Have you ever wondered where witches shop? October would be the quintessential time of the year to buy a tall pointy hat, but how well are they made? An Oklahoma or Texas cowboy wouldn’t buy a costume ten gallon would he? Of course not, but then again he wouldn’t have to, cowboy hats are readily available. A high-quality witch hat durable enough to withstand the rigors of nighttime broom travel should also provide the wearer casual comfort. Nothing instills confidence and inner beauty like a hat that is just as at home on the burning stake as it is vigorously stirring a boiling caldron of children. Form versus function is as timeless a battle as hackneyed stereotypes versus reality, a campaign any woman in my business would be passionately familiar with.
“Welcome to Seely’s. How can I help you today?” Tempest asked.
Seely’s Unique Boutique was aptly named. It had an earthy vibe, not quite dark to the point of depression, but also a million miles from unicorns with rainbow manes and pink halter tops. Wooden handmade shelves offered a myriad of natural salves, ointments, and scents. At first I delighted at the clean smell of soap but then for some reason it started to remind me of vegetable soup. After ten minutes I could no longer determine with any certainty the smell of anything I have ever been accustomed with. The clothes for sale were clearly born of subsistence. Decisions were made to trade fashion for a more foreboding and daily bread attire somewhat reminiscent of burlap but not quite as hopeless. The home décor on the other hand spoke volumes to the idea that decorative items can also be functional. Dream catchers, various amulets, talismans, a seriously beautiful collection of God’s eyes, and a corner shelf with all too familiar hometown voodoo dolls rounded out the eclectic collection.
“We’re pretty good, and you?” I asked.
“I’m well, very well. Is there something I can help you find today?” she asked.
“My friend here has an injury to her leg. Naturopathic medicine in my experience has always been very effective and I understand you have quite the selection,” John said.
“Wow, absolutely!” Tempest said happily.
“I’m sure I have something that will help. What is the nature of the injury? Is it muscular?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah, I guess, feels like I probably pulled something, I’m having some trouble getting around,” I said.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, I really am. The good news is I have a few different items that might work for you. If you’d like, I’ll make a few recommendations and you can try out some of our free samples. That way, you can be sure what you’re buying will work for you. We have very comfortable and secure dressing rooms where you can enjoy your own peace,” she said.
I wasn’t used to a high level of service and stood somewhat dumbfounded after hearing her sales pitch. Consequently her confidence had me looking forward to a remedy that didn’t include a handful of pills. I retired to a warm and plush dressing room with my cache of little jars. I was instructed to apply one fingertip of each to the affected area.
“Excuse me miss, miss?” John asked.
“Tempest, Tempest Seely,” she said.
“I would like to compliment you on your store. You’re very friendly and welcoming,” John said.
“Thank you so much,” Tempest replied.
“I feel it is my duty to inform you as a professional in retail marketing that your clothing selection is, shall we say, under available to the public eye. Take this for instance, comfortable, natural fibers and imminently affordable,” John said.
“Why thank you so much. As you can see, our merchandising is authentic and real. Sadly, the budget doesn’t really leave much room for advertising,” she said.
“I completely understand, but I will tell you that the store across the mall is closing and I know for sure that there are some things available that might help. Maybe for your display window for instance? Properly done, it could really help draw in some customers. Purely as a thank you for the breath of fresh air you’ve given to this industry I would like to set something up for you. Absolutely no charge whatsoever,” John said.
“I saw that. What a shame. I didn’t know Mr. Blake very well but I certainly wish him the best,” Tempest said.
I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation from the dressing room. They may have been warm and comfortable, but the paper-thin walls rendered audible privacy inert.
“I’ll be sure to let you know if we find him,” I said.
“Oh my, he is missing then, I presume?” Tempest asked.
“He sure is, but I think it’ll be pretty easy to track him down. This one right here, it kind of tingled and then went sort of numb but not like a dead limb or anything. I’m thinking this will be the one,” I said.
“Yes, lavender oil with capsaicin, very good choice,“ she said.
“Thank you so much for your offer Mr., Mr.,” Tempest stuttered.
“John, John Buries and I’ve been in sales, setting up retail merchandising displays across the country for years now. It would be my pleasure, really. My time here at Miller Creek is nearly at an end and I would love nothing more than to see an entrepreneur such as yourself prosper,” John said.
“Really? So you’ll be leaving soon?” I asked.
Tempest looked us both over. Maybe it was something in the lilt of my voice, maybe she was empathic, but probably it was just because she was also woman that she decided to take him up on his offer.
“Well Mr. Buries, it would be a bit of work, probably take a few days at least but I would be remiss not to take you up on your kind offer,” she said.
“Excellent! In that case there’s something I have to attend to immediately. Excuse me Ms. Seely. Oh, is there some place I might store a few items?” John asked.
“Uhh, we have a storage room in the basement that I’m quite sure is empty. Let me get you the key,” she said.
“Wow, that was awfully nice of you, almost, oddly nice,” I said.
“Some might think so, but maybe the world could use a little kindness now and then. How’s that leg? I could use a hand,” he said.
“It’ll be okay. Sure, I’ve got a few minutes. What did you have in mind? I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said.
