the world stopped.

Then it started up again.

These things do happen: Travelers blurt out their life stories to anonymous seatmates on trains. Anxious relatives confide secrets to strangers in waiting rooms of hospitals. People under pressure bypass the fortress of their natural reserve to give glimpses of their innermost selves to happenstantial passersby.

As did Tony that afternoon when his eyes suddenly became shiny and moist, and he uttered mechanically, “It’s the fourth time in two days I’ve been asked that.” 

“Asked what?” Clementine said. 

“To sign my name.” He reached for the stylus and scrawled something across the screen. “I memorized how to do it. But it’s gibberish to me. I never learned how to read.” 

Clementine’s mouth fell open. 

Tony met her eyes. “I don’t know if Kathy is spelled with a ‘K’ or with a ‘C,’ and I wouldn’t recognize either letter if it came to me wrapped in a hundred dollar bill.”  

Her mouth was still in the “O” position when Mrs. Winlock, not having moved from her position opposite the cash register, cleared her throat authoritatively and said, “Young man.”

Tony turned and met the old lady’s eyes.

“If I may offer a suggestion?”

He raised an eyebrow.

Still stern and erect, Mrs. Winlock went on, “Before I married, I taught the Palmer penmanship method of cursive handwriting in elementary school. My husband died last week, and I don’t know what to do with myself. You would be doing me a great service if you permitted me to teach you how to read and write.” 

Clementine printed out Tony’s receipt and handed it to him. 

Betty printed out Mrs. Winlock’s receipt and handed it to her. 

“Seriously?” Tony asked the former school teacher.

“Seriously,” Mrs. Winlock nodded curtly. 

Then, picking up their packages, the man who loved his niece but could not spell her name, and the woman who loved to shop at The Happy Store even when her heart was breaking, stepped away from the counter and continued to talk softly to each other as they wended their way toward the front of the store. 

Clementine looked at Betty. 

Betty looked at Clementine. 

But before either could say what both were thinking, a customer rapped her knuckles impatiently against the counter and snapped, “I’m in a hurry and I’d like some attention, please.”

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2019. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit

The Happy Store – Pillow Wrangling

Friday, April 5, 2019 by Shelly Reuben

Pillows have a life of their own in Clementine’s 10th Adventure at The Happy Store.

Clementine Fraile adored her parents.

Her mother, Polly Fraile, had been a small town newspaper reporter who covered the crime beat for The Morning Clarion. She was a short woman – shorter even than Clementine – with those same speckled green eyes, the same elfin stature, dark skin, and darting hummingbird-like movements. And she always had a pencil tucked behind one ear and a press pass pinned to her jacket. 

Polly loved her job and loved her husband, Rufus Fraile, a fourth generation manufacturer whose family came here from Scotland to start a ribbon factory in the late 1800s. Clementine, an only child, had radiated enough joy and energy to fill the large Victorian house that Rufus inherited from his family, and where he still lived. 

She spent big chunks of her childhood eating lunches with her mother in the car on their way to crime scenes, accompanying her to murder trials, and laughing with her about things that had happened in the newsroom or in school. This much-loved daughter worked summers in her father’s factory, learning how to fill orders and design specialty ribbons, and showing school children how the straps on their backpacks and ribbons on their gift-wrapped packages were made. 

Polly Fraile died suddenly when Clementine was twenty-eight years old. Since then, so many things – usually happy ones – reminded her of her no-longer-on-earth mother, that on occasion she would succumb to great waves of emotion like a deer caught in a flash flood. This occurred most recently when Athena Eliopoulos, the assistant manager of The Happy Store, was doing what Clementine called “pillow wrangling.” 

That day, two things concerning pillows caused Clementine to laugh and then to cry. Both more or less simultaneously.

It started with a new and very large shipment of Christmas pillows (buy one get one 50% off) that Athena, tall, gorgeous, and goddess-like, determined to fit in available shelving on the showroom floor, a task which, to Clementine, seemed as impossible as stuffing a dozen Volkswagens into a clown.

The box Athena unpacked was bigger than a refrigerator, and it was literally bulging with pillows. For about five minutes, Clementine watched, awed by her boss’s strength, fortitude, and dexterity. 

Athena worked as if she had four hands instead of two: First she removed two pillows from the box and tucked them between her knees. Next, she thrust her arms up to the elbows between two pillows on a shelf, spread them apart, and shoved a shoulder temporarily into the breach. Then she reached down for the pillows between her knees and quickly shoved them into the space she had created, whereupon the surrounding pillows sprang together, and she stood back to admire her handiwork.

And handy it was, with all of the pillows, including the two new ones, aligned neatly on a row, not an edge out of place. 

Clementine exclaimed, “Cowboys break horses, and you break pillows. I never saw anything like that. Can I help?” 

Athena, too busy to acknowledge a compliment, said, “Yeah, Kid. Sure. Do that shelf.” She pointed to one kitty-corner to where she was working. “Put red next to red. Plaid next to plaid, Snowman next to snowman, and so on.” Then she turned back to the box to wrangle another row of pillows. 

