(keywords: Christmas story, New York, Family with kids, 1940-ish)
New York, 1940, Macy’s Department Store
The boy shuffled to the perfume display. His hair was standing up in all directions, his coat too small and worn, and his nose and hands red from the cold outside.
“Get away, boy! Scram!” Mr. Stuart, the new floor manager, yelled.
“No, no, it’s okay. Leave him,” Linsey said. She put her hand on Mr. Stuart’s shoulder. He looked at it annoyed before looking her in the eye. Linsey took her hand off as fast as she could, holding it with her other hand as if to prevent it from doing something stupid again. As a mere counter attendant, it was not done to touch your superior, let alone tell him what to do.
“It’s okay, Mr. Stuart. Sam is okay,” she dared again. Before he could tell her otherwise, Linsey walked up to the counter to help the boy, who shyly smiled at her. He pointed at one of the perfume bottles, a Chanel No.5 one. Linsey’s smile grew as she took the bottle from the counter display and sprayed a little of the expensive perfume on the boy’s wrist. Sam waved his arm in the air and then smelled his wrist. A large smile appeared on his face, but at the same time tears filled his eyes.
“That’s enough now,” Mr. Stuart said to the boy. He had been watching the spectacle. “Get out before I call security.”
Sam looked up at the stern face of Mr. Stuart. As he turned away a tear rolled over his cheek. Linsey and Mr. Stuart stood behind the counter watching the boy leave, who was still smelling his wrist now and again.
“What was that all about?” Mr. Stuart asked. “We can’t have this sort of scum in here. They’ll scare away the customers.”
“Oh, but Sam is not scum, Mr. Stuart.” Linsey replied.
“Well, he certainly looks like scum according to my dictionary.”
“Sam and his mother used to come here often to buy perfume. Chanel No.5 was her favorite. That’s why he always comes in here to get a sample.”
“Would his mother be able to afford such an expensive brand?”
“Oh yes! The Matthews were very rich people. They came to buy here at Macy’s all the time. But that’s no more…”
“Why? What happened?” asked Mr. Stuart.
“It’s a very sad story. Two years ago Mrs. Matthews became very ill. Apparently, she got a very horrible disease and a nasty wound in her neck. No matter what doctors did, they couldn’t help her. She died last year. Mr. Matthews was heartbroken and became depressed. He no longer cared about anything and began drinking. He lost his job at the stock market. He lost everything. Sam and his sister, Hannah, sometimes come here and ask for a sample of Chanel No.5. They never buy anything. What they really come in for is to relive the memory of their mother.” Linsey wiped away a tear that had appeared in the corner of her eye. The thought of the children trying to hold on to the memory of their mother pained her every time she thought of it.
“Oh well, nothing to be done about it,” she said as she made herself busy rearranging the display again.
Mr. Stuart looked at Linsey and then at the exit the boy had just used to leave the department store.
The next week Sam and Hannah came in wearing new coats, ones that fit them perfectly. They both had huge smiles on their faces.
“My, what happened to you lovely people?” Linsey asked as the two children stood eagerly in front of the perfume counter. Her new floor manager, Mr. Brown, came to inspect the children as well.
“Daddy got a job!” Hannah said. She twirled around in her new coat. “And we got new coats!”
“I can see that,” Linsey said. “You look fabulous in it!” She turned to Sam.
“Yes, a guy came up to Dad in the street the other day and offered him a job in the finance department of this warehouse. Can you believe it?”
“No!” Linsey exclaimed. That was the most unlikely story she had heard of in a long time. “Just like that?”
“Yes, just like that. Isn’t it great?” Sam’s smile was so big, it nearly split his face in two.
In the meantime, Linsey had already taken out the Chanel No.5 perfume bottle. Both kids held out their wrists and she sprayed them both. The wonderful smell wafted through the air as the kids waved their arms about. The focus of the children’s eyes went into space, into a time gone by, when they smelled their wrists.
“Thank you,” Sam said.
“Any time,” Linsey replied.
Sam nodded and turned his sister around. Together they left the store, hugging each other.
The rest of the day, sales were lower than expected so close to Christmas. Not too many customers could afford expensive gifts like perfume anymore. The war in Europe didn’t help the economy that much over here.
“Come on, Linsey, we’ve got to go to the meeting,” Mr. Brown said at the end of the day.
“Ah yes, the meeting,” Linsey said. She didn’t want to go to the boring end-of-year meeting. It was just a lot of blah blah about how times were tough and how much harder they had to work to sell more. But everyone had to go, as per always. They closed the till and took the elevator to the warehouse part of the building. It was the only space large enough for all staff to be at once.
Linsey wasn’t a tall girl and standing at the back of the crowd didn’t help her gain interest in what was said. She was picking at her nails when she suddenly heard a voice she recognized. She looked up but couldn’t see.
“Who’s talking?” she asked Mr. Brown.
“It’s Mr. Klein, the new store manager,” Mr. Brown said.
Linsey didn’t know Mr. Klein as he had just been appointed. She had to know for sure though, so she worked her way to the front of the crowd.
There, in a Santa suit, stood a small man. He was telling staff how well they had worked and how proud he was of them. Then, as his speech nearly ended, he took off his Santa hat and Linsey recognized Mr. Stuart, her temporary floor manager.
As Linsey stood there looking at the miracle that was her new boss, their eyes met. A little twinkle gleamed in Mr. Klein’s eyes before he looked on at other staff as he addressed them.
‘He truly is Santa,’ Linsey thought and couldn’t stop smiling.
Copyrighted © Jacky Dahlhaus