From the Book Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories
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Janelle Meraz Hooper
Sandie opened the door to the basement closet of the antique store to get the artificial tree her boss had sent her after—and quickly shut it again. The tree was covered with rat droppings and, although the closet was dark at the back, she could hear movement that she was pretty sure wasn’t reindeer.
Oh, Lordy! What am I going to do? Sandie thought. She needed her job, but her mind and body both rebelled at going anywhere near that disease-infested tree.
Looking for a way out, she ran over in her mind what her boss, Rodney, had said that morning as he descended the stairs from his apartment: “Today, we decorate for Christmas! When you get a chance, go down to the basement closet and get the tree!”
Well. There wasn’t much wiggle-room there, unless she got so busy that she couldn’t leave the shop floor to go downstairs. She knew that wasn’t likely.
“Where’s the tree?” Her boss asked when she came up empty-handed.
“I thought I heard customers up here,” she lied.
“Yeah, some coffee-sippers came in, but they left,” he said, as he took a big gulp of his rum and Coke.
“About the tree,” Sandie said hesitantly, “when I was taking it out, I saw it had rat droppings all over it, so I left it there.”
“Oh, just take the tree out and beat it on the sidewalk—they’ll come right off. It’ll look great when the lights are on it. It always does.”
What she had to do, Sandie decided, was distract her boss until the assistant manager, Laurie, came in. She was a friend and would be a lot more sympathetic to her qualms about getting rabies from a Christmas tree than Rodney was—she was sober. Sandi hoped Laurie came in soon; if she didn’t, it was going to be a long day. Luckily, Rodney discovered that his glass was empty, and he went back upstairs to his apartment to fill it.
For the rest of the day, Sandie sat on a platform at her hostess desk and watched the Christmas tapestry of the rich, poor, and homeless run up and down the Seattle sidewalks. The windows in the store ran from floor to ceiling, so she had a panoramic view of the trendy area filled with antique shops.
There was a cold wind, and the street people leaned over their shopping carts that held all of their possessions to keep the sharp wind from biting their faces. One man had tied a rumpled Christmas ribbon to his cart. As a homeless woman hurried by with her basket piled so high with black plastic sacks that she couldn’t see over it, the wind blew open her scarf that was wrapped around her face, and exposed a black eye. One of the street people was in the middle of the street, poised as if to run a race. Puzzled, Sandie didn’t realize until the last second that he intended to ram, headfirst, into her store’s large window. It happened so fast; within seconds, he charged the shop window, and left Sandie with nothing to do but scream. The man’s head hit the glass full force, but the glass didn’t break. The impact shook the whole building, and Rodney leaned out of his apartment door to see what had happened.
“What was that noise?” he asked.
Just then, the man hit the window again. Didn’t he know how dangerous glass was? Chances were that he wouldn’t just cut his head, he could decapitate himself!
“Oh, that happens a lot this time of year,” Rodney nonchalantly said when he looked at the dazed man. As he turned to go back to his kitchen, he said, “It’s cold out. He’s trying to get arrested so he’ll have a warm place to sleep tonight. Don’t worry; he won’t break the window. It’s a special glass that wouldn’t break if he had a hammer. And don’t worry about him coming in here to keep warm while you’re alone. They all know they can’t come in here. I’ve taught them that much.”
Sandie’s heart was still thumping violently as the dazed man stumbled down the sidewalk in search of an easier window to break. All day she spent anxiously watching windows and doors: the window in case the street person returned, the front door so she could catch the assistant manager as soon as she got back from her furniture set-up, and the door to Rodney’s apartment. It had gotten very quiet upstairs. Apparently, he’d passed out for the afternoon.
There were few customers, so she had lots of time to think. What would she do if she had to go get that tree and beat it on the sidewalk in front of half of Seattle? She decided she had no options. She’d do it, if she had to; she needed the minimum-pay job. She wouldn’t be happy about it though. Once, she’d had a good middle-class life, but now she was on a long financial slide after a lengthy illness, and she dreaded the extra humiliation of having to beat that turd-infested tree on the sidewalk.
A few minutes before closing, Sandie gathered her things. The assistant manager came through the door just as she was putting on her coat.
“Laurie—we need to talk. Rodney wants me to put up the Christmas tree and it’s full of rat droppings.”
“Oh,” Laurie laughed, “he says that every year, and every year I go out and buy a tree out of petty cash and put it up. He never even notices that the tree is real. Don’t worry about it; I’ll pick one up tomorrow.”
On her way to her car, Sandie walked alongside some homeless people pushing their carts. She had a couple of bucks in her pocket, so she looked for the man who had tried to break the shop window, but she didn’t see him. Maybe he had succeeded in getting arrested. She hoped so. It was sure to get down to the twenties before the night was through.
She felt guilty that she’d been so upset over a silly tree. But who could say? Every homeless person started from some point in his life. Maybe that Christmas tree in the basement closet would have been her first step.
This story and other holiday short stories can be found in my mixed media book, Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories, paperback and Kindle.
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