I won’t go into great detail about Clementine’s efforts, other than to allude to her almost smothering when her head got caught between a Santa pillow and a reindeer pillow … her hair getting snagged in a sequined bow pillow (big, red, and very ugly) … and her confidence collapsing when, after fitting five new pillows into a space big enough for two, they all popped out in unison, smacked her in the face, and threw her to the floor. Thereby confirming to her that not only could she not break horses, she also could not “break” pillows. 

Athena, now on a ladder, heard the commotion, looked down, smiled briefly, and said, “Just leave them where they are, Clementine. I’ll take it from here. Go greet customers at the door.”  

By now, and it was no great surprise, our fearless heroine was helplessly laughing. Betty Davis, her other boss, glided by, as graceful as the ballerina she once was, and with a toss of her long blond hair, said, “Don’t feel bad. The same thing happened to me.” 

Still laughing, Clementine shoved aside the half-dozen pillows under which she was buried and got to her feet. But before she was properly situated, she saw an arm dart past her face and a hand grab a pillow an inch from her left foot. Then another hand (companion to the first) did the same for the pillow resting on her right toe.

And instantly, she was thrust into a bi-lingual conversation between two women, one in her mid-sixties; the other in her early thirties. Both had the same glossy black hair, large brown eyes, and high cheekbones. The older woman was handsome, but her kindly face was etched with anxiety. She looked as if she could lose a week’s sleep if the texture of her home-made tortillas were less than perfect. Whereas the younger woman sparkled with style, self-assurance, and unselfconscious beauty, and looked as if she would be equally at home running a corporation or washing dishes in her mother’s kitchen. 

The older woman spoke only Spanish, and the younger woman spoke only English as, one by one, they inspected the catastrophe of pillows surrounding Clementine. 

Their conversation went something like this: 

MOTHER: Long, rapid-fire burst of Spanish. 

DAUGHTER: Okay, Mom. But I think Herminia would prefer the pillow with the holly. She doesn’t like anything to be too cute.

MOTHER: More Spanish

DAUGHTER: I agree. I think two pillows is a little excessive, but it’s your gift and your call. What about for Penelope and Carmen? 

MOTHER: Another stream of Spanish.

Whereupon they continued to evaluate Christmas décor pillows, which included such designs as a Santa surrounded by attentive dogs; a moose silhouetted against a plaid background; a snowman surrounded by snowflakes; a reindeer with Christmas lights dangling from his antlers; and a partridge in a pear tree. 

After meticulous consideration, the mother and the daughter selected two pillows each for Herminia, Penelope, and Carmen. Then, thrusting all six under their arms, they moved cheerfully toward the cash registers, chattering happily along the way. 

Clementine sank back against the nearest shelf and stared after them. She did not know that there were tears in her eyes. 

But Betty did. 

Once more hurrying down the aisle, she stopped when she saw her associate’s face, and with sincere concern in her voice, she asked, “What’s wrong?” 

Clementine, unaware that two solitary tears had trickled down her cheeks, met Betty’s sympathetic eyes and responded simply, “I miss my mother.”

Then she blinked once, shrugged, and moving toward the front of the store, said, “Back to work.”

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2019. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit

The Happy Store – Job Interview # 5

In Clementine Fraile’s fifth story about and The Happy Store, we aren’t totally surprised by what she (impulsively!) does.

Athena Eliopoulos was the assistant manager of The Happy Store.

It was she who made the initial phone call in response to Clementine Fraile’s job application, and she who evaluated all candidates during “first contact” if they passed the telephone interview and were asked to come into the store.

And later, it would be she who introduced a new hire to Walter Graybill, the store manager, who took it from there.

Oddly, Clementine was not nervous when she answered Athena’s questions on the phone. Nor was she nervous two days later, when she entered the showroom for the second time.

“It’s her Brooklyn accent,” she mused about her interviewer as she walked through the doors. “There’s just something about a city girl that feels accessible, even if she does hold your immediate future in her hands.”

But when a tall, impressive woman moved out from behind the counter and said, “You’re here about the job? Glad to meet you,” confidence oozed out of Clementine like oil from a leaky can. For what the eager job applicant saw was not a Brooklyn girl. Or a Philadelphia girl. Or a California girl.

It was a goddess.

Tall. Close to six feet. Not taut and slender like Betty. More classically voluptuous. Like Winged Victory at the Louvre in Paris … but before she sprouted wings.

Athena’s face had strong features. Jaw. Nose. Forehead. A woman who, like her namesake, could lead armies against armies in ancient Greece. But beautiful, too. With such fine arched eyebrows and dark golden eyes that Clementine could easily imagine emperors tossing emeralds at her feet.

