Not Long Tales … November 19th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4233)

15.

Shears

Ronald tiptoed along the narrow aisle of his thirteen-hundred-and-fifty-square-foot establishment, quietly making his way to the door, opening it slowly, slipping outside, and closing it, holding his breath.

Even though he was the owner and manager of his own location, he was trying to avoid his cashier, Michelle, seeing him leave, once again giving him her pesky sermon on the dangers of cigarette smoking.

Because that’s where he was headed.

Once or twice a day, he escaped, turned left, walked about twenty paces, just beyond the corner of Main and High, sat down on the curb and smoked some Chesterfields.

It was usually never more than one or two. Every once in a while, four or five—but had never exceeded a pack. It all depended on his mood.

And today Ronald was not very happy. He was thirty-nine years old and no one knew it was his birthday, so he had too much time on his hands. He was plagued by his own thoughts.

When he first moved to the little town of Cadbury, Ohio, a village about forty minutes from downtown Columbus, he had envisioned starting a bustling enterprise that would include shirts, some shoes, dresses, underwear, socks—everything a local citizen might need to quickly acquire when the long drive to Newton’s was not practical. Newton’s was the huge conglomerate that carried everything imaginable, which usually meant that his tiny facility was ignored if gasoline was available and scheduling permitted for the drive.

He originally named his location “The Cadbury Emporium,” but quickly realized that the people of the town didn’t care for their name—Cadbury—since most folks associated it with the chocolate-covered Easter Bunny. And also, no one seemed to know what an emporium was.

So after a year-and-a-half of trying to explain, he settled on “Shears Department Store”—Shears being his last name.

He was proud of what he had accomplished—happy for the two or three customers that came through his doors each and every day (mostly to eyeball the latest goods or chew the fat for a few minutes). Actually, the business barely earned enough money to sustain his rent, utilities, a wage for Michelle and his living expenses.

But it was a needful, occasionally pleasant, distraction.

He once had threatened to leave town, and more than a dozen folks came to protest outside his building, demanding that he stay. It was one of the best days of his life. After all, everybody wants to be wanted.

There were also great moments.

There was the time that one of the girls from the local high school needed a dress for homecoming, and everything at Newton’s was too expensive, so she and her mother came in, found what she needed—and Ronald even offered to tailor the dress to her liking and add a few more bows.

There was also a young fat boy who lived down the road who came in at least once a week to eyeball a pair of Beatle Boots that had been around for years—size twelve. Ronald felt bad for the chubby fellow, knowing that his bloated feet would never fit inside, but was still always willing to stop and chat with him—both about the shoes and favorite songs from the Fab Four.

Next door to him was the Village Eats—that’s what they called it—the local restaurant. Cater-cornered from him, going down High Street, was a little market that made delicious ham loaves, another little clothing store geared specifically to women over the age of seventy, a laundromat, an old-time drug store still making malts, the town bar and, on the far end, the local newspaper—The Cadbury News.

Ronald had memories in all the locations.

Now, on this day of his birth, Ronald sat on his curb, smoked and thought about where he was, who he was and what he wanted.

He wanted a woman. At least he thought so.

He had never really dated, but he liked women. At least he thought so.

But with a name like Ronald Shears, it was difficult to draw the immediate attention of any female. He had considered becoming “Ron,” but he just wasn’t the kind of guy you went and had a beer with. “Ronnie” was out of the question—there was nothing cute about him.

He turned his head and looked to the left, down High Street, to a small white-frame building—the office of Dr. Raswell.

Ronald envied the good doctor. The man was one of those fellows who was so handsome that other men admired him. Slender but not skinny. Not too tall but certainly closer to six than five feet. Brown, wavy hair with just a touch of gold near the crown. And he always looked like he had a tan. Even in the dead of winter, Dr. Raswell looked like he had just come from the beach.

And the women flocked from everywhere, saith the Lord.

It really was rather suspicious. There was no plague loose in the community, so it was doubtful that all the ladies were sick at one time. There were rumors aplenty about what happened in his examination rooms, but nothing had ever been confirmed and nobody was telling.

Ronald kind of hated him. Hate is just what envy does when it can’t find a way to compete.

Ronald breathed in a ragged breath. He still had his business and his Chesterfields. He liked smoking. He loved the way the first few puffs burned the inside of his mouth with a delightful, aching throb which gradually, as he smoked more and more, gave him a numb, kindly peacefulness, making his head spin.

He sat, continuing his thinking and smoking, when suddenly, unexpectedly, his feelings switched to guilt. It often happened to him.

Living in a small town, there was so much shit that had to be ignored that if you took too much time smoking too many cigarettes on the curb, you started recalling all the vicious things going on around you.

For instance, right above the Village Eats was an apartment. Matter of fact, the staircase that walked up to the location was right next to Shears’ back wall, where he kept his limited inventory. So when tenants bound up the stairs, it always sounded like he was right next to a bowling alley. It often felt that way, because all of the people who rented that apartment were young couples just out of high school or just beginning their lives together after college.

It had always been that way and would always be that way—because Ronald knew why these young people were selected to live in the apartment, even though their credit history and work records were often questionable.

The apartment was co-owned by Officer Dunworth, one of the two policemen who served the town, and Mack Jones, who advertised himself as a real estate agent, though nobody had actually ever seen him sell a property.

About a month earlier, Ronald decided to toddle down to the community tavern and see if he could blend in and consume a couple of mixed drinks. While he was standing there, Officer Dunworth, who was off-duty, and Mack Jones were perched not more than five feet from him. They were chattering away, laughing. It was just the three of them—the bartender had slipped away to use the facilities.

Ronald listened to them talking. When they realized he was eavesdropping, they invited him into the conversation. Well inebriated, their lips were loose.

