Alright, folks, grab your ice tea (or Monster, if you’re that sort of human) and settle in a comfy chair, because I feel another unfairly long post coming.
I collapsed into the black leather seat and stared off into space, still perplexed, regretful and impressed.
“You won’t believe what just happened.”
She stared up from her iPhone with a look of vague interest.
“You know that woman with the kiosk outside of Claire’s? The one with the bottle of hand cream she always has out?”
She burst out laughing, “Hannah, you didn’t!”
I looked down at the plastic bag in my hand containing my newly purchased manicure kit. “I don’t know what happened, mom! One minute she was pouring creme onto the back of my hand and the next thing I knew I was pulling out my card to buy one of her overpriced kits!”
“You made eye contact, didn’t you?”
“That was my big mistake, wasn’t it?”
She laughed again and tapped her iPhone a few times, “You can’t look them in the eye, Hannah, it’s how these mall people stay in business.”
“I would have felt so guilty just ignoring her, though.”
“Well, now you’ve paid for it. How much?” She pointed to the bag and I pulled out the Premiere Manicure Set and handed it over.
“Thirty-two even. She told me at first that it was ninety dollars! So I tried to get away, but then she said,” I attempted a russian accent, ” ‘ I have special offer for you, I give it to you for fifty.’ But I didn’t want the kit still, so I made something up and said I had to meet you somewhere. But then,” I put my hand to my forehead and shook my head slowly, “She said she would give it to me for twenty-nine. She opened the box and it suddenly seemed like such a good deal! I just handed my money over right then and there.” I remembered it all so clearly, yet it was a blur:
“You’re a very good businesswoman.” I said, watching as she typed in the amount. I had recited the mentalist methods she had used as she performed them before my very eyes, I knew what she was doing, but I was pulled in anyway. She had my utmost respect as she took my hard-earned money and sent me on my way.
“Well, it’s a good product.” She said simply. She had tan skin, and pin-straight hair pulled into a ponytail. She handed me the bag and I put my hand on her shoulder. “You’re a good businesswoman.” I repeated.
Yesterday was job orientation at Khols. I suppose I haven’t written about how I quit The Gallery, perhaps because I feel like a coward. My last day of work I didn’t say anything, because, well, I didn’t know it was my last day of work. Mr. Lewis underpaid me again (in cash) and claimed the amount came from taxes, I tried interrupting him and figuring out the amount myself but customers started coming in and I felt myself give up. Mr. Lewis left and I cleaned the tables, sat around a bit, answered questions from the usual folks walking in to ask about the beanbags, and started wondering how I would be able to stand coming back for two more days before quitting. My stomach always churned on the way to work. I hated the mustard-yellow walls, I hated the smell of cigarettes and sweat wafting from Mr. Lewis as he told me what to do that day, I hated the look he would give me sometimes that always made me grip the pepper spray canister in my jacket pocket, I hated the feeling of betrayal when he would pay me $20 less than he should have when I had been a good employee and treated him with respect.
Ten minutes till close the sun had started to set, sending shadows arching and stretching across the walls in intimidating shapes. I walked over to the plastic bin the middle of a table near Mr. Lewis’ desk and grabbed one of the bubble-gum flavored dum-dum pops. The store had been empty for a couple of hours. I heard the front door open and saw an obese, forty-ish black man walk in. There were several stains on the front of his shirt and he wore a black baseball cap.
“Hello!” I called over the required greeting, “How are you?”
“Good, good.” He said. His voice was deeper than I had expected.
I walked behind the desk, my fight-or-flight instinct kicking in.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” I asked, remembering I hadn’t clipped the pepper spray onto my front belt loop like I usually did. I glanced down to my purse and saw my keychain sticking out of the front pocket.
“Yeah.” He said. He pointed to one of the table sets, “How much is this?”
I walked over to where he was pointing and picked up the price card, “$499 for the set of three.”
“$499? Dang.” (Note – he didn’t say ‘dang’, but I’m too much of a goodie two-shoe-overly-sheltered homeschool kid to use actual profanity in my posts, even when quoting direct dialogue) He looked behind me, “Mike ain’t here?”
I felt myself tense up, but kept my voice relaxed, “Nope, he’s in a class at Gateway tonight.”
He nodded to himself, “Mike told me about the financing,” he said, “and how I would need a payroll stub and some other…stuff, like that. But he said if I brought my checkbook I wouldn’t need that.”
Mr. Lewis mentioned something about a friend of his coming over, “Are you Ralph?” I asked. He looked down at me and laughed. It was a startling sound that made me rather uncomfortable.
“No.” he said, still chuckling.
“Oh, Mr. Lewis mentioned someone coming over to talk about a shipment.”
“Nah. What about the financing?”
“I would need to ask Mr. Lewis about that. As far as I know the listed documents are required for financing.” I walked over to one of the tables and grabbed one of the advertisements that had the list of what he would need.
