“Out!” the youngish woman yelled at a man as I entered the shop. “Out!”
The man, stout, slightly grungy with an immaculately trimmed beard, rushed past, knocking me against an antique hat rack. Except for the few that managed to hang onto the fixture’s arms, the headwear plunged to their death, some crushed beneath the woman’s mammoth, rubber soled clogs.
Righting the stand, I assisted the grousing merchant attending to her selection of wounded felt, wool, and beaver.
“Thanks,” she muttered as if someone was twisting her meaty arm.
I studied her strained expression. “Are you alright?”
Her eyes, an Xray scope set to extreme, scanned my body. “Men,” she stated flatly.
“Honestly,” I muttered and turned to go.
Gripping my elbow, she yanked me over the threshold. “Not you. I didn’t mean you.”
Wrangling out of her clutch, I brushed my sweater into place. “I am…”
“Gay,” she chirped cheerfully and gestured toward the center of the crammed, unorganized explosion of antiques and collectables. “Please, take your time. If there is anything I can assist you with…”
She rattled on with the usual shop keeper speak as if she’d memorized a script, as if nothing had transpired between her and the man who’d abruptly exited the shop, as if she’d never insulted me by assuming I was gay.
Of course, she was correct in her assumption, but still, she didn’t need to spit the word, “gay,” out as if she’d correctly tagged the breed Lhasa Apso on Jeopardy.
Then, with the grace of a grizzly, she dragged her heft across the complaining floorboards, and flopped into a 1940’s lounge chair. Frazzled, and fearful of exciting the wrath of Kahn, I fish-eyed the creature at a distance, pretending to browse her dusty assortment of goods that harbored few gems amongst its ruins.
Her aristocratic bone structure she’d destroyed with the abysmal frown plastered on her puss. Parking a pair of horn-rimmed glasses on the bridge of her aquiline nose, she yanked a book off the counter, and focused her beady, dull gray eyes on the text of a ragged copy of War and Peace. Her dreary denim prairie skirt caught on the crease of the cushion, exposing her bulbous thigh. A shape-shifting ameba of frayed fabric, the salmon sweatshirt she wore clung to all the wrong crannies and cupped the most inappropriate bulges as it stirred to life with her every breath.
Unreasonably, a rush of remorse choked my judgmental thoughts and my religious upbringing as a boy showered me with in a healthy dose of quilt. I froze behind a glass cabinet jammed with a plethora of babbles, bangles, and beads, gazing at the victim of lackluster taste. My granny had warned me that to atone for my sins, I must find something about that person worthy of praise.
I fizzled with anxiety as I scanned every inch of the beast. My God! Nothing!
Her untamed mustache, solid ankles, and hands as callused as Attila; the Hun’s were nothing to write home about. I was about to abandon my quest when she removed her newsboy cap. Luxurious blonde locks broke into a bounty of waves on her shoulder before flowing seductively over her Mount Rushmore sized assets. I gasped at its beauty.
“Anything particular you’re looking for,” she asked insincerely, without peering up from Tolstoy’s masterpiece.
“Just browsing.” I edged toward the door.
“Sorry about before,” she uttered mechanically and closed the book. The bear stretched her arms and yawned. “You have no idea what I go through on a daily basis; what I have suffered…Oh, the strain is unbearable at times.”
My eyes darted around the room. I was two yards from the open door and freedom, languishing in the dazzling sunlight just beyond the entrance. “Nice weather we’re having,” I responded in a shaky tenor, sounding a bit like the miller’s daughter attempting to outsmart Rumpelstiltskin.
Rising, she leaned against a showcase of object d’art and stared into my popping peepers. “God damn men,” she whispered so sweetly that the hair on my forearms saluted. Around the counter she marched. She stood big and before me. “You know what I mean don’t you? No pleasing them. No matter how hard I’ve tried, and I’ve been relentless in my pursuit, my hubby, my Prince Charming doesn’t understand what I go through.” Her snout was now centimeters from my nose, she snorted. “You saw him running out as you sauntered into my shop.”
“A therapist, he thinks he knows everything about everyone.” She gulped in a mass of air.
“Only I have a surprise for my man.” An evil grin stretched her chapped lips into a “U” reminiscent of The Jocker’s. “My hubby knows squat about this woman, his woman that he teases into a sexual frenzy every morning until I’m speechless and then abandons me for a stack of French Toast he’s fried up for himself. Depressed and feeling deranged, I devoured an entire box of Little Debbie Oatmeal cookies, you know the ones stuffed with creamy icing. Of course, I’m unable to enjoy their brilliance because I know that any second my mother, “La Monstre,” will call to reprimand me for lollygagging in bed, and berate me for neglecting my duty to open the store at precisely ten a.m. The moment my husband hears the phone ring, he flies into a tizzy. ‘You can’t collaborate with your mother because you’re too much alike!’”
Oh! At that moment, I would have given anything to be Endora from Bewitched. Blessed with her capability, I’d have zapped the ogling ogre into a toad.
“Have you ever heard of anything so absurd?” She bellowed inches from my ear. “My hubby, Mr. Know-it-all is absurd! He and I couldn’t be any more alike. We’re cut from the same cloth. We’re so alike that we complete each other’s sentences and I….”
Unable to bear another moment of her rant, I kicked the corner of a crammed bookshelf, and it toppled over.
The shelf’s contents jumped ship as the unit smacked hard against the jewelry case, encouraging a fissure to fracture the surface, shattering the glass.
Sweating worse than Satan in drag at a Nun’s convention, I bolted out the door. Faster than a cheetah in hot pursuit of his four-legged lunch, I raced down the sidewalk. I didn’t look back. I couldn’t look back. My pacemaker cranked to lighting speed, I zipped home to my sanctuary of peace and the martini waiting for me to shake.