Princess

PrincessThe bright jingle of bells signaled the day’s first customer. He was a large man, both tall and hefty, with a belly like a basketball that stretched taut his torn T-shirt. Over the T-shirt he wore a leather vest. I could not read his expression beneath the wild beard and mustache.

“Good morning,” I offered.

He grunted in reply, bending forward to look into a nearby display. His dirty fingers pressed against the clean glass.

“Can I help you, sir?” I wished my husband would return soon from his daily coffee run.

The man shook his big head and continued his slow, ponderous perusal. Ours is a shop of delicate souvenirs and pretty mementos, of items of glass and china, the sort of place daughters go to buy gifts for their mothers and grandmothers. One corner contained pewter figures of wizards and dragons, a refuge for boys and men. The biker skipped over this medieval shrine with barely a pause.

My husband had surely gotten into a discussion about politics and would never return.

The biker stopped in front of me, locked his eyes on me, and grunted.

“Yes, sir, can I help you?”

“What would you get from here?”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Isn’t there anything you’d buy from your own store?”

“Oh.” There are many answers to that question, depending on the customer. One look at his towering figure and I decided to give him my most truthful one. “Over here.”

I opened a glass case and carefully lifted a fine character in glass, her limbs elegantly exaggerated. It was a girl sitting as if relaxing in a glade. In its simplicity, it captured a sense of beauty and longing.

The man peered at the figure like some Gulliver studying a Lilliputian. He smacked his lips in thought. “I have a daughter….”

“It’s expensive,” I interrupted, not wanting to give up my treasure to this man.

“I have not seen her for twenty years. She left home when she was sixteen. I’m going to see her today.” He reached out a hand as if to stroke the glass girl. “What is this called?”

“Princess.”

“I’ll take it.”

I gift-wrapped the box and handed it to him. He seemed almost afraid to hold it. “Thank you,” he said. Then he tiptoed to the door, holding the box like a new father first holds his child.

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