Fiction · 10/30/2019

Retail

The day after I got the news about my father, I drove to the mall to buy a suit. It was the middle of the afternoon, bright and hot, but the parking lot was nearly empty. Fat seagulls, with feathers the color of spent mops, congregated near the entrance doors. I had to remember where the men’s store was. It had been a few years since I’d been to the mall. Who goes to the mall anymore?

When I entered the store, I saw an employee sitting behind a cash register, but it wasn’t until I approached him that I realized he was sleeping. He was an older man, about my father’s age, with white hair across his knuckles. A yellow tape measure hung listlessly from his thick neck.

“Excuse me?” I said. “I need to get measured for a suit.”

The man stood up suddenly and said, “You didn’t like the fit?” He fumbled for the tape measure, then held it to my shoulder. “Not right?”

“No,” I said. “I haven’t been measured yet.”

The man came from behind the register. “If I say it’s the right fit, it’s the right fit,” he said. He instructed me to look up, wrapped the tape measure around my neck, and pulled it tight.

“That hurts,” I said.

“Don’t move,” the man instructed. “You move it’s no good.” Up close, I could see hairs curling from his nostrils. The man told me my measurements.

“Those sound kind of small,” I said. They were the same measurements as the last time I’d purchased a suit, back in junior high, my father taking me to the mall to get ready for graduation. But the man was already grabbing suits off the racks. He carried over a half-dozen in his arms. The suits were spring colors: pastel blue, Easter white, daffodil yellow.

“Try these,” he said.

“These aren’t the right kind.”

“You haven’t even tried them!” the man said.

I tried to explain about my father, but at that moment the phone at the cash register rang, and the man scrambled to answer it. “Yes?” he said. Then, “Yes, he’s here.” The man gave me a look. “No, he says they aren’t right.” The man nodded his head at whatever the person on the other end was saying. “That’s what I told him,” the man said. “I said, ‘But you haven’t even tried yet.’” The man shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t.” The man held the phone out to me.

“Here,” the man said. “He said wants to speak to you.”

“Who?” I said.

“Who do you think?”

I reached for the phone and held it to my ear. “Hello?” I said.

Before I could hear anything, a seagull landed on my arm, and then another on my shoulder, on the cash register, on the suit racks, on the man’s head.

“Stupid birds!” the man shouted. “Shoo!” He swung at them with the tape measure. “How many times must I tell you?”

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Anthony Varallo is the author of the novel The Lines, from the University of Iowa Press, as well as four short story collections: This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; Think of Me and I’ll Know (TriQuarterly Books); and Everyone Was There, winner of the Elixir Press Fiction Award. Currently he is professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.