After getting the key from Tempest we went back to the hobby store where once again I became enthralled with the display window while John went inside and had a short and apparently pleasant conversation with Betty the mall manager. My stupor was abruptly interrupted watching John’s almost unfairly muscular arms remove the naked mannequin from the display.
Putting on a clinic regarding the proper technique of a fireman’s carry, John left the store with the mannequin draped precariously over his shoulder.
“Hey, you, stop right there!” a man yelled.
The new and improved version of a mall security guard, sensing a crime being committed, put his black, shiny oxfords in overdrive and hotfooted his way to our position.
“Where do you think you’re going with that? Put it down this instant,” he demanded.
John gave him the minimal courtesy of at least not walking any further but didn’t bother to look at him.
“Hi, you must be the new guy,” I said.
Before he could answer, Betty hurried out from the hobby store.
“Paul, Paul, it’s okay. It’s fine, they have my permission,” she said.
“Oh, sorry, Ms. Wilbur, I just thought, I mean, I saw…” Paul stammered.
“It’s fine, Paul. Ms. Maximine, John, let me introduce you to Paul Owens, our new security guard,” Betty said.
“Owens? Any relation to Mason Owens?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s my brother? You know Mason?” he asked.
“Why yes, I do. Let’s just say him and I have done a little business together,” I said.
“Did you buy a house off him?” Paul asked.
“Not quite,” I said.
John looked at Paul closely. First at his shiny shoes, scanning him slowly upwards until his eyes reached the very top of Paul’s security man hat.
“You a hunter, Paul?” John asked.
“Heck yeah, deer mostly,” Paul said.
I thought the question to be oddly out of place and time.
“A man in your position should be. Hunting hones a man’s instincts. You know what I mean? I could tell that about you right away, that your instinctual, a natural born hunter. Tell you what, Paul, I’m in sporting goods, archery mainly but not exclusively. If you ever need anything from Outdoors World downstairs, you tell them I sent you and I said to give you my discount. John Buries,” John said.
“Thanks Mr., uh, John. I’m going to take you up on that, and sorry again for the misunderstanding,” Paul said.
“Please do, Paul, and don’t think twice about it, you’re just doing your job. Have a great day and keep up the good work,” John said.
We all smiled at each other accordingly while John and I walked away.
“That was pretty nice of you. Same with the lady in the store? Tell me John Buries, are you always this nice to people or are you doing it just to impress me?” I asked.
“Why, are you impressed?” John asked.
“Maybe, maybe. It’s just that I never met a man who was so outwardly helpful and kind to others,” I said.
“Like I said Philippine, the world could use a little more kindness, just doing my part. Isn’t that right buddy?” John asked the mannequin.
“Take this guy here for instance, we’re about to give him a new life in a new store, selling new products, give him a whole new perspective on the world. By tomorrow afternoon he’ll be wearing the best Seely’s Unique Boutique has to offer,” John said.
At that very moment John appeared to have tripped. The mannequin flew forward off John’s shoulder and landed with a hard, plastic slap onto the commercial vinyl tile floor of the mall.
“Wow, it’s almost like he flung himself off. What did you trip on?” I asked laughing.
John just stared at the mannequin on the ground not bothering to answer.
“John? You okay?” I asked.
“Yes, fine. Nothing,” he said.
“Nothing?” I asked.
“Yes, nothing. I tripped on nothing. It was him, he did it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he doesn’t want to be the Seely’s store mannequin,” John said.
I laughed more, impressed with his faux sincerity. Most men would have acknowledged their own joke nearly instantly, anxious to bask in the glory of their own wit. John’s sense of humor was so ostensibly dry that he never let-on that he was kidding at all. Instead he just picked the mannequin up off the floor and we continued our trek to the basement of the mall without further fanfare.
Between the two of us we were able to successfully navigate the maze and find the storage room for Seely’s boutique.
“Here you go buddy, you can hang out here until tomorrow,” John said.
The room was nearly empty. Nothing but a short silver stepladder and half a dozen open cardboard boxes with balled-up newspaper packing inside. The musty odor reeked of a room that had not been open for some time.
John stood the mannequin up against the wall in the middle of the room. He moved up close, face-to-face and stared it in the eyes for long enough to make the whole scene feel uncomfortable. He took one step back and flicked it with his middle finger right on the tip of its nose.
“That’s for jumping,” he said.
“Don’t pick on the poor guy, I wouldn’t want to work there either,” I said.
After locking the door, John and I were a few steps down the outside hallway when we heard a crash come from inside the storage room. We both stopped in our tracks and gave each other a look that confirmed at once the situation had taken a turn for the creepy worse.
“Huh, I guess he really doesn’t want to go,” I joked.
John smiled and knocked on the wall.
“You just calm down in there buddy, I’ll deal with you in the morning,” he said.
“What do you say we get some lunch?” John asked.
“Why Mr. Buries, would you be asking me out on a date?” I quipped.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Well, either way I accept. Should we pick something up for your friend in there?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. Clothes models don’t eat, they feed off attention,” he said.
It was the best anthropomorphic hyperbole I heard all day.