It was a glorious spring morning in Excelsior. Trees were showing off their bright new leaves, and while tulips were dropping their petals, lilacs and lily of the valley were sweetening air already throbbing with the call of robins. Betsy would have left the door of her shop open if her shop manager Godwin had been there.
Uncharacteristically, he was late, so she had to keep it closed so its bing! would warn her of a customer’s entrance – she was busily re-arranging the back of the shop. The idea came from Susan Greening Davis, whose newsletter had become Betsy’s Great Guide. The layout of a shop should be changed at intervals of, say, six months, suggested Ms. Davis. Regular customers typically went to the same spot to look at familiar stock, and moving merchandize to a new spot would make them hunt around, and perhaps happily discover a new designer or even a new skill. One of the happiest things a shopowner can hear is a customer crying “I didn’t know you had these!”
Interestingly, re-arranging layout would often bring a similar cry from an employee – occasionally even a shop owner. Of course, if something has been on a shelf so long even the owner has forgotten, it should go into the deep-discount basket by the cash register forthwith.
On the other hand, there is, or should be, a pattern to shop layout, a way of drawing the customer in, teasing with a spinner rack of cute and inexpensive charts, then another one of new flosses, and yet another of the familiar and popular, and so on, building desire, until the customer finds herself standing before a display of expensive kits, the hunger to buy at a peak.
Or so Betsy hoped. She was standing on a little ladder, reaching to rearrange one of the track lights so it shone on the lovely new Kreinik silks when she heard, “Betsy? Betsy, are you in here?”
The voice came as something of a shock, because she hadn’t heard the door make its annoying Bing!
Betsy jumped down and hurried out between the two stacks of box shelves that divided the needlepoint-knitting area from the counted cross-stitch area. “Here I am! Oh, hello, Mrs. Wells. How – I mean, when did you come in? I didn’t hear the door.”
Mrs. Wells, a regular customer, turned to look at it. “You know, I didn’t either. Do you suppose – ?” She went to the door, opened and closed it again. It did not emit its usual harsh ring. “How about that?” she said, then, “I’m here to pick up my Spectrum canvas.”
“Oh, wait till you see it, it looks wonderful!”
Mrs. Wells had recently finished stitching a needlepoint canvas using a chart rather than stitching over a canvas with the pattern already painted on it. Painted canvases cost hundreds of dollars, while the chart was a mere twenty-five dollars. Plus materials, of course. Betsy had seen an ad for the Amybear chart in an issue of Needlework Retailer and ordered it on spec. Mrs. Wells’ glad cry on seeing it on Betsy’s shelf prompted Betsy to order two more.
Now, Betsy went behind the big desk that was her check-out counter and picked up a fourteen-inch square wrapped in brown paper. She carefully picked the tape away from one end of the package to disclose a framed circle of twelve segments, each segment a different color done in squares and rectangles of different stitches. Like a proper color wheel, the colors ranged from cool purple and blue to hot red and orange.
It was the stretching, matting, and framing Mrs. Wells was here to pay for today; she had selected an antique gold frame that was a perfect choice.
“Wow!” said Mrs. Wells, reaching for her checkbook.
“You did good,” agreed Betsy. “And so did Heidi.” Heidi was Betsy’s finisher.
“Where’s Godwin this morning?” asked Mrs. Wells a few minutes later, as she stood at the door looking around, the retaped needlepoint piece under one arm.
“He’s a bit late this morning,” said Betsy. “I expect him any minute.” She tried to keep the concern out of her voice. Godwin was rarely more than a few minutes late, and then he always called to say what had happened and when he’d be in. But today the shop had been open an hour with no sign or signal.
Mrs. Wells left, and Betsy went back to the track lighting.
“Betsy!” Again she was startled by the voice of someone in her shop without the warning Bing! But it was Godwin’s voice, and it sounded distraught.
“Goddy?” Betsy hurried out to the front of her shop to find her office manager leaning on the library table that stood in the middle of the floor. He was unshaven and wearing the same clothes he’d had on yesterday, now badly rumpled – and Godwin was a very fastidious dresser.
“What on earth’s the matter?” she said.
“It’s John. He’s thrown me out.” John was Godwin’s lover.
“Again?” Betsy regretted the query the instant it came out of her mouth. Godwin was a good man, but very sensitive.
Still, John had thrown Godwin out on several other occasions – and always they had made up after a few days or a week.
“It’s different this time, this time he really means it,” said Godwin in a low voice.
It was always “different this time,” but this time Betsy held her tongue.
