Never once had he entered the store with the cloudy windows, even though he had strolled past it countless times. Today was different, though. The office had closed early because of a heating malfunction, so his routine was altered sufficiently to make him pause at the store. Why not go inside? It would pass a few minutes, and his mild curiosity would be satisfied.
The store, he saw immediately, was a women's clothing boutique, empty at the moment except for him and the saleswoman approaching the doorway. "Are you looking for anything in particular?" she asked, obviously curious as to why he was in the store.
"Oh, no," he began, pausing briefly. ". . .Well, actually, yes. It's my wife's birthday."
She smiled, her face relaxing, and ushered him into the store. "Do you know her size?"
"Her size? About the same as you, I suppose."
The saleswoman stopped at a rack of blouses and began describing them, mentioning also the matching pants that were available. Through her monologue he was wondering how best to extract himself from this situation. He was not married (anymore); and he obviously had little interest in purchasing women's clothing. Yet he liked the saleswoman. A salesman himself, he appreciated her pitch and would feel bad, in fact, leaving the store empty-handed and wasting her time, even though there were no other customers present.
When they reached a rack of cotton sweaters, the woman paused and unfolded one. "These are beautiful. I wish I had someone to buy me one."
A glance at the price tag raised his eyebrows, but he smiled and agreed that the garment was attractive.
"What color do you think she would like?" the woman asked, referring to his wife.
"Oh, I'm not sure. What's your preference?"
She replied that she was partial to powder blue, and he allowed her to find the proper size of that variety and drape the sweater over her arm. They looked over a few more racks, but it was clear that his mind was made up, so he told the saleswoman to ring up the sweater.
"Shall I wrap it for you?"
He paid, and then accepted the rectangular box, wrapped in tasteful gold paper. Immediately after, he held it back out to the saleswoman.
"Is there a problem?" she asked, looking as confused as she had when he had first entered the boutique.
"No, not at all. The sweater is for you. ...Perhaps you'll let me take you out so you can show it off."
"I thought you said you were married."
He shook his head silently. The saleswoman smiled awkwardly, still hesitating to accept the package. "No, I can't."
"Of course you can," he replied. "I'd--"
"No, I mean--I'm married."
There was silence for nearly three seconds until he spoke. "I thought you said--"
"That was just part of the sales pitch," she answered quietly.
He sighed and stepped back. "I see. Well, thank you for your help."
"You can return that, if you'd like," the woman offered.
"No, that's fine," he said briskly, already turning away to leave.
When he was back outside in the cold, he looked at the storefront and its cloudy windows for a few moments. Then he tucked the box under his arm and continued down the street.
About the author:
Marc Elias Keller received his Bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. In addition to his journalistic work, his fiction has been published in the Bucks County Writer, The Philadelphia Independent, Enigma magazine, and Taikonetic (an online journal of the arts). He currently lives in Philadelphia.