The corporate playlist plays on a loop, picking up where whoever closed the store stopped the tape yesterday. The clothes on the faceless, hairless, white plaster mannequins are size zero, pinned behind the backs in order to stay on. The floor-to-ceiling windows, a three-sided box that juts out into the mall, are designed from style sheets from the regional manager. It’s only a small city, so some of the clothing on the higher-end line that the regional manager wears when she visits the circuit of Midwest stores on her roster aren’t available at this location. It’s before the time of online shopping; it’s the time of layaway and hold the dress until the end of the shopping day and if we don’t have your size we’ll call our store over on the east side of the state and it will be two to three days before it’s in, shall we call you?
Liz is store manager. She’s wearing the black shift dress from last summer, a figure-blurring black dress with a collar and a bright orange scarf from this spring tied in the knot that the flyers posted in back demonstrated. First, pull opposite tips of the square end to end, then fold the folds and voilà, the perfect little pillowy base to tie around the neck, almost necktie like, but short so the tips flounce out. The store has a wall of these scarves on promo and everyone on the floor today will come wearing one, as they did yesterday and the day before.
She slips her finger under the knot, two fingers, then three. There is plenty of space for her to swallow, to breathe today. She walks the floor, just her and the music, straightening shoulders on hangers, organizing the last-minute impulse buys displayed near the till. She should be planning the schedule in the little windowless office at the back of the store, or checking on stock in the back where Becca unpacks, steams and hangs the new merch, her scarf-less neck pulsing with the music she listens to on her Walkman clipped to the top of her jeans. Becca doesn’t see much, just the clothes and the steamer exhaling hot scorch and the next runway-sized box of Ponte pants. Becca doesn’t see Ed heft the boxes down from his delivery truck, stack them high, too high for Liz to pull them down. Becca doesn’t see how yesterday Ed lures Liz inside the nook he’s created to sign off on the delivery, doesn’t see how in order to count the boxes and see the labels with the contents, Liz needs to go in the carboard cul-de-sac, doesn’t see how the knot on her neck scarf, the purple one with the fleur-de-lis pattern, is too tight, pulled too tight, far too tight, how her pants are no longer far too tight because of the rip along the waistband, the reinforced waistband, how Ed is muscular and gorgeous and more than a bit scary now that she has to sit for ten minutes to regain her breath, ten minutes of her forehead against cardboard, the diesel exhaust from the delivery truck pluming through the back exit doorway.
Wendy BooydeGraaff is the author of Salad Pie (Ripple Grove Press), a children’s picture book. Her stories have been published in Bending Genres, Jellyfish Review, Across the Margin, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Find her at wendybooydegraaff.com or on Twitter @BooyTweets.