We follow the safe room signs to a low brick commercial building on the edge of town, a hardware store. A little bell rings above the front door as we open it. Not a buzzer and not some plastic box with a sound chip buried inside it. It’s a real honest to god brass bell, hanging off a little metal bracket so the top of the door strikes it every time it’s opened.
We hear a woman’s voice from the back of the hardware store:
“In a minute! Come on in and make yourselves at home! We’ll be along in a jiffy! Frank? Frank! We’ve got customers!”
Zoey and I exchange nervous glances. I shift my weight on my crutch, looking around me. The walls are lined with signs and hardware posters from another era; another millenium. ‘Ray-O-Vac Batteries: Power of the Black Cat!’ ‘Turtle-Zinc Galvanized Screws and Fasteners: Keeps Tightness In; Moisture Out!’ ‘Honor-Guard Home Alarm Systems: Day and Night, Your Silent Sentinel.’
Beneath the posters are wainscoted walls slathered with so many layers of paint it’s hard to see where one board ends and the next begins. Worn hardwood floors lie beneath our feet.
Aside from the almost complete lack of store inventory, the only thing about this establishment that truly differs from something straight out of the mid 20th century is the arrangement of the freestanding store shelving units. They’re butted together and arranged to form a zig-zag pathway from the front of the store to the back. To reach the rear wall, visitors must turn 90 degrees and walk all the way to the wall to the right, step forward 4 feet, then walk all the way back across the storeroom to the left wall, forward another four feet, then back to the right wall, then all the way to the left again and finally walk back to the far right corner of this room. There, a steel re-enforced door with a small barred opening, framing the smiling visage of a white haired lady with twinkling eyes, smiling broadly in my direction. “Oh look Frank. It’s a young girl who dropped by with her grandfather!”
I lean over to Zoey and whisper: “OK, where are we? Mayberry or the Twilight Zone?
Zoey is considering my question when our greeter steps away from the small aperture in the door and is replaced by the barrel of a 12 gauge shotgun. It sweeps from my chest to Zoey’s, and back to me again. I’m guessing this would be Frank.
Zoey whispers back to me: “Twilight Zone.” I nod.
“Well Frank, aren’t you going to greet our guests?”
I’m not sure I’m comfortable with what Frank’s 'greeting' might be.
“All right miss, you and the old man, step to your right, come up one row, and then stop.”
“Oh Frank, must you go through this every time?”
“Mary! Hush! This is called ‘protocol’!”
“No Frank, this is called ‘being rude to our guests’!”
“Frank’s right to be cautious ma’am,” I offer. “These are trying times. You can’t be too careful.” Zoey and I move to the right wall, step forward, and stop.
“Well, aren’t you the most accommodating gentleman! Don’t you think we can trust these nice people, Frank?”
“A little too accommodating, if you ask me. I’ll ask you two to not speak unless spoken to! You may move to the left and proceed one more row, and not a step further!”
“Oh Frank! Now you just made that up, that nonsense about ‘not speaking unless you’re spoken to!’ That isn’t part of any protocol you’ve ever come up with before! You two out there, pay no mind to Frank. You feel free to speak whatever you please!”
Zoey and I exchange glances. Frank’s the one with the 12 gauge. Speak our minds, or get our faces blown off? Minds, faces. Speak, die. Shutting up sounds like the low risk option at the moment. I nudge Zoey. “Definitely Twilight Zone,“ I mouth silently, nodding.
We cross back to the left side of the room, step forward and stop.
“Well, I hope you’re happy with yourself Frank. You’ve managed to put the fear of God in those two. Look at that poor gentleman! Why, he’s a white as a ghost! They’ve reached the second row without the least bit of fuss and that means they’re good people. So just stop pointing that ugly, ugly, despicable rifle!”
“I’m in charge of protocol, Mary and how many times do I have to tell you this isn’t a rifle it’s a shotgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, you have to use the right terminology because it sounds more intimidating than ‘rifle‘! And until we know what kind of people they are we need to intimidate them!”
Zoey to me: “They do know we’re right here, listening to all this, right?”
Mary now, to Frank: “Well I know what kind of people we are, or at least I am! And we don’t intimidate visitors who get to the second row without any fuss. Now put that silly thing away this instant!”
Frank, bellowing: “No Mary, I’m in charge of protocol!“
“Well Frank, that may well be, but I’m in charge of cooking. And I was thinking about making something special with that rhubarb Gavin brought in from the garden yesterday. But now, I just don’t know. I think it might be too hot. Yes. Far too hot in the kitchen to do any baking.
I nudge Zoey. “I got it: ‘The Honeymooners’.” She stifles a giggle.
“The cobbler you make with the brown sugar?
“Possibly, I just can‘t seem to remember, Frank.”
Zoey, in a hushed baritone: “One of these days, Alice. Pow! Straight to the moon!“ I snort.
“And molasses and the quick oats?”
“Well I don’t know, Frank. I think I’m just too hot and too upset to remember exactly what I was thinking of making. No mind, I’m sure it’ll come to me. In a week or two. Or three.”
“Oh, Mary, you know I was gonna let ‘em come on up as soon as they got to the third row. You never let me intimidate ‘em to the third row!”
“Oh for goodness sakes, Frank, haven’t you ever heard of judging character? If some big hulking brute with leather and tattoos comes in, I’ll let you intimidate him right up to the steel door! But look at them, just a pretty little thing and her ailing grandfather. Poor old man, being all polite and accommodating and he can barely hold himself up with that stick of a crutch anyways. So you just put that thing away, Frank, and greet our guests like a proper Christian gentleman.”
Zoey, in a whisper: “I got it! Looney Tunes.“ I almost lose my footing, trying so hard not to laugh.
Mary struggles with the bolt. “Frank! Help me with this thing! Now you two just hold on and - ah! There we are!”
Last edited by majorhavoc
on Sat Dec 31, 2011 12:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.