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

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