I never saw that woman again

September 20, 2011

I was in a hardware store. Just out of university. Downtown Toronto. I was looking for pliers. A middle aged woman came up to me. In her mid forties. She was pretty but wore no makeup. Looked like Anna Magnani. She asked me if I did handy work. Her husband had died and there was so much work to do around the house. There was a kind of desperation about her. And I admit to being afraid of her. She looked me straight in the eye. Like she was trying to tell me something. But I couldn’t read it. It was like being in the middle of a play. Reminded me of a Tennessee Williams play, The Fugitive Kind. I never saw that woman again. Nor have I ever forgotten her.



“You know, Louie,” Mrs. Murphy cocked her head. Sideways. Listened to the bones in her back. Snap. Raised a hand. Gloved. And Waved to the owner of the dollar store. “Love is wasted on the young.”

Louie smiled. A faint almost lipless smile. Like the matinee idols of a bygone era. Louie pushed back his straight lubricated locks. His eyes crinkled.

“Viva romance.” With the emphasis on ‘ro’. And in a raspy French accent.

“Oh, I see it all the time on the television. Dear.” Mrs. Murphy continued unaware of Louie’s antics. “Couples jumping in and out. Of bed. Girls acting. More like men than men. So aggressive. Animal love.”

“Still,” Louie shrugged his shoulders continuing his parlor game, “it is romance.”

Mrs. Murphy took a deep breath. Sat down on her walker. Smiled weakly. And seemed to slip away.

Like a rose sprinkled with dew.

Louie’s eyebrows rose in parenthesis.

Oh, my God!

He touched the old woman’s shoulder. Did she die?

“Mrs. Murphy.” Louise was very concerned.

He shook the old lady.

“Don’t die.” Louie was shaken from his revelries.

Mrs. Murphy looked up from her seat and shook her head.

“I get a little dizzy when I get excited.”

“What!” Louie said turning his good ear to the old lady. She took another deep breath.

“Head spins. Feel like I’m going to swoon. That’s what old age is all about. Swooning with the wooing. But, I had my time.” The old lady looked up at Louie. Giggled. “You’re so young, Louie. You think you’ve still got time?”

Louie stepped back. The last place he wanted to be. He grinned mischievously.

“Time for what?”

Mrs. Murphy waved at Louie.

“Shame on you, Louie. I know what you’re thinking. You’re worse than the young people. Trying to make an old woman blush. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Mrs. Murphy!” Louie cried innocently. “I don’t know what you are talking about..”

Mrs. Murphy wagged her finger at the store owner.

“Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Murphy.” The smile left Louie’s face.

Mrs. Murphy waved at Louie good naturedly.

“I know.” Mrs. Murphy sighed. She paused before continuing. “Do you know what it’s like, Louie, to know that you’ll never fall in love again? That you won’t feel that skip in your heart.When. A young man looks at you. I’m not talking about… fooling around. I’m referring to something finer. Something…”

Louie heard a commotion from the back of the store. His eyes flashed on the convex mirrors in the corner of the store. Three teenage boys were up to something. Louie turned to Mrs. Murphy and put his finger over his lips. Then he turned and walked to the back of the store.

“Can I help you?” he asked the boys.

Louie’s voice had taken on a different timber. A rough, angry tone. He wanted to scare them. These boys. Who huddled in his store. Building up the courage to steal something. When they turned around to face him, Louie realized they were older than he had suspected. One of them had grown a goatee. He was the one that held the plastic gun in his hand. His name was Tony.

“How much for the gun?” Tony asked.

“A dollar,” Louie said. “This is a dollar store.”

“If we buy three,” the bigger of the three boys called Sean asked, “can we get a deal?”

Louie stared at the boy. There was a small scar dividing his left eyebrow. The third boy stood silently behind them, smiling. His teeth were yellow. He was smaller. There was a cigarette stuck behind his ear. His name was Teddy.

“Why do you boys want to buy these plastic guns?” Louie asked. “They’re for kids. Little kids.”

“We’re going to rob a bank,” Teddy responded then chuckled.

Louie smiled. Smart alecs.

