Welcome to Sucky Story Sunday, where my goal is to prove Ray Bradbury wrong and write 52 bad stories.
This week’s prompts:
A Carpet Store Sales Clerk
Throws a tantrum
A lucky charm
A country home
Hiding the Hardwood
A movie character once said “The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn’t fit, you make alterations.” Keri was all about altering the world. Sure, right now she was just a sales clerk at Bryan Discount Flooring, but that wasn’t going to last forever. She could smell opportunity wafting up with the cheap cologne of every customer that came in looking for laminate to impersonate hardwood floors.
More opportunity came this week, courtesy of COVID, which already owed her big time. With the two interior designers out on quarantine, she was the one sent out to get housing measurements. She was driving out to her third home that Tuesday with her bag of three tape measures and an expensive laser tool on the passenger seat of her ten-year-old Toyota Corolla. The bag sat on top of the store paperwork – she could just see the name and address of this customer peaking out the top.
Mr. Wilson Thurman. He had called the store, asking for a quote for some wall-to-wall carpeting, so Keri was sent out with the tools, and a trunk full of carpet samples. But she also had a stack of hardwood samples. Keri had years of education- well, years of watching HGTV – under her belt, no one got wall-to-wall carpeting anymore. She would do Mr. Thurman such a disservice to not bring the hardwood samples.
She arrived at the little frame house. The white asbestos shingles screamed 1950’s. It was sitting on a huge lot of mature trees, and balding grass. Keri got out of her car and reached into the pocket of her branded fleece jacket to feel her lucky charm – a small smooth stone she carried with her any time she was working. She had gotten in in the yard of the Magnolia Silos. After years of watching Chip and JoAnn Gaines renovate Waco, Texas, she took her father with her to see the silos and try to meet her idols. The Gaines, alas, were not available to meet her, much less give her advice on her design career. But she found this stone in the flower bed near the picnic tables and declared it to be a gift from JoAnn.
Mr. Thurman answered the door and invited her in. “Call me Wilson. Mr. Thurman was my father,” he said as she walked through the door.
This could not be the room he wanted to carpet. The golden-brown hardwood glistened in the sunlight streaming through the windows. She looked around, it appeared that this was the flooring through most of the house – at least the parts she could see. “Okay, Wilson it is. Now, which rooms are we carpeting.”
Wilson waved his arm. “This, the living room. And then the hall and the two bedrooms.”
“No, no that can’t be right.” Keri didn’t mean to say that out loud, but oops. “Those floors are so beautiful…”
“Yes, they are,” Wilson said. “And a nice layer of padding with the tan plush carpeting with help protect them and keep them beautiful.”
“For what? Life is for living and floors are for walking. Why not walk on beautiful floors?”
Wilson winked, “I think you are here to sell me carpet. I expected you to encourage me to buy a more expensive brand. But I am 78, I don’t need carpet that will last 50 years. Just something to keep my feet from getting cold.”
Keri stared down at the floor. She reached into her jacket pocket to feel her stone as if strength from her father would help her deal with this idiot. Covering these floors should be a crime! She felt around her pocket – nothing there! Where was it? She thrust her hands into her jeans pockets. Still nothing. Her heart rate rose with her panic. Did she drop it in the house? Surely she would have heard it hit the wood. Outside in the yard? How would she ever find it in that mess of a lawn? Keri stood frozen for a second.
Wilson was still going on about cold feet. Something about his wife hated when her feet were cold.
“Then wear a pair of damn slippers!” Keri said. At least he was alive to have cold feet, right?
“I’m sorry?” Wilson said.
“Slippers!” Keri’s voice rose in pitch and volume. “If your feet are cold, wear socks, shoes, slippers! Covering these floors is not the answer. It’s a stupid waste of money.”
Wilson tilted his head. “I’m not sure your attitude is good for your business.”
“Who cares about the damn business?” She was pacing around the living room now. “There are so many idiots who will pay through the nose for new flooring then cover it up with cheap polyester. The business is fine!”
“Maybe you need to go outside and get some fresh air?”
