Shop Girl | fiction | Nikki Bauer

Shop Girl

Lucille’s Luxury Consignment Shoppe had stood on Clark Street, in various degrees of expansion over the past thirty years. The work was slow and rarely permitted — an extra room here, a corner pushed out there, a hallway to help overall flow. The work concocted a mental blueprint similar to a maze. No actual blueprint existed, which put assessment conveniently beyond the abilities of any appraiser or tax collector. For the past three year, Enid had the closing shift.

Six evenings a week — closed on Mondays and major holidays as well as one week in February to take a complete inventory and re-organize — Enid helped customers, re-folded clothes, and counted out her till. It was all very ordinary. Enid herself was an extraordinary employee, performing all duties with a crisp efficiency of a woman with a steady internal life. 

Her official hours were 1-6, but Enid often stayed until 7 or 8. Not due to any overly burdensome boss. There was no organized management structure, and Annabelle, the purported owner of the shop who has referred to herself as “freshly fifty” for the past three years, was rarely present. Enid’s post-work indulgence was just that; a personal pleasure that was hers and hers alone.

Every evening, Enid changed the window displays of Lucille’s Luxury Consignment Shoppe. The storefront boasted two bay windows hugging the front door, full-framed to show a taste of treasures inside. Upon hiring, Annabelle’s only instructions were to keep the displays looking ‘bright and clean’. Though this mostly meant keeping knickknacks dusted and clothes from becoming sun-bleached, Enid decided that fresh would be a nightly affair. 

There were three mannequins between the jutted glass exteriors: Cassady, Mel, and Jerome. As the store moved through textiles and seasons, Enid would find the characters these mannequins could have been. 

Cassady loved to be brightly adorned. The only mannequin without arms, she would wear the brightest patterns and deepest hues. Asymmetrical dresses and boldly patterned overcoats felt like a second skin to the permanently posing model. Mel was the newest mannequin; cast from pink plastic. Her shiny exterior was intrigue enough, and as such, preferred neutrals. A ribbed off-white sweater and tailored beige pants enhanced, instead of distracting from her already statement existence.

Jerome was the oldest. He shared a display with a mahogany bureau desk holding an Underwood Model 5 typewriter: not for sale. Enid always dressed him to match: clean cut and structured. Enid thought of him as a wise but youthful professor. In the summer when sun and sweat demanded an open repertoire Jerome stood with airy linens and soft collars. In the winter he layered tweed and smart collars, sometimes understated sometime boldly colored. Always fitting.

This was her simple joy: weaving stories into old fabric, telling tales to even older things. The labyrinthine layout of the shop felt, to Enid, like a time machine. Scarves poured out of nooks and wall-hooks, seemingly taking you to a marketplace between centuries. Stairs spiraled down to different worlds, whispering of hidden mysteries. Every day Enid came into work and wrapped herself in the textures of the past. The shirts she re-folded had been to dinner with diplomats. Dresses she checked-in and price-tagged had twirled on the opening night of the Drake. These cuff-links brushed against treaties signed on mahogany desks. 

Enid rarely shared these stories. There was no proof of sovereignty, no certificates of authenticity. When a person came in asking for something vintage, she would merely provide an estimated age. There was a weight to how people would say “vintage” like an investor. Enid would smile, and show them the corner of vetted artifacts. She kept the fabricated details to herself. 

The stories remained in her mind, something to be spun over during a dull moment, a lull in activity. Most often during the evening, when the door was locked, the closed sign hung, and the mannequins pulled, ready to be remade into a person from the past. Someone who may have never existed, or maybe they did. That was the gorgeous secret Enid kept in her mind as she put together ancient articles; dressing Cassady as the woman who popped champagne during prohibition. Giving Jerome the jacket of a long-forgotten playwright who never published but was nonetheless brilliant. Draping Mel like the old-money aristocrat who anonymously donated spools of public park space.

Sometimes people stared at the woman in the windows. Enid paid little attention to them, the transient, quickly-glanced gazes of people on their way towards evenings. She would sometimes waive at children. Their eyes lingered, brazenly captivated by the woman in the window. Mostly, she let the outside world slip by with an automatic waive or nod or smile, always returning to her own world that invariably felt more real than the reality out the outside. This was how she almost missed the boy with a broken bike.

