Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ten minutes before closing Mrs. X abruptly flings open the door of the boutique where I work and struts in like she owns the place. It’s gotten chilly and she dons a fur coat extending past her ankles; the kind of coat that says 'they’re stupid animals; they’re made to be used at my disposal.'

When she makes her grand entrance, I am on my hands and knees scrubbing the faux-wood floor. In the winter the street salt and snow accumulate on people’s boots creating footprints that, when mopped, leave a cloudy residue on the dark laminate. The only way to avoid leaving white streaks is to clean the floor by hand, scrubbing and drying the 800 square foot showroom using Mr. Miyagi’s wax-on/ wax-off technique.

“Watch your step, it might be slippery,” I tell her before she can tread on the newly cleaned laminate. She neglects to acknowledge me and proceeds to track a fresh set of Frye boot prints across the section I just finished scouring.

“Good too see you again, Mrs. X. Is there something I can help you find today?” I rise quickly and obediently, ditching my bucket, scrub brush and rags behind the counter.

Mrs. X answers by raising her kid-gloved hand in the universal signal for ‘stop’, or that which my generation would interpret as ‘talk to the hand.’

“Hold on one second, Lisa,” she says gently to no one in particular, then looking directly at me she seethes “Excuse me. Can you not see that I’m on the phone here?”

Actually no. Beneath the behemoth of blonde extensions that is her hair, I cannot see the bluetooth planted in her ear.

“I apologize, Mrs. X. Please let me know if you need something.”

“Sorry about that, Lise. The girls at this place obviously weren’t trained very well….I know. So stupid.”

Mrs. X walks over to the racks of designer clothing that I have meticulously hung and spaced by hand in preparation for closing. Standing before the perfectly arranged garments, she parts them like the red sea. She proceeds to fling them aside one by one, occasionally pausing to inspect something more closely. Every now and then, without looking away from the rack, she holds something up in the air, my cue to fetch the item and hang it in the fitting room.

I am literally biting my tongue so hard that I can taste the first traces of blood. I hang each Ella Moss tunic in the fitting room with care; refold each pair of Citizens of Humanity denim that she carelessly unfolds, examines, and then stuffs into the wrong shelf; re-tie each hand-woven cashmere scarf that she unravels and discards wherever she happens to be standing.

An hour later, she leaves with nothing. As I retrieve my cleaning supplies and crouch on the floor, I begin to empathize with the animals that comprise Mrs. X’s coat.

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