Saint John City, Part 3

Continued from Part 2

“No, I didn’t,” Petey’s voice said, near to Ida’s stooped position. A shadow moved across the outlined light, then away. “I said I didn’t!

She leaned nearer, eyes darting and ears straining. From the dark wall before her, she heard his soft-soled footsteps walking. Stopping. Walking. Stopping. From the large store space behind her, she heard humming lights and the familiar, lecturing tone of an old woman.

“Oh, I know you want-” Petey began. His voice faded as his shoe sounds moved farther away. “Not care,” “man,” “get your money,” and “no” were the only words she could be sure of. Another frown threatened her perfect brow. The voices far behind her, meanwhile, changed to sounds of farewell. Ida started backing away; careful of boxes, mop, and display case.

Just as she reached the greeting card rack and again withdrew a Get Well Soon sample, Bob himself came into view. Relief spent an instant in his eyes, quickly chased by a suspicious scowl. She gave him time to hitch a careful smile in place before setting the card back in its spot. She smiled her own, open greeting to the wary store owner. “Jack said you told him you’d stocked some new stuff, Bob, but I could only find the usual.”

Bob coughed. “Well, I- I didn’t mean stuff in the back– When I talked to him, it was jus’ after a shipment from out o’ state, ya know what I mean, and I was hopin’ it’d be Jack ter come in so I could show ‘im the meat-slicer we got for the deli…” His face cleared. “But, now that you mention it, Nate told me all about this gadget what makes orange juice, ya know what I mean-“

Raising her hand to stop the barrage, she began, “I don’-“

“No, o’course ya don’t since you ain’t never seen one afore, but this’un takes th’oranges an’ squeezes the juice right outta them an’ you can see it right there in front o’ ya-“

“I see. That’s-“

“An’ it’s great ’cause ya don’ hafta get ’em ready ‘cepting ya gotta cut th’orange in half, ya know what I mean, so’s it’s ready for juicing…”

Ida could do nothing but nod and make the occasional sound of interest. He talked as they walked from back to front of store, stopping at the milk section, the cereal section, then standing before the bemused cashier.

“Has he been talking your ear off about his new toy?” Sue teased.

Bob turned to Sue, midway through an explanation of electricity and motors. “It’s not a toy, Sue. It’s technology! Ya see, the input from the-“

“You don’t need to tell me, Bob! I heard it fifty times back when Nate sold it to you!” Smiling indulgently, Sue turned to Ida. “I’ll ring you up so you can go home, Hon.’ I won’t let him tell you all about the ways oranges can get squished any more.”

Ida returned the smile. “Oh, that’s all right.” She inclined her head to Bob. “I’m sorry for not understanding what was new. I think the juicer sounds great and that the kids would love it. Can I show it to them?”

With a look rivaling a kid at Christmas, the proprietor rubbed him hands together. “Yeah! Great! Come on by Saturday, after it’s delivered, and you’ll be the first ones to see it run!”

Head full of secret doors, muted conversations, and oranges, she left McClintock Mercantile with her purchases. How, she wondered, Will I ever get into that back room without Bob or Sue -or Petey- catching me? Could orange juice hold the key?

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©2020 Chel Owens

Saint John City, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Ida stood, concern threatening to cloud her brow. She looked from floor to fridges to open aisle. Here, at the back of McClintock’s Mercantile, she attempted to gather her wits. At the least, she attempted to appear unaffected while those un-gathered wits felt completely unraveled.

Calm down. Calm. Down. Inhaling through her nose and exhaling with a soft whistle out through her mouth, she talked herself through a tempting panic. She, the great Ida Layton, could handle anything. She could certainly handle a person disappearing; Petey had to have gone somewhere.

She walked coolly forward. She studied a Get Well Soon card, its flowers a yellow and green shadow of what they once were. She turned the display this way and that, but a creaking spin was her only reward.

Returning the card and pursing her lips in an innocent expression of perusal, she stepped along the back wall. Bob had inherited the place from his father, and his father before him, and a cousin before him, and -rumor had it- that cousin’s mother before him. The shelves along the back betrayed the store’s age, sagging at their splintering plaster. Wisely, Bob set lightweight merchandise on these. No matter how casually she scrutinized them, however, Ida saw no evidence that the seed packets, balloons, tissue paper, or ladies’ hosiery had been disturbed. No fingerprints in the dust. No dislodged packages. Nothing.

She came to the furthermost corner. For a place of business so brightly lit and generally clean, the store’s back corner appeared dark and cluttered. When she glanced up, she noticed no light nor security camera. Odd, she thought.

Glancing down the aisles, she heard snatches of Bob and Sue attempting a conversation with old Mrs. Benjamin Wilson. Ida turned back to the task at hand. Her hands shook in excitement. She pushed aside a barrel-shaped display advertising Pepsi-Cola. She stepped over an old janitorial mop and bucket. At the back, she faced a cardboard cutout of some long-lost athlete with hand raised in greeting.

There, beneath the athlete’s arm, shone the dim, straight outline of a doorframe.

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©2020 Chel Owens

Saint John City, Part 1

Times were slow in Saint John City. Events were slow. Sometimes, the people weren’t too quick, either. Yet, Ida knew a sleepy veneer could hide secrets. That’s why she stood against the stucco wall, black hair whipping across piercing gaze, soaking in the everything around her.

“Well, hello, Ida,” tottered old Mrs. Benjamin Wilson. “Waiting for your husband, are you?”

Ida smiled. “Hello, Mrs. Wilson.” She shrugged. “No, I’m just …watching.”

“Oh?” The old woman’s sagging eyes turned down as her mouth did. “Well, Dear, in my day…”

Ida saw movement in her peripheral vision. Petey Sanders shrugged out of his car and headed toward where Ida had been loitering most of that morning. She watched while Mrs. Wilson’s tongue kept wagging. She needed to keep him in sight.

“Of course, Mrs. Wilson.” Ida hoped her answer fitted the one-sided conversation. “Now, I’m so sorry to leave you but I need to get my shopping done.”

“Oh, all right, Dear-“

Ida heard no more, nor no less than she had. Like Petey, she entered the swish-cooled doors of the local, only grocery store. Like Petey, she walked past Bob McClintock and Sue Smith -the local, only employees. Like Petey, she walked past the gum and magazine racks, past the frozen food bins, and past the small display of bandages and greeting cards.

Here, the resemblance stopped. Fluorescent lines reflected from an empty floor, a vacant refrigerated section, and a vacated aisle. Petey was nowhere to be seen.

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Keep reading to Part 2.

©2020 Chel Owens