It wasn’t broken in that it didn’t work. It worked as much as any bike would: the wheels turned and carried their rider off. This bike was broken in a different way. It was lost. Enid could tell by its fading stickers and crooked rear rack; its bright orange produce crate triple bungee-corded — the only fluorescent thing on the contraption. The bike worked, but every part outside of basic forward motion did not. 

The boy who matched the bike stood still at the window. Enid caught herself mid-wave, emerging from herself to give the boy and his bike her full attention. She smiled hello and he smiled back in a way that signaled recognition. Tipping his fingers against a shaggy forehead, he hopped on his broken bike and sped off, dodging a quickly filling evening.

Enid started seeing him every evening. He must live nearby, with a schedule that took him past the consignment shop. A busboy or a bartender, most likely. She saw him either 15 or 20 minutes into her window dressing. They waved like two guardians with a simple secret. 

During the first snow, he brought her a hot chocolate — holding the tiny steaming cup before the window before placing it in the snow. By the time Enid had returned with keys to unlock the door, he was gone. After the fifth snow, Enid left a pair of gloves outside the window, a sign reading “Your hands look cold” attached. He didn’t seem to own gloves, and the sight of raw and chapped knuckles came to Enid’s head every time she re-adjusted the winter gloves. They were a soft mustard yellow, and gave one more thing that would make Bike Boy noticeable to the cars zooming around slick city streets. She had been in the back when he picked them up. He wore them every winter day since, a sunny wave during a bitter February.

In March he came into the store. Enid was folding tried-on clothes that hadn’t yet found their perfect fit. A pair of wide-legged trousers that were made during their first heyday, but a tricky fit for the new trend. A pink blouse that had a season left before it was to be discounted and moved off the valuable shelf. A blue carpet dress that had odd proportions — Enid decided that the previous owner had it custom fit for a spring date in the park; hoping the man she was seeing would notice her figure in a new way. She was focused on the fabrics when the bell chime rang, announcing a shopper’s presence.

“Hello, welcome to Lucille’s.”

“Hey, shop girl.”

Enid looked up at the familiarity. The voice was new, but the tone was more friendly than she was used to. She looked up to yellow gloves and shaggy hair. She smiled at the bike boy, shrugged in the entryway, body seeking a shadow that wasn’t available. For a corner-filled maze, the consignment shop had wonderful lighting.

“Hello, bike boy.” Enid responded. 

The shop was empty, thankfully. The two stared at each other with the warm awkwardness of finally meeting.

“I, um, need some help.” The bike boy started, shuffling forward, hands in broken-in pockets, “I have a thing I have to go to, and it’s kind of nicer than I’m used to. I need some clothes without holes in them.”

He finished with a shrug, hands still in his pockets, lifting his pants slightly to display the problem.

“I can help with that.” Enid said, moving up from her foldings. The boy was uncomfortable in the shop. She could tell when people are grasping at something they feel disconnected to. Clothing is a realm we think should be easy but isn’t always.

“Enid.” She said, holding out a hand.

“Thomas.” he responded, shaking her hand.

He pulsed a moment into the shake, holding it for a moment longer. The release left an absence of warmth that Enid immediately recognized as missing from her usual contact with clothing and mannequins. She walked towards the men section, waving Thomas over with her.

“Do you know the dress-code for the thing, do you?”

“It’s a dinner, thing.” Thomas said, “A nice one, nicer than food needs to be, honestly. But I need to, I mean I want to look like I have my shit - my act - together.”

“It sounds like you are going to be in a more upscale environment, and you want to feel confident there?”

She learned this trick her first year; rephrasing the person’s needs in her own words, and trusting them to correct her if she misunderstood. Usually, people found it helpful.

“Yeah. Exactly. That sounds right.”

“When you say nicer that food should be, do you mean black tie, business formal, business casual? Any of those sound fitting for the place?”

“I - maybe, I’m not sure. Shy might have told me. My mother is the she. I’m meeting my mother for dinner and I want her to not worry about me. She always picks these nice restaurants with like tablecloths that look dry clean only. I don’t get it, but I thought if I looked nice, she wouldn’t pick so much about my plans and my life. And you always look put together and this place sells clothes and stuff, so I figured maybe you could help. It was black tie, the attire. She did tell me, I forgot until now. Sorry, I know that’s a lot.”