He fell into a chair and rested his forehead in his hands. “He wouldn’t take two minutes to explain what the problem was, he wouldn’t even let me take a change of clothes, just tossed me out on my ear. I drove around for awhile, then I went back home and thought I’d park in front with the top down so he’d look out the window and feel sorry for me. But he didn’t, so I slept the whole night in my car.”
That explained his appearance.
“At least he didn’t throw your clothes out into the street this time,” Betsy pointed out.
“Yes,” agree Godwin. “But you know something? The time he did that, he was mad for a reason. I don’t know why he’s mad this time. He’s been getting crankier and crankier all week. Nothing I do suits him. And last night was the final straw. He yelled at me for doing the dishes – I am serious, for doing the dishes! He hates coming into the kitchen in the morning and seeing dishes in the sink, but last night he didn’t want me to do them. That was the last thing in a string of things he didn’t like. He didn’t like the shirt I wore to work yesterday, he didn’t like the music I put on for dinner – and it was one of our favorite albums! – and then he stomped in to shout about the dishes. It’s like he was looking for a fight! So I thought fine, and gave him one. And he ordered me to leave. ‘Out!’ he said, just like that. And I don’t know why, I just don’t know why.”
“Poor fellow,” said Betsy, and meant it. She came to put a hand on his shoulder.
“What am I going to do?” he cried, grabbing her hand and wetting it with his tears.
Betsy thought about it. “First of all,” she said, “you are going upstairs to wash your hands and face, then borrow a razor and clean yourself up. Then you are going out to buy a change of clothes. You know you always think more clearly when you look good, and besides, our customers expect it of you. Possibly by the time you get back down here, John will have come to his senses and phoned looking for you. It will be a good lesson to him if you aren’t waiting for that call.”
Godwin stopped sniveling to think about that. “I think you may be right,” he said.
“Of course I’m right.”
Heartened, Godwin stood and hugged her. “You are the best friend I’ve ever had! Where do you keep your razor?”
“Take a fresh one out of the linen closet in the bathroom.”
“Thanks.” He took the spare key to her apartment out of the check-out desk drawer, and went out the back door of the shop, which opened into a back hall leading to the entrance hall to the upstairs apartments.
Betsy went back to work rearranging the aim of her track lights, but her mind was only half on her work. Godwin was a good friend as well as a first-class employee, and she was sad to see him this unhappy over a break-up with a person she personally thought not worth one of Godwin’s tears. Every time one of these rifts happened, she would secretly hope Godwin would realize he had outgrown John – and every time they’d end up back together. It was a lot like watching a woman friend unable to dig in and divorce her awful husband.
One reason Godwin stayed with John was that John was lavish with money. He often took Godwin on weekend trips to New York or San Francisco, and, every February or March, on a week’s vacation to Cancun. A senior associate in a prestigious Minneapolis law firm, John earned a generous salary, and these trips were first class all the way. Godwin always came home from Cancun tanned, sated, and sporting a new piece of jewelry.
But this year had been different. Because of a complex case he was working on, John kept putting off his vacation. And when the case was over, March had just turned to April, and John declared it was too late to go, because, he said, Cancun was an oven in April.
Godwin had been sad about that. He came in to work next morning out of an early-April snowfall, sighing that Cancun in a heat wave was surely better than Minnesota in early April. “Someone famous said, ‘April is the cruelest month,’” he said, turning to look out the window. “Was he from Minnesota?”
Betsy laughed. “Though he was born in America, I don’t think TS Eliot ever even visited Minnesota,” she said.
That was the same day Godwin cut out a color ad from the Sunday paper. He’d been clipping coupons – he adored any kind of shopping, even for groceries – but this was not just a twenty-five cent coupon for salsa. Attached to the coupon was an ad announcing a chance to win a week in Cancun. The entry blank, which featured a rectangle in a bright-colored cubist design, was not to be mailed in, but brought to a local grocery store and put behind a decoding screen where, more than likely, the word Sorry would appear.
But not this time. Later that evening Betsy was taken from an interesting article on Elizabethan Blackwork to answer the phone.
“I won, I won, I won!” a voice shrieked in her ear.
“A trip to Mexico! I will never in my whole life eat any salsa but Mexicali Rose!”
“You mean that coupon you cut out was the winner? That’s wonderful! Congratulations! This is so great! You get to go to Cancun after all!”
“Well . . . no,” he said, turning down the volume a notch or two. “What I won was third prize, a pair of return plane tickets to Mexico City. But you see,” he hastened to add, “that’s actually better. Mexico City is up high, even higher than Denver, so it’s not terribly hot there. And we’ve done Cancun about to death, this will be a whole different place. Besides,” he added, more pragmatically, “this will be my treat, and I couldn’t afford Cancun, not the places John is used to staying at.”
