The Man Who Sold Time
by Arthur Davis
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
You could pass right through town without thinking twice. Most citizens of Longly Falls did just that, unless they were in need. It wasn’t as though they couldn’t read the small, faded green sign, the one painted by Henry Longfellow Serling’s grandfather shortly before the Civil War; it was just that it had been there for so long that no one gave it much thought.
And that was fine by Henry, too. He was proud of the business, and money had never been his passion. Fishing came first, at least that’s what his wife Helen said at her Thursday afternoon card group. But the ladies knew better. They knew Henry and Helen loved each other and were never far from the other’s side or thoughts, except when it came to Helen’s cards or Henry’s fishing.
What pleased Henry was helping others. It was a quiet, reasonable calling. That was how he would describe himself in the mirror every morning. Reasonable. It was not something you aspired to. You were born to it. Like he was born to The Store That Sold Time.
Of course that’s not what anybody believed when they passed by. They read the words—the five small words that had to be arranged in a very special order for a very special reason. One little girl standing at her mother’s side thought it sounded like a nursery rhyme. Henry Serling did little to discourage such flights of fantasy. “After all, isn’t that what childhood is all about?” he said to the little girl’s mother.
Lucy Flanders, a heavy-set matron in her mid-forties, looked down at her daughter and sent her outside to play. “But don’t you go too far,” she admonished. She shifted about a bit, straightening her blouse before she could bring herself to the issue.
“I need a week,” she gushed, after exchanging pleasantries. “Three or four days would be wonderful, if you can’t give me the week.”
Betsy Channing and her husband Leonard walked by and nodded respectfully. Leonard had been in nearly a year ago and asked a month for his boyhood friend. It took Henry the better part of an hour to consider his response. When Leonard returned, his request was granted, though the nature of the fee for such services had yet to be determined. Sometimes they never were.
Henry considered the woman’s child playing on the wooden sidewalk outside the store. “Lovely little girl you have there.”
“She’s a dear. She’s all I have.” A pall of gray swept over the woman as though a shade had been drawn across her weathered face. “My husband died two years ago. An auto accident over in Sagewood. Thank you, Lord,” she said, crossing herself twice, “for taking him quick. I’ve always said when my time comes, ‘Oh Lord, take me in the blink of a bat’s eye.’”
“I never heard that one.”
Lucy Flanders eased a bit. “My aunt Loretta’s favorite.”
“And the time you need?”
“It’s for her. My daughter.”
Henry went to the window. He had been meaning to mend the cracked glass for weeks but he’d been so busy. And Helen had that nagging cold so he would leave work early to tend to her. He liked that.
It sounded maudlin, he knew, but Helen was his best friend, and his only child. She enjoyed his fussing over her and gave him back every fuss he lavished on her many times over. Maybe he’d bring her some ice cream.
Gibson’s just got in a new flavor. Cherry vanilla ripple. The bright red and white treat sounded like quite a sumptuous concoction. But Helen was having trouble with her weight so he had to be extra careful how he loved her. Only sometimes it was hard to be careful and loving all at once.
Henry turned back to Lucy Flanders. Either they were agitated or anxious, or simply frightened. He’d dealt with them all in his time. Tom Chatsworthy came in a year or two back all afflicted with dread. He needed over a month. You could see it in his eyes that the man knew he was asking for something special. Something you simply didn’t request unless you were terribly desperate.
Henry listened attentively to Tom’s story and, after some deliberation, gave the man what he needed. And he did it without making Tom feel small or as if he was begging. That was the key to repeat business he told Helen, and in return got a kiss on the cheek which he savored for the rest of the day.
“It’s my sister Thelma. She’s coming next Sunday,” Lucy Flanders went on: “I don’t have the money to entertain, not that she would be expecting it but, well, you know. She’s my little girl’s only relative if anything happened to me. You understand.
“See, in a few days I will get my check, the one that comes from the insurance company every month for Jenny and me since Clarence was killed. I just want to do something extra for Thelma. Not expensive, Lord knows we don’t have that kind of money, and we’re not that kind of people but, well, something to make her visit special.”
Jenny and her mother Lucy walked out of the store with a full week. Plenty of time to get the insurance check and cash it and spruce up the home with flowers and buy a new linen tablecloth which was what the woman had in mind after all.
Henry made a note of the transaction in his journal. He treasured his entries and the columns, the pages and the books they filled. He was neat and well organized, just like his father and his father’s father. Two characteristics sorely lacking in many businessmen these days, he would clamor over dinner. “Just a bunch of damn fools out to make a quick buck and leave town and a trail of broken promises.”
“Stop cursing and finish your dinner,” Helen said while trying to stop him from reading the town newspaper at dinner. It was bad manners, she scolded, and anyway, there would always be evil as long as there was good.
“I won’t stop cursing or finish my dinner,” he said, slapping down his fork.
“Well, Henry Serling, I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight.”
“Promise me a movie and a walk?”
“And you’ll finish your dinner?”
“And not another word about it.”
“You’re a terrible rascal you are.”
“Donavan’s Trail is playing at the Savoy.”
“I’ve been wondering when you’d get around to asking me. Why didn’t you just come out with it?”
“Any damn fool can do that.”
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Copyright © 2016 by Arthur Davis