He stared at me. “Mike said I wouldn’t need any of that.”
“I would need to call Mr. Lewis.” I said, realizing what he was trying to do.
He said he would call Mr. Lewis himself and started looking at the other sofas, I began walking back to the desk to grab the pepper spray when he spoke again.
“Where is the sofa to this?”
I turned and saw him staring at one of the dark leather loveseats. I looked around for its matching couch, “Does the card mention one?” I asked, turning back towards him.
I walked over and picked up the card, it listed a price for the loveseat and a price for a sofa.
“Well,” I began, “If it isn’t on the floor than we’ll have to order it. It’s the same company that sells those two sofas by the wall, so that’s the size of them if you purchased it.”
He walked over to the sofas and I fast-walked to the desk, the quickened clicking of my heels revealing my anxiety. I felt an attack start coming on and tried calming myself as I sat down casually at the desk chair and pulled my keys out of my purse before quickly pulling the pepper spray off of the ring. I put it into my jacket pocket and breathed in deeply, wishing dearly that someone else would walk in. Every bone in my body was telling me to jump out of the back exit and make a run for it. It was darker outside, no visible cars in the parking lot except for NotRalph’s silver civic parked in the front. (If you’ve ever known someone with an anxiety disorder, you’ll have noticed that when we become nervous, we become very paranoid. )I had never pepper-sprayed someone, what if he got the canister away from me? What if no one heard me if something happened? What would I tell people? Who would I call? Would I fight and end up dead? Where would he put me if he killed me? There were storage units out back, he could find an empty one and put me there until who-knows-when. My hands were clammy and shaking. I remembered my psychology teacher talking about her friend who had been beaten to death when she fought off her rapist. I looked around for writing material, maybe I could write his description for the police, just in case.
I wondered if they would catch him.
He leaned back on one of the sofas, one of the last beams of sunlight bursting through the window pane and landing across his face. He was watching me, he said something but my inner dialogue had muffled it.
“I’m sorry?” I asked. My voice was clear and optimistic.
“I said how much is that table set outside?”
I got up from the desk and walked over to the window. Mr. Lewis hadn’t placed a price card on that set, probably from fear of the wind blowing it away. I walked over to a similar set, remembering they were priced the same, give or take a few dollars.
“Four-hundred for the set of three.” I said. I was standing in front of him. He stood and I backed away several feet. He said something and went to the door.
“Thanks for stopping by.” I said weakly.
“Yeah. Bye.” He left. I walked up to the door and locked it, we were closed, anyway.
As usual after a moment of peak-anxiety (what I call a moment when tension, fear or anxiety reach a physical level) I felt relieved and like I wanted to cry. So I did, for a bit, quietly as I waited for him to leave and then pulled the beanbags, signs, flag and table sets into the store. I felt light-headed and shaken. I wanted someone there to comfort me and say something absurd and cliché like how everything would be alright.
I can’t do this anymore I told Heather when I text-messaged her on the way home.
Once I got home I went upstairs and into my brother’s room (he was at church that night – he’s one of the youth pastors) and called Mr. Lewis, my stomach was killing me and I realized I still needed to take my ulcer medication. It went to voicemail, but I didn’t want to wait until later. I sat on my brother’s bed and looked at all the glittering lights in Downtown Fort Worth in the distance. It looked exactly like the view from Ryleigh’s backyard. I used to love that view, standing on top of the playset and gripping the plastic wheel as me, Rye and Heather pretended we were on a ship. The chilly Winter breeze in our hair, crickets singing and stars shining. Nevermind that we were fourteen and too old for doing baby-stuff. We had fun.
The voicemail beeped. “Mr. Lewis.” I said calmly, “I’m going to get right to the point with this. Today was my last day of work.” I took a breath, “I’m leaving for a lot of reasons, one of which is the issue of my pay, but perhaps you’ve thought of that. I left a note on your desk regarding a friend of yours who came in tonight, he was inquiring about a sofa set. I left the store key on your desk and everything is locked up inside the store like it should be… I won’t pick up if you call back, there isn’t anything to say. Thank you for giving me my first job,” I had to force the last words out, “but I quit.” I ended the call and stared at the phone. I felt numb. I had expected to feel satisfaction or anger or regret, but I felt nothing. I decided it must simply be a delayed reaction.
I went downstairs to my mom, who currently sat in front of the desktop computer in the home office. I sat on the couch against the wall to her left.
“I did it.” I said
“Did what?” She stared at her Facebook wall.
“Quit. I left a message.”
“Good.” She said simply.
Good? Good? I wanted to cry and tell her about the man that came in, about how terrified I was. But what use would that be? I wanted to tell someone. I’ll just mention it in my next blog post. I decided.
Tuesday I spent studying like a madwoman, determined to get 100 on the skeletal system test on Wednesday (me and the skeletal system are not the grandest of friends, as reflected by last weeks’ pop quiz) and to wake up several hours early so I could spend more time on my appearance.