The Valued Customer

Roy Dorman

Alphonse Jacobsen stood behind the counter in his meat market, a smile pasted on his face and drops of sweat breaking out on his brow.

He was watching Ramona Lion pacing back and forth on the other side of the counter, her tail flailing in the air.  Ramona was surveying the meat selection as she did every Monday morning.

She’s gonna buy it all, just like she always does, so why does she go through this “hunting” charade every time.  It’s like she’s stalking my meat, waiting to see if a lamb chop or a cut-up fryer will try to make a run for it.

Ramona’s two children, Lola and Nestor, stood off to the side by the gumball machine with “aren’t we cute” looks on their faces, complete with begging, puppy dog eyes.

Alphonse took two quarters from the cash register and held them up in front of Ramona.  “Okay?’ he asked, gesturing toward the cubs and the gumball machine.

Ramona stopped pacing and stared at Alphonse.  She lifted her upper lip a bit.  Though Alphonse bought gumballs for her cubs every week, he always asked first.  He still wasn’t sure whether that lip raising thing was a sneer or a smile.

“Okay, I guess one won’t hurt them,” said Ramona.

Same thing she says very week.  This is a play, but nobody bothered to give me a copy of the script.

Alphonse gave each cub a quarter and they let out with cheers, high-fiving each other.  Ramona went back to pacing.

One of these times she’ll just leap over the counter and grab a standing rib roast in her mouth.  Or me!  Grab me in her mouth!

The bell above the door signaled a customer.  Helen Snowy Owl stepped in, but stopped abruptly when she saw Ramona.

“Can I help you, Helen?” asked Alphonse.

“She was here first,” said Helen.  “I can wait.”

Ramona stopped her pacing and did the lip raising thing.  Alphonse was pretty sure it was a sneer this time.

“Go ahead,” said Ramona.  “I’m still looking.

Stalking, she means.  She’s still stalking.

“Mama,” Lola called.  “Nestor blew a bubble and got gum all over his face when it explorded”

“The word is exploded, Lola,” said Ramona patiently.  “Just lick the gum off his face where he can’t reach it with his own tongue.”

“Eww, Mom.  No way!  That’s gross!”

“It’s not gross; it’s grooming.  Now do it while I finish up here.”

While Ramona had been occupied with her kids, Helen had moved closer to the counter.

“Yes, Helen?” said Alphonse.

Helen took a quick glance over at Ramona and smiled at her.  “I guess I’ll take five of those field mice and ten of the barn sparrows,” she said quietly to Alphonse.

“I’ll throw in a free one if you buy a dozen,” said Alphonse.

“That would be a ‘butcher’s dozen,’ wouldn’t it,” said Ramona purring.

“Why, yes, it would,” said Alphonse, laughing louder than the joke deserved.  Helen then also laughed a high pitched laugh, and then it was completely quiet when they both stopped abruptly.

Lola and Nestor both looked at their mother as if expecting something exciting was going to happen.  Ramona just nodded sagely to them and went back to pacing.

Alphonse wrapped Helen’s items and rang them up.  “Thanks for coming in, Helen,” he said, handing her the sack across the counter.

Helen looked at Ramona to nod good-bye, but saw she was still pacing.  When she looked at the cubs, she saw they were both staring at her.  Nestor theatrically licked his lips and he and Lola erupted into giggles when Helen then hurried out of the store.

Now Alphonse was again alone with Ramona and her cubs. He was glad Helen had been able to escape without there being any bloodshed.  A few Mondays back, Lenny Hyena’s left hind leg had been torn off by Ramona when apparently she thought he had laughed a little too long or a little too hard at one of her little asides.  Alphonse shuddered when he thought about the increase that would be on his next business liability insurance bill….

“I’ll take it all, Mr. Jacobsen,” said Ramona, snapping Alphonse out of his reverie.  “Please have it delivered.”

“Yes, of course, Ms. Lion,” said Alphonse.  “I’ll have the Jones boy drop it off this afternoon.”

Ramona made a noise in her throat that was definitely more of a growl than a purr.

“Noon!  He’ll be there by noon,” stammered Alphonse.  “He’ll have the amount due as always.”

Ramona smiled.  At least Alphonse assumed it was a smile.  He hoped it was a smile.

“Come along, children,” said Ramona.

I should call the supplier and get re-stocked, but I better get the Jones kid over here first so he can be at the Lion house before noon.

Recently, Alphonse had lost a couple of regular customers to the big box supermarket on the outskirts of town.  They had come in after Ramona Lion’s Monday order had been packaged and sent out for delivery.  There had been nothing left for them but some potato salad and a little bit of macaroni and cheese. 

Alphonse hated to lose customers.  But another Monday morning had passed and he was still alive.  That had to be worth something.

Roy Dorman,

Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had flash fiction and poetry published in Black Petals, Yellow Mama, Drunk Monkeys, Theme of Absence, The Flash Fiction Press, Cease Cows, One Sentence Poems, Spelk, and a number of other online and print journals. Roy is currently the submissions editor at Yahara Prairie Lights.

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