Fred Miller is a California writer. Over a hundred of his stories and poems have appeared in publications around the world over the past ten years. Many may be found on his blog: https://pookah1943.wordpress.com
A shimmering light flanks a storm of guests aflush in the widened doorway. Tired shoes flagged by time and pale garb draped over supple girths await the coming advance toward treasures and passing fancies of hidden deceit. “Welcome to Del-Mart, welcome,” she sings, her dauntless gaze fixed on the approaching horde, her ears attuned to queries of aisles and rows where specials are to be had. The clamor of soft-soled sneakers, the hushed sound of faded fabrics, and scents of defeated humanity shuffle by in waves seeking endless satisfactions. “Welcome to Del-Mart. We’re glad you’re here,” she says. “Stockings and socks? Aisle twelve. Electronics? Aisle thirty-seven toward the back. Welcome. “ Minute-by-minute, guileless crowds with visions blurred by shrewd schemes of enhanced profits pass by with runny-nosed kids keening for toys touted by the Saturday morning media. “Welcome, welcome,” she chats in rote verse, her hearty smile augmented by light pats of blush. Soon, her feet cry out from the heft of the job and prickles of pain dance across the small of her back. Twenty minutes hence, a brief respite awaits: a seat, a quiet reserve, and a nibble of nosh, perhaps. “We’re glad you are here. Welcome to Del-Mart.” A child’s grin and a wave provide a pleasing reply. Nine days and counting, she remembers well, a check from Sam enroute. Not enough, but some help, her life partner gone, the rent now due. From an untimely departure, a vessel of provision has vanished, his spirit now wed to an ethereal summons. The breath of his presence now a lingering remembrance, she shelters alone in quiet sorrow. Her timely liturgy at the portals continues, “Welcome to Del-Mart. Pre-Christmas sales start today. Welcome.” Relief arrives in a quiet, white room with hints of disinfectant. Angry notices stare down from the wall: Know Your Rights, Wear Your Del-Mart Smile, Wash Your Hands Before Returning to Your Station. A local senior center will soon host a job fair: manicurists, hair stylists, janitorial jobs, and more. Age? Experience? No matter. Her dreams remain young. Years left to go, she reminds herself, years. Her tongue laden with simple greetings, she returns. “Welcome to Del-Mart. Pre-Christmas sales are in progress. We’re glad you are here. Welcome.” A tot spouts out an antiphonal response. She smiles. Processions, processions, pitiful processions in waves. And to where? Advent lures unsuspecting eyes to mock illuminations and piped-in music, hard-held thieves of time and money. “Welcome, Welcome. We’re glad you’re here. Welcome.” The clock crawls forward. One hour thirty-five minutes to go. And five minutes to the transit. On the bus, her visions expand. Perhaps a position as a hostess in a tony restaurant. Maybe an executive assistant in a white-collar setting. She’s trainable and she’s confident. And she is ready. ‘Welcome, welcome’, echoes about in her head. Her face reflects character and promise, her dreams the sole purchase in her life. The contours of her eyes close to an unstoried future, her collective consciousness a tapestry of hope for tomorrow. Tomorrow will tell. Tomorrow.
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