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?
©2020 Chel Owens