Shop Girl

The bell above the door chimed as it opened, letting in a scorch of heat. It hung open for several long minutes and Phoebe considered yelling “in or out” before a robed figure entered. He made a beeline to the clearance rack where last season’s robes hung in a tidy row.

He held up one robe against his frame, shook his head and shoved it haphazardly back onto the rack. Phoebe slumped against the wall behind the register counter. He was going to be one of those customers. She watched with increasing despair as he pulled robe after robe off the rack until finally he held three options bunched in a sweaty palm and approached her.

“The fitting room?”

She gestured to a neon green sign that pulsated over a curtained off room to her right that clearly announced the presence of the fitting room. “No more than four garments at a time,” the words came out long and sullen. “It’s the rules.”

“I only have three.” He thrust them across the counter for her to count. With a beleaguered sigh, she pushed away from the wall and counted them out slowly before handing him a hot pink placard with a white 3 emblazoned in the middle.

“Bring them back to the counter when you’re done. I’ll have to count them again.” She didn’t. Just like she was willing to let people take more than four garments into the fitting room when it was this slow. But not when they messed up the neat racks she had spent hours organizing that morning.

Her fingers beat out a dull, unrythmic thud on the counter as she waited an eternity—or two, it was sometimes hard to tell here—for him to emerge from the changing room. Eventually he came out, dressed in the same black robe he wore earlier.

“Any of them work out for you?”

“No. Any sales going on?”

“Not today.”

He grunted and left the robes in a messy pile on her counter before returning to the clearance rack. He started over at the beginning.

“What are you looking for? Maybe I can help?”

“A new robe.”

Obviously. Phoebe bit back a harsh retort. “Anything specific? What didn’t you like about these ones?”

“They don’t fit.”

“Too large? Too small?” He grunted and kept up his perusal. She drew in a long breath, counted to ten, then to ten again for good measure, and let it out in an uncontrolled whoosh. “We just received some newer styles in, if those might interest you. They have a very slimming cut. Quite popular with the younger reapers.”

“How did you know I’m a reaper?”

“Why else would you be shopping here?” She sighed. “Look. You’re messing up my racks and while my personal hell is to clean up after assholes like you, you could at least make an effort to be fastidious.”

The man stopped. “Do you want my business or not?”

“Stop being such a cheapskate and maybe I will.” She swept a hand across the room. “We have hundreds of robes. There’s a reason these ones never sold. If you don’t like them, then try paying full price for something. Besides, don’t you just get to charge it to your ReaperCard like everyone else?”

He pushed back his hood, revealing stringy hair and smudged circles under his eyes. Somebody had to teach him how to apply eyeliner. “You don’t get ReaperCards if you can’t deliver.”

“Wait here.” She pushed through the employee’s only door into the back and returned a few minutes later with a Styrofoam cup and a foil packet of nuts. “Here. When was the last time you ate?”

He took a swig of the coffee and spat it back into the cup. “What is this crap?”

“Free. Don’t complain. It was fresh at some point.” Dutifully he choked down a gulp of coffee. “So why do you need a new robe? Looks like you have a perfectly serviceable one on right now.”

“This one is cursed.”

She rolled her eyes and opened the packet of peanuts, pouring some into his outstretched palm. “Uh huh. Sure.”

“It was my brother’s robe. When he failed to deliver his quota, the responsibility passed to me.”

“So if you get a new robe, you think you’ll be able to suddenly be able to reap souls?”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “But I can’t find one that feels right.”

“Why is it so important that you deliver? Can’t you just… find another job?”

“Because if I don’t succeed… it will be my sister’s turn next.”

“Finish your coffee. We’re going to find you the perfect robe.”

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.


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