A Great Sale at Saks

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by Kathleen

Before going to college, Sophie suggested her parents take up jogging. “Run outside together. Wearing bright outfits. Nobody will suspect money’s tight.”

But social tricks that worked in Oklahoma only intensified her loneliness in Chicago. The university was huge. Nobody talked to her. Sophie might be invisible.

A straight-A student on scholarship, she watched videos in lecture halls. Afterwards the teacher called for questions. Sophie always raised her hand, which went unnoticed.

Thank goodness, Sophie’s (paternal) grandmother invited her to dinner. Lucinda hadn’t seen Sophie since she was a baby. The restaurant was so fancy Sophie drew back a second. The man issuing them in knew Lucinda’s name.

“Striking resemblance,” he said, touching Sophie’s shoulder. “Like your grandmother, you’ll only grow more beautiful, not less.”

“Albert, please.” Lucinda told Sophie, “Never listen to flattery. Besides, I was never beautiful. Interesting, people said.”

Lucinda was so keen and glamorous; Sophie forgot her homesickness. They discussed financial scandals and the Mid-East.

Every Sunday, Sophie ate dinner with Lucinda, usually in her apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. Monday through Saturday, though, Sophie’s loneliness grew worse. Students who sat beside her in class would stare into space rather than say hello.

On the phone, her parents seemed to have forgotten who Sophie was. They never said they missed her or recalled anything about her. They didn’t even ask about college except to wish they’d had her chance. Instead, the topic was television.

Lucinda served poached salmon and fresh peas. She had traveled the world as a museum curator. All the men she loved broke her heart in the end. And those that loved her developed tedious habits.

In November, Sophie arrived late but Lucinda didn’t answer when Charles the doorman rang her apartment. “Come back in ten minutes,” he said, “maybe she forgot.”

The wind off the lake pushed her backwards. Cars raced past but no other people occupied the sidewalks. What if Lucinda was dead? Sophie staggered around a corner. Stop being ridiculous! But fear wracked Sophie’s bones. She walked as far as the hospital. Lucinda might be there. Heart attack or—Sophie couldn’t think what calamity might strike an old lady. A stroke!

She pretended not to panic. Approaching Lucinda’s building, Sophie held her breath. Inside, Charles rang the apartment. Still no answer though.

Sophie tore away before he witnessed her weeping. Outside she gasped, choking.

She didn’t remember returning to school. Only worrying if she should call the police. She didn’t out of fear. Like if she called, it would be true. Her pillow muffling her sobs, she didn’t notice her phone ringing. But later she heard the voicemail.

“Sophie darling, sorry I missed you. This great sale at Saks delayed me. See you next week.”


Mike French said...

What a fragile creature you've created and so easily pushed aside - replaced in the story and in the title by a Sale.

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

And the predictable corny ending "she was left everything in her will' was not to be! How wonderful and chilling at the same time. Just like winter in Chicago.

kathleenmaher said...
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kathleenmaher said...
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kathleenmaher said...

Third times the charm:
Thanks, Mike and Jen. Another example how readers complete fiction: You both reacted to the characters in ways that surprised me.
In retrospect, I can see that even though it's Sophie's story, a reader will either sympathize with her (huge step in her life; she'll get her bearings soon)or Lucinda (so she skipped out on one dinner--why doesn't Sophie grow up?)

Stella said...

Kathleen, I've said it before, I'll say it again: love the way you pick out the exact details to make the story interesting - complex without overloading the senses.