Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Sartorial Spectre

A work of flash fiction by Adam Gottfried
The mall obdurately refused to yield customers. Jemeera Gomez Carlson, Jem to her friends, was so far beyond bored that she thought she might cry. She had adjusted all the display models, dressed and redressed the two full-size mannequins in the shop three times, a process that usually took the better part of half an hour. She had balanced the till (without the credit receipts) four times.
Sure it was mid-January, the retail equivalent of a yearly Great Depression, and sure she had homework to do(she wasn't THAT bored), but Jem had hoped for SOMETHING to do. Maybe stare at that cute jewelry store sales girl Jem had seen last week. Jem had never really been into guys, but then she'd never really been into girls. Not til she saw her. Most jewelry store sales reps were attractive, it was like a prerequisite for the job, but this one… this was was beautiful. Jem had spent the majority of her shift trying to avoid staring across the corridor at Whitehall Jewelers. The woman was a couple years older than Jem, and likely attended the local state college. Blonde hair, blue eyes and gorgeous in a natural sort of way. Jem could tell she wore very little make-up. Jem imagined she was gorgeous without her make up, perhaps more so… for so many women used make up as their armor against the world. Certainly that was Jem's reasoning. She as lucky to have been born with her mother's smooth, flawless skin, but she spent 45 minutes each morning to keep it that way. Jem's naturally cafe-au-lait skin and flashing black eyes had caught the eye of several boys in her school, but she wasn't interested.
Jem blinked. She glanced around her father's shop. The Whitehall sales rep who had taken her fancy was not working today and as her mind had wandered something in the shop had… changed. It was so subtle it might have been her imagination, but she was just superstitious enough to take a look around the shop. There had been shoplifters before, but mostly they targeted the higher-end fashion shops, Hot Topic, and Spencer's Gift, not the local tuxedo rental. She reached under the counter and grabbed an ancient pipe-fitters wrench her father had inherited from her great-grandfather who had been, in his day, a pipe-fitter.
She nosed around the shop, holding the wrench at her waist, not wanting any potential customers walking by (there were none) to see it. The shop was simple: The antechamber which contained several display tables, half-mannequins dressed for prom, and two free-standing mannequins (one masculine, one feminine) near the entrance decked out in the latest finery fresh from the Ohio clothier where her father did his business.
Racks of jackets and vests lined the walls, dressing rooms in the back, and the register which had just been upgraded to take Discover and American Express maybe two years previously. Jem had worked in this shop for five years, first unofficially, and now as a full-time paid employee. Her father had made a big deal out of making her an official “KEYHOLDER” which was his word for shift manager, but it was just another responsibility for her that she could care less about. She planned to leave as soon as she graduated and go to college. She wasn't 100% sure where yet, but she had been accepted to several fairly decent schools so…
There it was again. She walked back tot he counter, opened a cupboard and turned down the XM radio station playing classical music, and there it was. Nothing physically had changed in her shop, it was auditory. Music played, soft and slow… she stepped toward the shop's large entrance and listened to the mall's canned muzak, but that wasn't it. The music was something old-timey, something that reminded her a bit of Post-Modern Jukebox… but not. She glanced across the corridor.
Most times in the mall, even with zero customers, she could still see half a dozen people: The sales rep(s) across the hall, the bored kid at the Cinnabon across kitty-corner from her, two or three kiosk workers staring blankly at their phones, and Jake the 30-something janitor who flirted with all the underage employees. He was harmless enough, she supposed, but she didn't like talking to him when she was in the shop by herself. Thus, the pipe-fitters wrench.
But right this moment, there was no one. Not a soul in either direction. The hair stood up on the back of her neck and chill crept involuntarily across her skin. She turned form the entry and froze, unable to move.
The mannequins were dancing. The freestanding mannequins, the male in a classic three-piece, and female in the latest design of feminine tuxedos (her father was nothing if not progressive) and they were doing a fast sort of waltz in the center of the store. The half-mannequins, which were mostly headless, swayed in time, and the featureless heads lining the ceiling featuring the “largest selection of black-tie millinery in the city” were humming along with their freakish, mouth-less faces.
Jem screamed and closed her eyes… the music stopped. She opened them again… and everything was still. She dashed the counter and dropped the wrench on it, and reached to scoop up the phone… but a white hand fell onto it. The male mannequin stood before her, hand on the receiver, offering the silk boutonniere that had adorned his chest. She reached out and took it, very slowly. He bowed, a smile stretching across his plastic face, and resumed his position on the floor… and all was as it had been.
Jem took a deep breath and exhaled. She could see a Whitehall sales rep across the corridor. The bored kid at Cinnabon was back. The music had stopped. She reached down, pulled out her backpack and removed her homework. Sitting behind the counter, she began her calculus, and did not look up again until closing time.

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