Authors: Susan Gloss
To break the silence between them, Violet said, “It’s hot out there today. It’s nice to finally have some warm weather.”
“Yeah,” April said, pulling her hair from the back of her neck. “Listen, I want to say thanks for letting me do this. I know it wasn’t your idea, even though Betsy tried to act like it was. She told you I’m pregnant, right?”
Violet nodded, thinking.
This is gonna be awkward
. It was too late to change her mind, though. She had already signed the paperwork the university had sent over to formalize the internship.
April took off her satchel and set it on the register counter.
“Oh, I can show you where to put your purse in the back room,” Violet said. She hoped she didn’t sound too uptight. She’d spent years getting the aesthetics of her store just right, from the orange and blue palette to the gilded mirrors and Lucite stools in the dressing rooms. She didn’t mind clutter, necessarily—clutter was part of her store’s charm—as long as it was
clutter, and carefully curated.
Violet led April into the storage room in the rear of the shop and showed her the hooks where she could hang her coat and personal items.
“So why did you decide you wanted to intern here?” Violet asked. “I mean, I know Betsy made the connection, but she knows plenty of other business owners in town, too. You probably could have worked at one of the designer boutiques on Monroe, or at one of the trendy shops on State Street that cater to students. Why did you pick a vintage place?”
April shrugged. “I guess I just think vintage stuff is more interesting. Anyone can walk into a chain store and buy the same sweater all their friends have. But there’s no story there.”
“Exactly,” Violet said. For her, vintage items also represented other lives, other choices, and drew the focus away from her own.
April inclined her head toward a wall of shelves stacked high with canvas containers. “Wow, you have a lot of stuff back here.”
“This is where I’ve got all my stock that’s out of season or doesn’t fit on the sales floor. Everything is organized by decade.”
April pointed to a box labeled
“Is stuff from the nineties really considered vintage?”
“Sure,” Violet said. “Especially the early nineties.” She lifted the container from its shelf and took off the lid. She pushed aside a layer of tissue paper to reveal a black dress with hot-pink triangles all over it.
“Okay, I guess that
look vintage,” April said. “I was just a little kid when the nineties ended, so I don’t remember the fashion except for a few things my mom wore. Looks like I didn’t miss much.”
“Careful,” Violet said with a smile. “This type of stuff is selling really well right now.”
Violet remembered driving thirty miles from Bent Creek to the nearest JCPenney to buy a similar, neon-patterned dress to wear to her first homecoming with Jed. When he offered her a swig from a flask he’d snuck into the dance, she was so nervous about getting caught by one of the chaperones that she spilled it all over herself. Knowing she couldn’t go home with her dress reeking of peach schnapps, she’d had to wash it with liquid hand soap in the girls’ locker room and then hold it under the hand dryers, wearing just her underwear and bra.
“Why do you have to wrap everything in tissue?” April asked.
“It’s acid-free paper.” Violet replaced the lid. “Some fabrics can get damaged or discolored over time just by being in contact with other surfaces.”
“My mom tried to start up a professional organization business,” April said. “She would’ve loved to see how you’ve got everything set up back here.”
Violet remembered what Betsy had said about April having lost her mother. She wondered what had happened but knew better than to ask. Instead, she said, “I guess you could say I’m kind of obsessive about my merchandise. But my store is my baby. Besides my dog, Miles.”
Violet put the box back on the shelf.
“Do you ever bring Miles in with you?” April asked. “I love shop dogs. The manager of the hardware store down the street from me brings in his Lab. The dog is always there when I go in looking for some obscure fixture for the house.”
“I’d like to bring Miles in here, but he’s a pit bull and some people are afraid of them.” Violet paused. “Did you say you’re fixing up a house?”
“Just little stuff here and there. It’s the green bungalow a block east of here, next to the natural foods co-op.”
“Oh, yeah, I know that house. It’s beautiful.”
“Yeah, but it needs work—work that I don’t know how to do and don’t have money to pay for. My mom left it to me when she died.”
“I’m so sorry to hear about your mom.” Violet didn’t know what else to say.