“Yes, I’ve been really good about my credit cards lately, so I can actually afford to do this.”
The next day, Betsy had asked, “How does John feel about you taking him instead of him taking you?”
Godwin chuckled. “He likes it. He was surprised, of course, but I said, ‘It’s about my turn, isn’t it?’ and he said, ‘Well, why not?’ So I think he’s pleased.”
“Good for you, Goddy,” said Betsy. “It’s especially nice of you to offer to pay for everything.”
“Yes, well, I’ll have to get online and see what rates I can get for a hotel. But it is past the season, so I should be able to get something decent for not very much money. I mean, I know Mexico City isn’t Cancun, but there should be at least one nice hotel.”
Soon Godwin reported that Mexico City, in fact, offered some spectacular hotels, well up to John’s standards – but, sadly, their rates were outside his budget, even in the off season. But John, by Godwin’s report, was amused and touched by Godwin’s efforts to please him, and said he was willing to come down a step or two, so long as he didn’t have to wrestle with a cucaracha for his pillow. So Godwin consulted with Travelocity, and found a terrific price at the three-star Hotel del Prado and booked it for five nights. “I’d go for a week, but if I did, we couldn’t afford to go sightseeing.” By then he had acquired a book on Mexico City and was thrilled to discover there were Aztec ruins nearby – “With actual pyramids! I adore pyramids!” – plus the world-famous Museum of Anthropology – “John adores museums!” And, of course, lots of night life and plenty of places to shop, which both of them adored.
It took a little while for the tickets to arrive and the flight to be scheduled, so it was not until April 22 that Betsy had driven the two of them to the airport and wished them bon voyage.
Godwin came back six days later jubilant and showing off a tan acquired on a jaunt to Teotihuacan, the ancient pyramid complex outside Mexico City. “I climbed all the way to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun!” he proclaimed, then staggered around panting heavily to demonstrate how hard the task had been in the thin air. Customers were amused. One who’d been there was definitely impressed. “Those steps are steep and it’s a hard climb!” she’d said.
Among the gifts he brought home was a clay statue of a high-nosed standing woman spinning wool by hand, a replica of an Aztec piece in the Museum of Anthropology. “It’s for the shop,” he’d said, and put it on a shelf near the knitting yarns. About the famous Museum of Anthropology, he told everyone, “That place is fantastic, but it just wore us out! It’s bigger than any other museum I’ve ever been in.” He told Betsy over a lunchtime sandwich, “I learned a lot about the different kinds of nations they had in ancient times down there. The Maya were all right if you like conquest, the Olmecs had a thing for conjoined twins, but those Aztecs were nasty! I didn’t know until we went to the museum what ‘flay’ really means. Do you know, their priests would actually walk around wearing someone else’s skin?” He gave a dramatic shudder.
Betsy put her sandwich down. “Oh, ick, Goddy!” she said. “Who told you that? Does John speak Spanish?”
“Oh, no, he makes a point of not learning the language. They had guides in lots of languages, but it didn’t take a guide to tell us about the flaying, they made statues of it!”
“Enough, enough!” said Betsy, pushing her sandwich away. “How was the rest of the trip?”
“It was nice. In fact, everywhere we went there were usually people who spoke enough English so we got along fine. And when there wasn’t we had this taxi driver, he became like a friend, he took us everywhere, and translated for us. Once we got used to his accent, he was great. We sometimes brought him into the hotel, because that was the one place where no one spoke any English. On the other hand, their breakfast buffet was superb!” He waxed so lyrical on the huevos aporreados and orejas chilaquiles verdes that her appetite came back.
At a Sabado Mercado – Saturday Market – John had bought a semi-abstract iron sculpture of a man on a horse. “We think it’s a man on a horse,” amended Godwin, “but whatever it is, John liked it, and I bought it for him.” And after some spirited bargaining, Godwin also bought himself a beautiful bracelet of heavy silver links and, for Betsy, a necklace and earrings of white shell and red coral. He’d even bought a gift for Sophie, the sweet and lazy shop cat. It was a chicken made of slices of colored sponges – the body was a simple cylinder, the head and tail silhouettes. Hidden in its underside was a small disposable plastic cup that had a long string hanging from it. Sophie had sniffed the chicken eagerly, possibly picking up strange smells but more likely hoping it was something good to eat. Godwin lifted it out of her reach, wrapped a small square of sponge around the string, and slid it downward. A loud squawk came from the chicken and Sophie fell off her chair in surprise. Godwin laughed and showed how a more careful tugging of the sponge down the string produced a sound like a rooster’s crow. He continued to play with the toy, not noticing that Sophie had fled to the back storage room of the shop, where she remained hidden until Godwin tired of making it squawk.