“It’s for my nephew,” Tony added, irritated with the response of his friend. “Him and his friends like to play cowboys and Indians.”

“Everything is a dollar,” Louie said. “You want a deal, go to the casino.”

The three boys looked at each other. They put the guns back on the shelf.

“We’ll come back later,” Tony said. “I forgot my wallet.”

The three boys sauntered slowly out of the shop. Louie kept his eyes riveted on them.

“Those boys are up to no good,” Louie said to Mrs. Murphy when he had returned to the cash register.

“I think I recognize one of them.” Mrs. Murphy was swept up in a momentary shrug. “The black boy. I think his little brother died last year. Drowned in Etobicoke Creek.”

Louie nodded. “Yes, I think you’re right.”

“His poor mother.” Mrs. Murphy shook her head. “They showed the funeral on the news. She broke down. That boy’s death almost destroyed her. You’ve got to wonder how some people survive such pain.”

Louie smiled. He still had his mind on the three boys and the toy gun.

“What would those boys want with little plastic guns?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

“Rob a bank, maybe,” Louie said.

“Oh don’t be foolish, Louie,” Mrs. Murphy said. “A person could get killed doing something stupid like that.”

“Well,” Louie nodded knowingly, “they are boys. Now, what do I owe this appearance?”

“Can’t a body just drop in on someone?”

“Well,” Louie explained, “it’s my experience that either people want to spend money in my shop or they want me to give them some money for some honourable cause. In any event, money changes hand.”

Mrs. Murphy slapped Louie’s hand playfully.

“And I want neither. Actually I do need some gardening gloves. But I wanted to speak to you about the bank leaving the plaza.”

“Yes, I heard,” Louie said.

“What should we do?”

“You could get a petition started.” Louie suggested.

“Would you sign it?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

Louie shook his head. “Not that I don’t agree with you. I think the bank should stay but it has been my experience that banks seldom listen to the voices of people. They only listen to money. But I have another reason. Not one that concerns you but one that I’m having a great deal of trouble with.”

Mrs. Murphy who had risen from her walker, took her seat again.

“My goodness, Louie, you are serious.”

“I am having trouble with the owner of the plaza. Mr. G.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“I had an agreement with Mr. G. that I would be the only dollar store in the plaza. Well, Mr. Singh, who runs the discount furniture store has opened a dollar corner in his store. His daughter runs the corner for him. I complained to Mr. G. There is barely enough money in the plaza for one of us. Mr. G. has taken my concerns under advisement. Which means that he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.”

Mrs. Murphy stood up angrily.

“This is quite dreadful, Louie. We can’t have it. Simply can’t have it.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to talk to him.”

Louie grabbed Mrs. Murphy. “Please. I know you think you’re doing the right thing. But I’m in enough trouble with Mr. G. If you…”

“I’m not going to speak to Mr. G,” Mrs. Murphy said. “I’m going to talk to Mr. Singh.”

Mrs. Murphy pushed her walker out the door.

“Watch out for the daughter,” Louie cried as the door closed. “She’s a live one.”

The old lady pushed her walker out of the shop. Louie turned his attention back to some paper work he had begun when the old lady had entered. He didn’t notice the young boy standing in front of him. It was one of the young boys he had chased out of the store. The small one called Teddy. The boy was holding a gun in his hand. Louie looked down at the gun then up at the boy. The boy was smiling at him.

“I’m sorry,” the boy said, “about all that shit before.”

Louie looked down at the gun pointed at him. How did the kid manage to sneak up on him like that? He wondered if he would have enough time to reach the baseball bat he kept under the counter. Likely not. But he had to do something. The boy reached into his pocket. And pulled out a dollar.

“You said the guns were a dollar,” the boy said.

Louie took a deep breath. He rang up the sale.

“You better put that thing in a bag,” Louie said. “You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.”

The boy smiled. Louie put the plastic gun in a bag. The boy made his way to the door. Before he exited, Louie spoke up.

“What are you going to do with a plastic gun?” Louie asked.

“I’m going to kill that old lady,” the boy muttered.

But Louie couldn’t hear him. With his bad ear.

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