Illustrated by Sayantan Halder
The bell above the door rings as Fran enters the small store wearing a purse over her shoulder. She approaches the counter, and Steve, who has been leaning on the counter with his chin cupped in his hand, straightens up, looking mildly surprised.
“Good morning,” says Fran.
“I’d like to buy something, please.”
Steve looks vaguely around the empty store. Other than Steve, Fran and the long blue counter, there is nothing at all there: no boxes, no shelves, not even a pen on the countertop. “Buy what?”
“Well, this is a store, isn’t it. What do you have for sale?”
“This was a store…”
Fran takes a good look around the store for the first time. “What do you have in the back?”
“Lady, there isn’t no back. This is it.”
“But what are you even doing here if you have nothing to sell!”
“Man tells me to mind the store, so I do it. Five bucks an hour.” Steve leans back on the counter.
Steve rubs his eye sockets. “The man who owns the store.”
Fran sighs, puts her hands on her hips and looks around the store again, as if thinking she might have missed something. “Well, what did you sell here?”
“Are you going out of business?”
Steve yawns. “I don’t know lady. Nobody tells me shit.”
Fran, thinking seriously, takes her purse off her shoulder, places it on the counter and rests her hands on it meaningfully.
“Here’s the thing … what’s your name?”
“Here’s the thing, Steve. I came here to buy something, and I’m going to buy something.”
Steve straightens up, his face distorted in disbelief. “Lady, there ain’t nothing to buy! You can see that for yourself! It’s been real nice chatting with you but why not go on down to the Woolworth’s or something if you have some deep yearning to drop some cash?”
“Woolworth’s is closed.”
“It is? Now why they closed?”
“I. Don’t. Know.”
Fran pauses for a moment and then opens her purse, takes out her wallet and removes several bills. She places them on the counter.
Steve’s eyes widen. “Now lady…”
“Do you have any talents?”
“Do you sing?”
Steve brightens. “Well, now, I may not look it, but I’m pretty light on my feet. The wife made me do a salsa dancing class.”
“Show me.” Fran opens the countertop and invites Steve into the center of the store with a sweep of her arm.
He hesitates but complies, beginning to sway his hips as he walks. “Latin dancing is all in the hips. See?” His self-consciousness dissolves as his hip movements become more fluid and he takes up more of the floor.
“Uh huh. Not bad, not bad,” says Fran.
“It’s really no good without a partner.” He offers his hand gallantly.
Fran takes Steve’s hand and they dance. She is awkward at first, but then relaxes as he leads her expertly around the floor. He surprises her with a spin.
“Aiii! Ha ha!”
“Qué bonita, mi amor!”
After several minutes Steve leans Fran backwards dramatically, brings his face within a few inches of hers. They pause in this posture for several seconds, Fran holding her breath. At this moment the door rings and Jon enters. Steve and Fran straighten up and separate awkwardly. Jon looks at them quizzically for a moment, and then clears his throat.
“Steve, can I talk to you for a minute,” he says. “Outside.” He turns slightly to Fran. “Ma’am.”
“Yeah, sure,” says Steve.
Jon and Steve go out the door. Fran walks slowly towards the counter, her eyes cast down. She pauses to raise her arms in dancing posture and sway her hips from side to side. When she reaches the counter she rests her hands on her purse and sighs. She hangs the purse on her shoulder and stares at the pile of money on the counter. Finally, she turns and walks briskly across the floor and out the door.
A moment later Steve enters slowly through the door, Jon following. Jon stops halfway through the door, holding it open.
“Just leave the keys on the counter,” says Jon, adding under his breath, “Nothing in here to steal.” As he turns around and lets the door close he says, “I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”
Steve walks around the counter and retrieves his jacket. He gets a key chain from an inside pocket and lays it on the counter top. Seeing the pile of money, he picks it up, jogs to the window and looks out. He opens the door, steps out and looks in all directions. He steps back in staring at the money in his hand. Finally, he folds the money, puts it in his pocket and flips off the lights.