Keri grabbed her bag and held it tightly to her body. “I don’t need. you to tell me what to do. It’s you that should be listening to me. I am the designer! I am the expert here!”
“Well, you are not designing for me.” Wilson motioned to the door.
Keri ran from the house and out to the car. What had happened in there? You can’t yell at customers like that, not if you wanted them to stay customers. And why did she say she was a designer? She was the girl who answered the phones and made sure the coffee pot was full. Shit, she was going to be fired. He was probably on the phone with the store manager right now, demanded she be fired. Or worse, he was on the phone with Carpet One, arranging for one of their designers to head over with a car full of samples. She leaned on the hood of her Corolla and rooted through her bag looking for tissues. Damn, none. She wiped her eyes and the bottom of her nose with the sleeve of her sweater, then rubbed her sleeve with her other hand. There was nothing left to do here but leave. Maybe her manager could convince Wilson to let someone else come out and measure. As she reached for the door handle, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay?” Wilson withdrew his hand and took a step back.
“I can’t find my lucky stone. It’s not in my pocket.” Keri reached in her pocket, one more time to make sure.
“This really wasn’t about the hardwood floors, was it? Or your lucky stone. Why don’t you come have a cup of coffee and tell me what this is really about.” Wilson patted her shoulder again, then turned to go back in the house.
Keri followed him in. Maybe she could just measure, leave, and not ruin her chances of ever being a designer.
The coffee’s aroma was comforting. Keri sat at the dinette in the kitchen, the one room that did not have hardwood, but black and white checked linoleum. She was in the 50s for sure.
Wilson put a china teacup on a saucer in front of her. “My late wife’s china. She always insisted we use it for guests. I never got why you would do special things for strangers and not your own family, but that was Letty.” He poured coffee into the cup and pointed to the little china matching creamer and sugar bowl. “There’s the cream and sugar. Choose your own adventure.” He sat down with his own coffee.
Keri splashed some cream into the cup and watched the white cloud swirl in the dark coffee. It was strong, just like Dad liked. “The stone, I found it when I was on the last trip I took with my dad. He took me to the Silos at Magnolia for my birthday. We loved to watch Fixer Upper together, and the stone reminded me of all those quiet evenings.” She sniffed. “Ugh, until I ruined everything.”
“How was that?” Wilson stirred sugar into his own coffee.
“My dad, our last argument was that he wanted to cover up the hardwood in his house with cheap wall-to-wall carpeting.” It felt like she was at confession, a place she hadn’t been in years. “He had a stroke that evening and wasn’t ever able to talk again. The last time we spoke, we were shouting at each other.” The tears were starting again.
Wilson pulled out a bright white handkerchief and handed it to her. “Darling, the stroke was not caused by your argument. You know that, right?”
“In my head, yeah.” She sniffed. “But maybe not in my heart.”
“Can I ask, was it a fatal stroke?”
“He lost the use of his left side, and couldn’t speak. Mom couldn’t care for him at home, so he was at a nursing home.” She tried to stop the tears, but she couldn’t. “Mom went to see him every day. With work and school, I tried to go every day. But I did get there every week to watch Fixer Upper with him. Even though he couldn’t talk, he made his opinion known about the shiplap density of JoAnn’s designs.” She smiled to think of her dad’s reaction to one particular home with a shiplap feature wall. He threw his jello cup at the TV in the nursing home lounge.
“Is he still in the home?”
“No, he was there until COVID started. They had to lock down the home, but it still got in there.” She wiped her eyes and nose with the soft handkerchief. “He caught it and went to the ICU in the hospital. He was on a ventilator and everything, but they couldn’t save him. It was at the beginning when they really didn’t know about COVID.” She took a deep breath. “But the worst was that he was alone when he died. We couldn’t be there to hold his hand. We had to say goodbye through Facetime on the nurse’s phone.
Wilson reached across the table and took her hand. “My daughter was a nurse in New York City. She passed early on in the pandemic as well.”
Keri looked at him, he had tears in his eyes.
“I’ll tell you what, young lady. You go and get those measurements. We probably will never find the stone, but you are not talking me out of carpeting. How about once it gets installed, you come over and watch the Magnolia channel with me?”