“Yeah. Me too.” April’s shoulders slumped. “The house is actually on the market and I’m hoping it sells soon. The Realtor has brought a bunch of people through, but so far no one has made an offer. I guess I can’t blame them. Why would they want to buy a hundred-year-old house when they could buy a brand-new condo right down the street?”
“If you inherited the house, that means your dad’s not in the picture, huh?” Violet asked.
“He and my mom got divorced when I was two. He lives in Ohio with his wife and their kids. He used to visit a couple of times a year when I was younger, but I haven’t seen him in a long time. And to be honest, I’m fine with it. It was always awkward when he visited.” April turned to the shelves. “So
know where everything goes, but how am I supposed to figure it out? I mean, I can’t tell just by looking at something what decade it should be shelved under.”
Violet knew her perfect system was perfect only for
and she’d organized it that way on purpose. She’d never trusted any of her employees enough to do more than fold clothes and ring up sales.
“If you need something from back here, just ask and I can show you where it is,” Violet said.
“But what if you’re not here?”
here,” Violet said.
“What’s all that?” April nodded her head toward a folding table covered with heaping stacks of paper.
Violet let out a nervous laugh. Of course April had to notice the one area of the store she didn’t have under control. “Just more records I don’t need, but need to save for tax purposes and stuff. I put stuff there to file away later, but I never seem to have time.”
“Have you thought about getting them all scanned, so you can save them electronically?” April asked.
“Sure, but I don’t know when I’d possibly have the time.”
“Isn’t that what interns are for?”
“Getting everything loaded onto the computer is only the first baby step, though,” Violet said. “Then I’d actually have to learn how to find everything again.”
“I could show you. Do you have an inventory system, too?”
“Oh, yeah, hang on.” Violet went over to the table and retrieved her leather-bound journal. With pride, she ran her hands over the worn cover, then handed the book to April. “This is where I have my records of every piece that comes into the store, where it came from, and what condition it’s in.”
April squinted as she peered down at Violet’s looped handwriting. “Okay, well, we can get all this information computerized, too. You
have a computer, right?”
“Upstairs in my apartment,” Violet said. “For e-mail and stuff. And sometimes I go online to look for vintage stuff for the store.”
“If you brought it down here, I could set everything up for you so you wouldn’t have to deal with all these receipts and notebooks and everything.”
Violet took the inventory book back from her. “I’m not sure we really need to. I mean, things may look disorganized, but believe it or not, I actually know where everything is.” She took a step toward the door, anxious to end all the talk of records and technology. “Come on, let’s go up front. I’ll show you how to work the register.”
On the sales floor, Violet admired the neat, round racks of dresses and the rainbow of shoes and handbags lining the shelves. She liked it so much better out here than in the back of the shop. It always made her feel calm to be surrounded by beautiful things, like the stacks of hemstitched Irish linen tablecloths she’d folded that morning and placed on the main display table. Beautiful things distracted her from the uglier parts of life, the parts filled with divorce and disappointment.
“Do you just have the one register?” April bent over the hulking machine with its roll of receipt paper and a corkscrewed change slide.
“Yep,” Violet said. “She’s a bit fussy, but you’ll get the hang of her. These buttons open it.” She tapped a combination of keys and the cash drawer sprang open. A few thin stacks of bills lay nestled in the compartments. Like everything else in the store, the register was secondhand.
“Sometimes the receipt roll gets jammed, and if that happens, you can use this high-tech device to fish out the paper.” Violet held up a bobby pin that had been sitting next to the register. “I also recommend swearing a lot. Seems to help.”
“What if someone needs to return something?” April asked.
“We don’t take returns.”
“Oh, yeah.” April’s expression turned sad for a second. “The wedding dress.”
“About that . . .” While she had the register open, Violet counted out a stack of bills and handed them to April. “This is for you, for the dress.”
April stared at the money in her palm. “But what about your policy?”
Violet smiled. “I can make an exception for my intern.”
