"That one looks close, don't you think Verna?" Bob pointed through the glass of the aquarium at one of the dozen hamsters scampering among the pine shavings.
Verna pushed her coke bottle thick glasses up onto the bridge of her nose and squinted into the tank. "I don't know Bob, didn't Mr. Cuddles have black and white spots? That one is brown and white."
"I thought Cuddles was the gold fish," said Bob.
"No, Mr. Cuddles was the hamster. Bubbles is the goldfish."
"Ah, yes, that makes more sense. And it reminds me, we need a substitute Bubbles as well."
"Oh Bob, no," Verna said.
Bob nodded, "Afraid so. Found him belly up this morning."
Bob leaned so close to the tank that the tip of his pointed nose nearly pressed up against the glass. "The one in the back is black and white. Let's get him."
"He looks fatter than Cuddles."
"Jillian won't even notice. Let me see if I can find someone to help us."
Bob roamed up and down the aisles of McGirk's Pet Emporium, past bags of dog and cat food, rows of bubbling fish tanks (a few of which actually contained fish) and a tank with a lonely looking, out of place boa constrictor with a sign that said 'Don't tap glass.' He didn't see a single soul, customer or employee.
Eventually his wanderings brought him to the front desk behind which sat a teenage girl. Her hair was pink and she was painting her toenails black, to color coordinate with her eye liner Bob assumed. Her name tag said Geraldine.
"Pardon me, I'd like to buy a hamster," Bob said.
Geraldine looked at him with half closed eyes. Bob wondered if she was on drugs or just fighting a losing battle against teenage angst/surliness.
"Are you sure? Hamsters are a lot of work," Geraldine muttered.
Angst, thought Bob.
To Geraldine he said, "Yes, we're aware of that. Unfortunately our daughter Jillian's hamster, err, passed while she was away at camp. We want to replace him before she returns."
"Why don't you just tell her he died? Kids need to learn about death and the birds and bees at some point." Geraldine leveraged her foot up near her face and blew on her toes. Bob would have been impressed with her flexibility if he wasn't so annoyed at being lectured on parenting by a teenager.
"Can we just get the hamster please? Oh, and a goldfish as well."
"Suit yourself," Geraldine shrugged. She slipped on her flip flops, grabbed a box with air holes in it and meandered over to the tank by what Bob felt certain was the most circuitous route possible. He gritted his teeth and remained calm.
Finally they arrived at the hamsters.
"The black and white one in the back," Verna pointed.
"I'm not sure you want that one..." Geraldine said.
That was enough for Bob. "Look Miss, I don't know who taught you about dealing with customers, but have you ever heard the phrase The Customer is Always Right? Well, we want that hamster. It looks the most like Mr. Bubbles.."
"Cuddles," Verna corrected.
"Cuddles," said Bob, "so that's the one we want."
After a moment, Geraldine shrugged. "Okay." She scooped the hamster into the box.
"And now the goldfish I mentioned," Bob said.
Geraldine stared at him so long without responding that Bob thought she might not have heard him. He was just about to repeat himself when Geraldine nodded and started meandering back down the aisle.
Verna and Bob exchanged glances and Bob rolled his eyes. Then they followed Geraldine.
Eventually Bob and Verna had their hamster and goldfish. At the counter Bob offered his credit card.
Geraldine stared at it. "I can't do that."
"Can't do what?" asked Bob.
"Credit cards. The readers broken. Well, not really broken. I don't know how to use it," said Geraldine.
"Oh for crying..." Bob put the credit card back in his wallet and pulled out a twenty. "You do take cash, right?"
Geraldine rang the purchase up and handed Bob his change.
"Um, this is short," Bob said.
Geraldine looked at him blankly. Bob realized he had never seen her blink. It was, unnerving.
Bob cleared his throat. "You were supposed to give me eight dollars and fifty cents back. This is six dollars and sixty four cents. You owe me a dollar and eighty six cents"
"Oh," Geraldine looked down at the register. "The drawer is closed."
Confused, Bob looked at Verna, but his wife seemed just as baffled. "I don't understand," Bob said to Geraldine.
"I can't open the drawer unless you buy something else." Geraldine said.
Bob held up his hands. "Never mind, consider it a donation. Let's go Verna."
"Thank you, come again," muttered Geraldine.
"Like hell," Bob growled back as he and Verna hurried out the door, nearly running down Phineas McGirk as the store owner came through the door.
"How'd it go?" Phineas asked as he set down the box of receipt tapes and pens he had gone to buy.
"Okay. I sold the chubby black and white hamster to that guy."
"Really, that's great!" Phineas was surprised, but pleased. He preferred to purchase males from his dealer. It was only by mistake that he had received the female to begin with and he had not been looking forward to caring of newborn hamsters. .
Then a thought occurred to him. "Did you tell the customer she's pregnant?"
Geraldine stared at him. Phineas waited. He had long experience with Geraldine.
Eventually she said, "Not exactly."
"What does that mean?"
"They wouldn't listen to me," Geraldine protested.
"Do you have their phone number?"
"They paid cash," Geraldine replied.
"Another one? And I thought everyone used credit cards these days," Phineas said.
"So they get six hamsters for the price of one. That's a bargain. We should have charged them more, like, one dollar eighty six cents more. So, what's the big deal? "
"If they're not careful, the mother will eat the babies."
Geraldine thought about that for a moment, then said, "Well, that should be quite a life lesson for little Jillian then." She propped her foot up on the counter and started painting her remaining toe nails.
"Wait, who's Jillian?" asked Phineas.
THE END copyright 2013 John Lance