The Time the Black Friday Sale at Lilabelle Durham’s Upscale Boutique Got a Little Out of Hand
It was Thanksgiving afternoon and a line had already formed in front of Lilabelle Durham’s upscale boutique in Poplar Square for her first ever Black Friday Sale that was set to begin at midnight. Thanks to Lilabelle’s extensive marketing efforts (she had taken an online marketing course over the summer) with flyers tacked to the back of every lamp post, street sign and telephone pole, laminated beneath a sheet of clear plastic with a single red party balloon tied to the top, and both an insert in the paper and a 1/16 page black-and-white ad in the classifieds section, as well as spots on the local public radio station, folks had come from far and wide. Queued up and waiting were not only residents of Birchmont Village, but denizens from the nearby districts of Ashfork, Chester Hills and Limerock, and the other nearby districts of Ridgeland and Rollingway, and from even further away in Cole’s Landing.
People had hurried through their meals and cut short their celebrations to make it to Lilabelle Durham’s shop. Harris Maggiano turned off the big football game in the second half (and he had money on it!), and Pastor Simmeons presented only an abridged version of his annual Thanksgiving sermon (though people weren’t too bent out of shape over that as Pastor Simmeons could be quite longwinded), and Mary Ellen Plumberly had simply allowed the dishes to soak in the sink instead of washing them right away which was normally her way (and she had to admit that it bothered her a tad, the thought of dirty dishes piled in the sink awaiting her return). But desperate times called for desperate measures and there were bargains to be had.
Lilabelle Durham was placing her entire inventory on sale, from the imported silk doilies to the fashionable alpaca sweaters to the glimmering gem necklaces and brooches to the colorful replica jockey silks that people displayed on their front doors during Derby season (a trend, incidentally, that Lilabelle had started), along with sundry tchotchkes, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. Discounts were as deep as seventy-five-percent. “She’s practically giving it away!” exclaimed Hank Walters Bryant, the ranking member of the village council and known penny pincher, who was prone to hyperbole but on this he was correct. Above everything else, the majority of these buyers seemed most interested in the hottest toy of the season, some thingamabob with a weird name that no adults could pronounce that spun and bounced, and lit up, and made sounds, and did all sorts of other stuff that the kids were crazy about. Lilabelle had managed to secure a crate of these gizmos that she was willing to sell at cost when every other store within three states had already sold out. It was exciting indeed, as the line continued to grow outside the store throughout the day and into the evening with a palpable sense of exhilaration that charged the air.
These patient waiters did whatever they could to pass the time until midnight, joking and talking and playing Bunco, discussing sports and politics and current events and gossip and innuendo, with some exchanging business cards and recipes and the names and phone numbers of babysitters and handymen, and generally chuckling and guffawing and shooting the breeze, that sort of thing. Old Man Williams recounted, to nobody in particular, how the land that comprised this neighborhood, and Ridgeland to the east, was once nothing but pristine farmland. Naomi Persimmon knitted a winter scarf, and Eugene Bowlering sipped bourbon from a flask shaped like a horse head, and Chip Charoothers gently rocked his sleeping infant son, Chip Junior, in a stroller. A circle of graduate students, “home for Turkey Day” they would gleefully say, a brief respite before final exams, kicked around a hacky sack, and the starting lineup of the St. Martins Dragons, the reigning regional Little League champs, engaged in a game of flashlight tag.
The renters who shared a two-bedroom suite at the Stonemill Apartments at the end of Blanchard next to the park performed peppy tunes with their guitars and bongo drums and tambourines. Young Billy Milner, an enterprising eleven-year-old counting the days until he turned twelve, sold hot chocolate from a stand fashioned from a stack of TV trays he carried from his father’s rec room in the basement, his loyal bud, Chubz, the Johnson family cat, at his feet to eagerly lap up any spilled cocoa. Ted Canari, boasting of a recent trip to the casino across the river where he supposedly won big at a private game of baccarat cordoned off from the general public by a velvet rope, noted “we should do this more often,” which was met with a very awkward and stilted silence until he clarified, “without standing outside in the middle of the night of course.”
As the hours, and then the minutes, ticked down, the crowd became noticeably anxious and restless, not unlike at the annual Birchmont Village New Year’s Eve Grandest Spectacular (a title that Hank Rogers Bryant had coined and no one could think of anything else to call it) only more so because this involved drastically discounted merchandise. Officer Fifeson, hoping for the best but fearing the worse (which was his motto, although, as he was required to clarify, not that of the Ridgeland Police Department for which he worked), readied his whistle in case he would need to restore order should anyone breach the secured perimeter he had established with yellow barricade tape to keep everyone cordoned within the line. There was a countdown from ninety seconds — until everyone realized that was way too long — and then from ten seconds. But at zero, nothing happened, no flinging open of the doors, not even a flipping over of the CLOSED sign in the window. So they counted down again, this time from five, and with more emphasis and enunciation as if that would matter — but it didn’t. The structure remained shuttered, and with no evidence that anyone was even inside.