That evening, Betsy had taken the foam rubber chicken upstairs to be put into a drawer, and was probably almost as glad as Sophie that Godwin never asked where it had gone.
Remembering that, Betsy sighed. Godwin was sensitive, but not always about others.
She was reaching rather far forward to nudge the last track light into place when she heard the front door to the shop open. But still no Bing!
She climbed down the little ladder and went into the front to find a tall, very slender woman with bright red hair running long white fingers through the desperate-sale charts on the check-out desk.
“Hello, Ms. Lavery,” said Betsy. Susan Lavery was a relatively new customer.
“Hi, Betsy. Your doorbell’s broken.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I bet half your customers are pleased about that.”
“Me, too, mostly.” Indeed, the raucous note the thing sounded whenever the door was opened was at least as much annoyance as aid. But estimates to replace it were costly enough to make her decide to put up with it. Until now, of course.
Susan laughed. “I’ve got a friend at work who just announced she’s pregnant. She’s about six weeks along, and I figure if I start now, maybe I can have a baby sampler done for her in time for the baby’s first birthday.”
Betsy smiled and said, “Well, in that case, you’ll be ahead of the game. Lots of children get their stitched birth announcements about the time they start kindergarten. But if I may offer a suggestion?”
“Certainly,” Susan said in her pleasant dry drawl.
“Godwin came back from Mexico City with some charts from a new designer he met down there. She does an interesting mix, some are exotic little symbols from the Aztec language and some are cute teddy bears and blocks that would look darling on a birth announcement.”
For a moment Betsy looked as blankly at Susan as Susan was looking at her. Then Betsy said, “That is amazing, but I think it’s true: you’ve never met my shop manager, Godwin DuLac.”
Susan frowned. “I think I’ve heard that name before, but I’m sure I’ve never met him. But I’ve only come into your store, what, six or seven times?”
“Well, Godwin works at least as many hours as I do, so it’s odd you haven’t met him. But that’s not the point. Here, let me show you some of her designs.” Betsy let the way to a spinner rack devoted to baby and toddler charts.
“I have some pastel pink or blue aida cloth you can work these on,” said Betsy, handing Susan three charts. One was of a trio of ducklings, one a trio of baby bluebirds, one a laughing Teddy bear. “You can use the alphabet chart I sold you last week. What I suggest you do is work one or two of these on the cloth now, plus a border from that kit you bought the first time you came in – “
“My word, how do you do that?” demanded Susan.
“Remember what I bought here!”
“I don’t know. I can’t do it all the time, just once in awhile.” Betsy didn’t want to say that Susan, with her height, beauty and that improbable hair, was a memorable person.
“Anyway,” Betsy continued, “Do the border and the figures now. If the mother decides to name the baby ahead of time, you can put that on – and then all you’ll have left to do is fill in the date.”
“Okay, I like that. Say, what’s that?” She reached for another counted chart. “Hey, it’s a tlatolli!”
“A what? What’s a ‘tlatolli’?”
“This is,” said Susan, holding out the chart. It was another of Maru’s designs, a strange device that looked like a J outlined on one side with crenellations.
“Oh, that. Godwin brought it back from Mexico. It’s Aztec.”
“You bet it is! It means ‘talk.’ You see it in Aztec paintings in front of figures who are lecturing or talking.”
“You do? How interesting.” Betsy looked more closely at the chart. “Like a speech balloon in comic strips, I guess.”
“Sort of, except it doesn’t say what they’re talking about. Here, I want this one, too.”
Betsy hoped Godwin would come down while Susan was still here, but she kept her record intact by going out the front door just about one minute before he came in the back.
He found Betsy selecting some yarn for a new knitting project she wanted to try.
“Betsy, I was thinking, I just about maxed out my credit cards in Mexico City, so how am I supposed to shop for clothes?”
“Get just one pair of slacks and two shirts. There’s a K-Mart and a Target right up Highway Seven at one-oh-one.”
“K-Mart?” He stared at her in surprise. “You want me to buy work clothes at K-Mart?”
“Or Target,” she said, nodding. John had accustomed Godwin to far, far more upscale stores than these. But she wasn’t going to continue the custom. “You have such a great sense of style, I’m sure you can find something affordable that will look terrific.”
He smiled, if faintly. “I hope you’re right,” he sighed and took himself off.