Eva's Pushcart-Prize Nominated Short Story
Susan stood behind the front counter of her little shop, Le Bel Enfant, watching as a woman in a purple windbreaker picked through a stack of turtlenecks at the front of the store.
Susan and her employees had just finished switching everything from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Green corduroy jumpers hung on racks next to a table of holiday turtlenecks. A T-stand held waterfalls of miniature red velvet dresses and smocked rompers with tiny embroidered accents: holly leaves, reindeer, Scottie dogs wearing red bows around their necks. She had dressed the front window with a large Christmas tree, circled at its trunk by a train set, and next to the tree stood two child-sized mannequins: the boy in a holiday sweater and the girl in a party dress with shiny black Mary-Janes.
The woman in the windbreaker dug inside the little neck of the shirt and pulled out the price tag. She pressed her lips together and dropped the turtleneck onto the table.
“Have a great day!” Susan called as the woman headed towards the door. Susan walked to the table and picked up the crumpled shirt. She re-folded it carefully then went back behind the counter, pushing up the sleeves of her cream-colored cashmere sweater.
A moment later the door swung open, and the sash of bells hanging from the knob jangled loudly. Susan stood up straight as Tori burst into the shop in an old blue pea coat and earmuffs. Her eyes were bright above her flushed cheeks and pointed red nose.
“It’s freaking cold out there!” she said.
Susan smiled and held on to the edge of the counter with her fingertips. She always felt strangely off balance around Tori.
Tori pulled her arms out of her coat and walked past Susan to look at herself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror next to the dressing rooms.
Susan found it interesting, the things Tori considered professional clothing. Today she wore a stretched-out sweater, a short plaid skirt, and a pair of black tights with a rip running up the back of her left calf. Her dark hair was unfashionably long, tapering off at the small of her back, and in the bright lights of the store it glinted with hundreds of split ends.
“My professor kept us late so I had to practically run here.” Tori pulled off the earmuffs and twisted her hair into a messy pile on top of her head. “I’m freezing cold, but I’m also sweating.” She secured the hair with a rubber band from around her wrist then swiped her hand along the back of her neck. “I feel disgusting.”
Susan watched as the girl’s long fingers grazed the stray fuzzy hairs at the nape of her neck. “Well.” She glanced at Tori’s reflection. Her long legs descended into a pair of scuffed black loafers that were both unflattering and out of style. “Good exercise, right?”
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