There were nervous murmurings, and pointing and peering about. “What the heck gives?” asked Mrs. Shuttleford in a rather loud voice as she was a bit hard of hearing, except she used a word much harsher than “heck” causing parents who had brought their children, since there was no school tomorrow, to cover their ears, and evoking a stern rebuking from Pastor Simmeons, to the smug satisfaction of many in that assemblage considering it was usually Mrs. Shuttleford who did the rebuking. Hank Rogers Bryant consulted with Officer Fifeson, whispering, though most everyone could hear, “If we don’t figure out what’s going on, this could turn into a warzone,” which only further agitated the horde. Ted Canari shouted that if he didn’t get that whatchamacallit new toy he would demand a pro rata credit for the aggravation — which made no sense since Ted had not put any type of deposit down, but this was just his standard threat.
There were further rumblings and grumblings, and a shared unsettledness and simmering discontent, so much so that Officer Fifeson, in a last ditch effort, sprinted to the Ridgeland cruiser — and at first it seemed like he was fleeing the scene — to flash the lights and blare the siren, which was absolutely necessary given the circumstances. Yet that still did not calm what had become an angry (and if not angry, then certainly perturbed) mob (and if not a mob, then certainly a gathering). Officer Fifeson was about to call for backup when the front door of the boutique cracked open a sliver, and a little more, and a little more still, and out peeped an uncharacteristically meek Lilabelle Durham. She was greeted, or more like just met, with booing and hissing and gestures of general contempt. Officer Fifeson blew his whistle so hard to quiet the crowd that the tiny silver ball inside got stuck and it just became a steady stream of air. He rushed to Lilabelle’s aid, accompanied by Hank Walters Bryant, who had difficulty keeping up since he wasn’t in as good of shape as a trained police officer (though he was taking Zumba lessons on alternate Wednesdays in the basement of the Birchmont Village Church), but he got there all the same. The three discussed amongst themselves, their backs to the agitated throng ostensibly in case anyone out there could read lips.
When they had apparently reached a consensus, after a surprisingly heated exchange, Hank Walters Bryant strolled over to the official golf cart boldly emblazoned with the letters “B.V.” that he had arrived in and parked at the side of the building, aware that all eyes were on him, and they were (and he clearly relished that). He returned with the bullhorn that he kept in the golf cart for precisely such a crisis and, over the squeal of feedback, announced that due to supply chain issues that doohickey new toy had not yet been delivered. This, of course, did not sit well with the maddened mass but enraged them even more. Officer Fifeson had his radio to his mouth and was one thumb press away from requesting reinforcements when Lilabelle Durham grabbed the bullhorn from Hank (and she was the first person so brave to ever do that and get away with it) to address the audience herself.
The atmosphere became suddenly still, as all leaned in to listen to what Lilabelle had to say. “This better be good,” commented Ted Canari, folding his arms across his chest, a look of haughty disdain. Lilabelle explained, in a voice that quivered and shook for she was visibly upset, that the situation was well out of her hands. She confessed that she had had the best of intentions in her offer to sell the doodads without exacting any profit, and, in fact, incurring a slight loss since she was fronting the shipping fees. “But it is what it is,” she said with a shrug. Nevertheless, she promised that when these widgets did arrive — and she added that as soon as she was done here she was going to get on the phone and give her supplier heck, except she used a word much harsher than “heck” and no one minded that, given the circumstances — she would still sell them as planned, and, as a show of good faith, distributed vouchers to the first fifty people in line (because that was all of those things she was able to order). In addition, everyone — and Lilabelle Durham stressed everyone — would receive a twenty-five dollar in-store credit, and free gift wrapping! And she reiterated, though at that point she really had no need to, that she was sorry, and she never meant to cause anyone distress, and she swore that something as unfortunate as this would never happen again.
That heartfelt speech successfully diffused the situation, and caused everyone to take a step back and examine themselves. After they realized how greedy and unruly and unappreciative they had been, this rabble collectively felt three sizes smaller. Lilabelle unlocked the doors, and people filed inside in an orderly manner, under the watchful eye of Officer Fifeson in case there was any “funny business” (his words), and proceeded to buy up everything in stock, the entire inventory, down to the very last tchotchke, knick-knack and bric-a-brac — and at full price! Not only that, but not a one of them cashed in their twenty-five dollar credit, not even Ted Canari (and he didn’t even complain about it). As the sun rose above the horizon and the sky brightened to usher in the day, Lilabelle was recording her receipts and crunching the numbers and arranging the delivery, posthaste, of an entirely new batch of inventory, for it appeared that this would be a busy, and profitable, holiday shopping season, if this day were any indication, the time the Black Friday Sale at Lilabelle Durham’s upscale boutique got a little out of hand.
This short story is part of the collection (Mostly) True Tales From Birchmont Village — The Complete Year, available now from Amazon, for Kindle Unlimited, or order from your favorite independent bookstore [ISBN: 978–1–7375801–4–0]