by Than Pence
Maybel, a saleswoman, tries holding onto her job, but gets caught up in a young man.
|Into the mirror, she stared. And she wanted to cry.
At fifty-one, Maybel Bledsoe hadn’t seen herself trying desperately to cling to a sales position inside a failing Sears Department store. Her numbers were on the border of abysmal, and she knew she needed to make a good sale, soon. The commission wasn’t the only thing she was counting on for her and her unemployed husband, Larry. If she didn’t sell something major – or at least several minor somethings – the management team had already briefed her on the consequences.
She continued to stare, noticing her monochromatic roots and the stray hairs that jutted away from her otherwise managed, auburn hair; twigs of a nest was her common association with such stray hairs, though she knew her hair wasn’t as bad as others she’d seen.
Maybel took a deep breath to puff up her seemingly deflated chest. It made her feel better for but a moment. She could remember the days when she’d have to fight Larry for time alone with her breasts. Now he was only interested in flicking the television remote, rather than her nipples.
Lightly tucking her hair behind her ears, Maybel left the bathroom with firm shoe clicks, heading for the sales floor. She was stationed in Cookware, but she often floated around the store in hopes that she’d sell anything else, like the high-priced electronics adjacent to Cookware.
When she found her traditional roosting spot, she noticed a boy standing near the Blu-ray players, and he was casting quick glances toward Maybel. Her first thought was that he was going to steal something, but she remembered the players were behind glass cases, so she dismissed the notion.
As usual, Sandy, the electronics sales person, was nowhere to be seen. Giving her own section a once over, Maybel headed toward the boy – the young man, she realized, as she drew closer. Her shoes dictated her presence well before she could ask the young man any questions. He seemed to fold into himself: tuck his head in a little bit and move away from the Blu-ray players. “No, sir,” she started, worried that her presence had scared the young man away. “Did you have any questions about the Blu-ray players, sir?”
The young man grinned, his face turning red. Maybel wasn’t sure what was happening. “Are you alright, sir?”
“Yeah,” he finally responded. “I just get nervous sometimes, with… pretty women.”
The words caught her by surprise. It’d been years since Larry had mentioned her looks to a greater extent than You don’t need so much damn makeup! As if that’s a compliment!
“Well, we have all the major brands here, sir.” He grinned again, and Maybel couldn’t help mirroring the action. “What is it, sir?” she asked.
“You keep calling me sir, ma’am.”
Maybel couldn’t help it. She flinched. She hated that word, that term: ma’am. It made her feel years beyond herself, especially when speaking with such a timid, younger man.
“Well, sir, that’s just how we’re supposed to talk to our guests.” As she spoke, she noticed his appearance: a black hoodie with a plain red shirt underneath and jeans that weren’t too tight or baggy. He didn’t resemble a thug or a prissy fag, and she liked that. It made her ears warm thinking about it.
But his face; it was almost angelic in nature. Each time he looked at her, she gently yearned for more than a lingering glimpse. His skin was blemish-free and smooth; so much so that she wondered if he was old enough to shave, or if he shaved regularly. His hair, black, was slightly wild but still manageable.
And Maybel Bledsoe couldn’t stop staring at his lips. They were full for such a young man, and she found they distracted her from showcasing the Blu-ray player’s features. She couldn’t remember half of them all of a sudden.
“Why are they all locked up?” he asked suddenly while pointing down and staring into her eyes. Blue windows into his virginal soul. She thought she might fall into them with ease. It sent shivers down her spine as she realized this boy, this young, smooth man, was actually a little taller than her, even with her in heels.
Larry, with his scruffy face and moist palms, was Maybel’s barefoot height.
“Uh,” she stammered before catching herself. “Uh, so people… so people don’t steal them.”
“They’re not locked up at Wal-mart, ma’am.”
“Maybel,” she clucked, instantly regretting it.
She saw the word leave her mouth, land on the young man’s face, his delicate ears, seep inside to play around with his brain, and make his eyes squint that way. “Maybel?”
“Please,” she continued, taking a deep breath so as to give her nametag a more appreciative background. “Call me Maybel. ‘Ma’am’ makes me sound… old.”
“Thirty’s not old… Maybel.”
She blushed. She couldn’t help it. Maybel knew him to be a simple and kind young boy who knew the great length that flattery could travel, but, as of late, she’d heard such phrases too infrequently. She realized she was pulling on her skirt and blouse in places, tugging at wrinkles and folds in the fabric, hoping to look up and see the blue eyes focusing back on what they truly desired.
Raising her head, Maybel blushed again. The young man met her gaze, but only after lifting it from her cleavage. She knew it to be an act of perversion, but it was one she couldn’t help but enjoy in the moment. It warmed her face and made her extremities pulse. It’d been far too long, she decided. Too long without Larry’s touch that had been so common, once upon a time, and that were now rarer than her large-appliance sales.
But this young man, with his perfect face, his pleasing appearance, and his beautiful lips, had rekindled a feeling she hadn’t been totally aware was vacant.
“Sir,” she started—
—and the security panels by the exit began to scream, beeping like a chorused bird demanding attention. The exit and alarms were on the other side of Cookware, but they were very persistent. She whirled around and saw the back end of one boy who was followed by another boy. He was carrying a stack of small, unopened appliances: electric skillets and a toaster oven.
Maybel’s section was being robbed.
The young man suddenly brushed past her, his black hood bouncing against his back, as if his clothing were saying goodbye where he had not. He snatched a box of Paula Dean’s terrible cookware and followed the other boys with a whoop of elation.
Maybel, realizing what had happened, what it had all been about, felt like a fool. A dreadful, inadequate, embarrassed fool. She looked around the store as the door’s alarms silenced themselves and the sound of squealing tires drifted in from the parking lot. It was too quiet. Maybel felt she might choke on it.
She rushed to the bathroom, determined to have a private moment before her boss reviewed the tape and saw that she had simply been talking with a young man, rather than watching her section for potential thieves. She wondered if this would cost her her job, and what she and Larry would do. And how she’d explain her reason for getting fired to her husband of thirty-two years.
Into the mirror, she stared. And she wanted to cry. Or even die.
Word Count: 1,237