She was wearing black slacks that hugged her hips, but not too much. Flat ballet-like shoes, and a cowl-necked red sweater. All suitable wear for a professional. Nonetheless, there was something about the woman – probably the wild tumble of curly red hair – that made Clementine believe utterly in her heart that below the hem of Athena’s sweater, there abided a diamond belly button ring in a flat, toned tummy.

It was Clementine’s speculations about this hypothetical adornment that made her feel as if the assistant store manager must have super powers – a belief she never really relinquished over time.

However, our unemployed art director put all that out of her mind when Athena called Betty away from a giant mosaic urn where she was arranging hydrangea (20% off on all vases and silk flowers) and said, “Betty, would you please show Clementine around the floor and explain how we greet people. Then set her loose, and we’ll see how she does.”

Clementine turned from Athena to Betty, and then back to Athena again. They appeared to be friendly and helpful, but they had jobs. She, as yet, did not.

Still nervous, but not nervous enough to suppress her intrinsic sassy self, Clementine asked, “So, am I hired, or is this a test?”

“Don’t worry,” Betty said, her smile as warm as the hand of a mother on the shoulder of a frightened child. But was it the false smile of a theatrically trained dancer? Or the sincere smile of a person who might one day be a colleague and a friend?

No way to know.

Betty showed Clementine the ropes while Athena followed their progress with her eyes.

The first thing she noted, and from far enough away to provide a genuine perspective, was the job applicant’s appearance. Clementine Fraile was a petite little thing, about five feet tall and somewhere in the area of thirty years old. She had skin the color of coffee beans, yellow-speckled green eyes, a head of light brown ringlet-like curls, a heart shaped face, and a fairy-like body that darted here and there as if she were Tinkerbelle in a mall parking lot searching for a lost car.

Betty told Clementine to greet the next customer who entered The Happy Store, and then, as Athena had instructed, “set her loose.”

A plump, middle-aged woman smelling vaguely of newly permed hair burst through the doors and began to look to her left and right, as if anticipating a flight of migratory geese.

“A bit cold out there, isn’t it?” Clementine said cheerfully.

“What? Huh?” The woman responded, her eyes briefly touching the unknown speaker before hurrying on.

“May I help you to find something?”

The flustered female returned her eyes to Clementine. Almost frantic, she cried, “Bert. My husband. I was supposed to meet him here half-an-hour ago, but I got stuck in traffic, and…”

“Not to worry,” Clementine said. “I specialize in lost husbands.” And she led the distraught woman into the furniture department, where within seconds, they came upon an extremely thin man (Jack Sprat and his wife came to mind) reclining comfortably in a blue velvet armchair and humming gently as he watched other shoppers amble by.

“Bert!” The rotund woman exclaimed.

He looked up. “Hi, Sylvie,” he smiled. “Nice haircut.”

Then he shifted his eyes to those of the individual at Sylvie’s side and added, “This place is great. But it would be better if you served drinks.”

Clementine laughed. “I think I should advise you of our store policy. If someone wants to buy a chair while you’re still sitting in it, you go with the chair.”

The skinny man reached for his now relieved wife and pulled her onto his lap. She landed with a plop, and soon they were laughing, too. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll buy the chair. But I want two. Is that okay with you Sylvie?”

His wife – truly, they were as giddy as teenagers in love – replied, “Whatever you say, Bert.”

At that point, Betty took over and completed the sale (at the check-out counter, Bert and Sylvie told her that they were, indeed, newlyweds, and were furnishing their new home.)

For the next hour, Clementine continued to greet customers, and Betty and Athena continued to monitor her progress. But it was not until after the hedgehog incident that Athena made a final decision about hiring.

The customer was very businesslike and efficient as she waved away Clementine’s friendly hello. “I know what I want,” she snapped, and walked directly to a display of holiday decorations in the shapes of deer, squirrels, foxes, hedgehogs, and owls, all made of fabric, straw, and Styrofoam, and all wearing Christmassy vests or hats with “Buy me and take me home” expressions on every face.

Looking as severe as a prison guard, the woman reached for a hedgehog about the size of … well … a hedgehog. It had a sprig of holly rakishly tucked behind one ear and was grasping a large acorn in its forepaws. She turned the hedgehog this way and that, as if she were a dermatologist looking for a pimple. Finally, she held it out to Clementine and complained, “There is a bare spot on the hind quarter of the left leg. I want this. But I want one that is perfect.”

Without hesitating to blink, Clementine put the defective creature to one side and bent to scrutinize its brethren on a lower shelf. Finally, she pulled out a different hedgehog, handed it to her customer, and exclaimed triumphantly, “This one has absolutely no psoriasis!”

The grim female did her utmost (not succeeding) to stifle an incipient grin. After which and upon careful inspection for unacceptable skin conditions, she purchased an addition fox, owl, and deer.

All witnessed by Betty (formerly a ballerina) and Athena (then and always a Goddess), the first of whom said, “Clementine is a natural,” and the latter of whom said, “And that little chickie just got herself a job.”

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit

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