April looked Violet in the eye, seeming touched by the gesture. “Thanks,” she said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
The bells over the door jangled and a barefoot woman walked in, clutching a plastic broom with one hand and holding a lit cigarette with the other. Her long, white hair obstructed her face, but Violet needed only to look at the woman’s bare feet to know that it was Erma, the neighborhood drifter.
“Erma, I’ve told you before, you can’t smoke in here,” Violet said. “State law.”
The old woman went back outside, grumbling something about fascism.
“You know that lady?” April asked.
“Everyone knows her around here. It’s hard to miss somebody who doesn’t wear shoes, even in winter.”
“What’s her story?”
“No one really knows. Some people say she’s a witch.” Violet looked out the window, where Erma stood on the sidewalk finishing her cigarette. “She’s been coming in here since I first opened. Sometimes she brings me mushrooms or herbs that she says are edible—she calls herself an urban forager. She never buys food, only eats what she can find.”
“So she’s homeless.”
Violet shook her head. “She says she has an apartment.”
“Do you ever try the stuff she brings you?” asked April.
“Are you kidding me? I’m afraid to. I’ve seen Erma pretty tweaked out at times. Hard to know if it’s from the stuff she eats or if it’s just her.”
“Don’t people get annoyed with her loitering around?”
“I think people are afraid of her.”
As if she’d heard them, the old woman stuck her face to the window glass and looked inside the store. Because of Erma’s lazy eye, Violet couldn’t tell whom—or what—she was looking at. Erma stubbed out her cigarette on the sidewalk and came back into the store.
“How can we help you?” asked Violet.
Erma held up a knobby hand. “You’ve got it wrong, honey. Old Erma is here to help
.” She pointed the bristles of her broom toward the ceiling and walked the perimeter of the store, humming to herself. As she passed the cash register, her humming grew louder. She paused and rocked with intense, jerking movements.
“What’s she doing?” April whispered.
Erma fished a flask from the pocket of her men’s shirt and took a long pull from it. “I’m clearing the energy. It’s bad, very bad.” Erma screwed the cap onto her flask. “You know the store that used to be here didn’t make it.”
Violet nodded. She’d known that fact before she leased the building, and she tried not to think about it. She’d gone, once, into the shop that had been in this space before hers. It had been a clothing store that sold garments made from environmentally sustainable textiles, like hemp and organic cotton. The concept had sounded good to Violet, until she actually went inside and saw that, at least in the case of that particular store, “sustainable” had been synonymous with “shapeless, sacklike, and outrageously expensive.” She’d hoped that Hourglass Vintage, which was environmentally friendly in a different way, would do better. But now she wondered if Erma was right, that the location had bad energy.
Erma walked over and stuck her face just inches from Violet’s. “You’ve had an unfortunate turn of events, too, haven’t you?”
Violet didn’t answer. She smelled liquor wafting from the woman’s words.
“I’ll need to come back,” Erma said. “Too much residue. I’m tired.” She shook her head and left the store, dragging her broom on the wood floor.
“What was that all about?” April asked.
Violet hesitated. Part of her wanted to open up to April about the eviction, or notice to vacate, or whatever the technical term was. It was a lot to dump on the poor girl on her first day, though, and even if it weren’t, Violet had too much pride to admit there was anything she couldn’t handle on her own. So she just shrugged and said, “You can never really be sure with Erma.”
April seemed to accept this, and pointed at something on the wall. “Hey, are those real?”
Violet turned around to look at a pair of deer antlers that she’d painted white and repurposed as a jewelry rack. “Yeah,” she said. “My ex was into hunting. Those are from a prized buck he shot one year. I took them in the divorce just to piss him off. I certainly wasn’t going to get any money, since we didn’t have any. He spent whatever he made working at the packaging factory every payday at Vern’s Tavern.”
“Is that the same tavern you got that cool moonshine jug from? The one you showed me last time?” asked April.
“Yeah. I guess the owner felt like he owed me something, since my ex was always spending our money at his bar. He said he knew I liked old stuff.” Violet looked up at the necklaces hanging from the antler rack and noticed that some of them had gotten tangled. She took them down. “Hey, do you think you could sort these out for me?” she asked.