Mack put his arm around Ronald, which surprisingly, gave the store owner quite a thrill. It was exciting to be appreciated. It was nourishing to be included. With a slurred lip, Mack explained what he and Dunworth had been talking about.

“You see, what we do,” he said slowly, “we take that apartment up above the restaurant, and we find young couples who are so grateful for a chance to start out, that they don’t have any questions. Then we have them sign a contract. You know—a lease. But there’s nothing standard about it. We charge them a decent rent, but we ask them for first and last month, and a $250 non-refundable cleaning deposit. Written into the lease—of course, at the very bottom…”

Mack turned and punched Officer Dunworth in the arm, and the two burst into laughter. The officer was so close to Ronald’s face that he sniffed the Jack Daniels. Dunworth added, “At the way, way, way, way bottom.”

More laughter. Mack took a breath to let the laughter die down and then continued. “Well, as I said, at the bottom of the lease we have a stipulation. If they decide to leave the apartment—for whatever reason—before their one-year lease is up, they will owe us for the entire three hundred and sixty-five days—twice over.”

Ronald didn’t understand. It seemed quite unfair. But still, not worthy of all the giddy reflection the two fellows were mustering.

Officer Dunworth, seeing that Ronald didn’t get it, said, “Aw. He forgot to mention. After they’ve been there about a month and a half, we sneak in and release cockroaches and mice.”

“Well,” said Mack. “This scares the hell out of the kids.”

More hilarity. Mack took a deep breath and a long drink of his whiskey, and punctuated, “So scared that they want to leave. Especially the little wife is ready to jump out of her skin. But meanwhile, when they start complaining about these roaches and rats, we once again go in to inspect, and kill the little mothers. But the wifey is so frightened she sees them in her head and is convinced they are still there. The punks demand to be let off their lease…”

Officer Dunworth jumped in. “And you know what, Ronald? We refuse.”

Mack interrupted. “So they cry and cry and cry. And we just keep pointing at that lease. And finally, when they’re just about ready to take us to court, we step in and tell ’em that they don’t have to pay twice the amount on the rent. Just one year’s worth of money will settle their debt.”

Dunworth sneaked in with an additional thought. “And they are so grateful for our courtesy…”

Mack, suddenly tired of his own tale, slapped the bar and finished up. “And we walk out with a couple thousand dollars. If we do it three times a year, in no time at all, we’re pretty damn rich.”

Officer Dunworth gave his conclusion. “For Cadbury, Ohio we are.”

The two men laughed, staring at Ronald and wondering why he wasn’t joining into the chuckling. Ronald, fearing the two men might hurt him, managed a smile and the wiggle of a giggle.

Now, sitting out on the curb smoking his seventh Chesterfield, he felt ill. The young couple presently in the apartment were a pair of lovers who had been condemned by the community because they’d had a baby out of wedlock. You weren’t allowed to do that in Cadbury, Ohio.

Ronald thought it was fascinating that the grown-ups planned proms, homecomings and dances but didn’t expect any of the kids to ever screw.

But screw they do, he thought.

His name was Michael and she was Josephine, but they went by Mick and Jo. It frustrated him that these two young people were going to be ravaged by the pernicious plot. Of course, they would have to go to family for the money, and there would be so many strings attached that it could end up being ropes to hang them.

Smoking away, Ronald turned his head one more time toward the doctor’s office as the young medical Don Juan stepped out the door to welcome another woman for her checkup.

Not fair.

Ronald was thirty-nine years old and a virgin. He could barely say it to himself. He lit up another Chesterfield, realizing the time had passed and he had finished the pack. He didn’t care.

He probably should go up and see Mick and Jo and warn them about the scam.

He probably should try to start a life for himself, so that he wouldn’t feel emotionally flattened from just breathing.

He probably should sell his business, go out and try something else. But then he would lose the dozen supporters who begged him to stay.

He probably shouldn’t have smoked a whole pack of Chesterfields, because now he had a headache and was sick to his stomach.

Maybe some of Maryanne’s home-made chicken soup from the Village Eats would settle him.

He stood to his feet and walked slowly toward Shears Department Store.

What should he do? If he stood up to Officer Dunworth and Mack Jones, they certainly would get even. Maybe they’d spread more rumors about him.

He couldn’t handle the rumors. Last year, when people were talking about him being a queer, he made a scene at the post office, screaming at some ladies, insisting that he was “right in the head, and favored women.”

It was so ugly. As horrible as gossip was, trying to defend yourself against it was a monster.

He didn’t know what to do.

And that was the summation of his thirty-nine years.

There was the answer: not knowing what to do, he had continued to do what he felt was expected to be done.

As he neared the door of the department store which bore his name, Michelle stepped out and called, “Ronald, Margaret Jenner just called, and her husband needs a really good-looking black suit because his brother just died and they’re heading for the funeral.”

Ronald nodded his head.

Just what he needed. A wonderfully timed distraction.

His eyes brightened a bit and he told Michelle, “Tell Margaret to come on in, and I’ll fit Bob in one of our black suits.”

Michelle ran to make the call.

Ronald was just about to step into the store when he saw Mic and Jo arriving in their beat-up van. They got out, carrying groceries, and headed toward the stairs to their apartment. Seeing Ronald, they waved and shouted, “Nice to have you as a neighbor.”

Ronald waved back sadly.

Jo followed up with, “You should come up and see our place sometime. Anytime. You don’t even have to warn us.”

With this, the two disappeared up the stairs to their temporary home.

It was 1971.

Ronald was a businessman, thirty-nine years of age, living in Cadbury, Ohio.

The world was racing toward Sesame Street

And his little town was stuck in Howdy Doody.

 

 

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Fabulous tale. Like Steinbeck meets King.

    Sent from Jon Russell Cring’s iPhone XS Max

    >

    Like


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