Enid focused on the clothes as Thomas talked. She figured it might be easier to not be looked at. As he talked, she felt the textiles, hearing his worries and wondering which fabrics and patterns could ease them. 

“When is it?” She asked finally.

“This weekend. Friday evening.” 

Enid nodded, pulling out a subtle orange fisherman’s sweater, followed with a warm trouser, understated collar, and a fitted blazer.

“It’ll be cold Friday.” She said, handing Thomas the choices, “Try these. I’m not entirely sure of the fit, but if they aren’t comfortable or you don’t like them, we can try something else.”

Thomas nodded, going to the changing stalls. His reactions were direct and immediate. Edith caught herself pulling back from the abruptness, catching Thomas’s eyes at her reaction. He looked used to it, maybe even sad; his normal state clipping the edges of someone else’s comfort, neither party fully aware of their unintentional movements until after the fact. Or maybe Edith was telling herself another story.

When Thomas emerged, he fit; in the clothes, in the space, in his own skin. The sweater hung, slimming and soft. The blazer defined his shape, and the slacks finished carving out his place. He looked taller too.

“How do you feel?” Edith asked.

“I’ve never worn anything like this.” He responded with a voice not quite matching his stance.

“But how does it feel.”

Thomas looked for himself in the mirror, shifting his shoulders and torso and ankles. The fabric fitted along edges and shapes. Edith thought he looked wonderful, but she couldn’t be the first to say it.

“I look sharp. Is that a phrase?”

Thomas grinned as he said it and Edith laughed at the emerging confidence.

“An old phrase, but yes. You do look sharp.”

“And this is black tie?” He asked.

“No,” Enid responded, “but I wanted to see how comfortable you were in this first. Black tie can be a bit constricting.”

Thomas nodded, appreciating himself in the mirror.

“I wore converse with my sole flapping out to the Drake once. They almost didn’t let me in.”

“Well, they would let you in wearing this, even if it isn’t exactly black tie.”

“It feels more me.” He said, still watching the fabric move with him instead of against him.

“I’m glad.” Enid responded as the door chimed open once more, breaking the solitude the two shared.

“Welcome to Lucille’s,” she called out customarily, “let me know if I can help you with anything.”

She went back to the register as Thomas changed and re-hung the clothes for their short trip from the changing rooms to a store bag. He smiled again as he handed her the choices. With the strangers now browsing, their connection felt almost like a secret, or tender newness that too many eyes might shatter. Enid rung him up under an employee discount she never used.

“Wow, that’s more than my entire wardrobe.” Thomas joked.

“Maybe, but the clothes will last, and these pieces can be staples of other outfits. You don’t have to buy them, also, if it’s too much. I can always put them back.”

“No.” Thomas said almost defensively, “I’m going to wear them, I just am not used to this whole world, is all.”

He took out crumbled bills and flattened them on the counter.

“I can, actually afford it.” He said, definitely defensively, “My job might not be in some downtown office, but it pays well.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to me.” Enid stated in a voice only meant for Thomas to hear.

“Yeah, I know. I just want you to know that I’m not like, unable to take care of myself. I just can’t dress myself.”

Enid nodded as she handed him back his change and the crunchy handles of a brown paper shop bag, insignia stamped across the front, Thomas’s new clothes folded cleanly inside.

“If you need help with that, you know where to find me.”

Her boldness caught both of them by surprise. Thomas walked backwards towards the door, slinking around the customers browsing — two more had entered the store since he came to the checkout. He tapped two fingers against a mop of hair twisting around his forehead and saluted his goodbye. Enid blushed as the strangers noted their familiarity. The chime faded with the last ring of the shop’s door at the end of the day, when Enid realized Thomas’s outfit was supposed to be Jerome’s display for the next day. She smiled to herself as she dreamt up the next one.

Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram

Nikki Bauer (she/her) is a writer, performer, and machine learning engineer living in Chicago. The majority of her work is currently performance-based as an ensemble member of the non-illusory theater group Stop Motion Plant. She is pursuing an MS in Analytics from Georgia Tech alongside her artistic projects.