It was the middle of winter, sometime between the two big eating holidays. Unlike the mild weather that was expected, the weather was white, cold, and nasty. The faint howl of the winds could be heard even from the safety of my store. The clock read 10:40, just 20 minutes to close, and all I can think about was heading to the local bar with my friends before last call. Everything seemed to go according to plan.
Since all my work was done, I normally enjoy lounging around the front of my store at the customer service. The vantage point not only gave me an idea of who was in the store at the time, but also allowed me to expatiate my escape from it when we finally closed. As I waited patiently for the minutes to tick away, an old lady approached me and broke my vigil.
She was short, but still stood straight, unusual for her advanced years. I guess her to be at least eighty perhaps ninety years old. Her hair was short and coifed; its colour was closer to white then grey. She gave an overall impression of thin and neat, from her narrow boots to her well-tailored winter jacket. Only the faint smell of mothballs distracted me when she meekly walked up to me.
"Excuse me sir. ", she said in a soft but clear voice. "I've seem to have lost my wedding ring in your store. It's gold with a large sapphire surrounded by diamonds. It's the thing that reminds me of my husband the most. ", she explained.
I sighed and shook my head. People lose things all the time in my store, from the mundane like mittens and hats, to the valuable like credit cards and wallets. Most often they are placed in the lost and found.
"I can check for you ma'am, but I wouldn't hold my breath. No one has turned in any rings recently. If you like you can leave your phone number and someone can contact you if it shows up." I said bluntly. I didn't want to sound optimistic since I knew that there would be little chance of recovering it. Very seldom do we get any jewelry returned. I guess people are just not as generous or honest as the news often make out to be.
I expected a look of disappointment from the lady, but she shook her head and corrected me. "No, you don't understand. I know exactly where I lost it, but I just can't reach it. "
Needless to say I was intrigued by her statement and followed her into the meat department. She pointed at a large pile of frozen turkeys, in one of the horizontal freezer display cases. I took a closer look and to my surprise I caught the glint of a blue and gold ring shining underneath the grill beneath the frozen birds.
"The ring fell down there. I guess my fingers are too thin now. They've shrunk. ", she explained apologetically.
"No worries ma'am. I'll get it for you in a minute. " I lied, it would take a lot longer than a minute. It was going to take a lot of work to retrieve it.
Now it was closer to 10:45 and I knew I had to hurry if I was going to get this woman her ring, leave the store, drive to the bar and then make last call. I would be tight for time. At no time however did I think of refusing to aid her though. She was somebody's grandmother that needed my help. Or more likely she was someone's great grandmother. There was no way I was going to enjoy drinking my face off with my buddies knowing I didn't make an effort to help her. So as quick as I could I began the long ring rescuing procedure.
First I had raced to get three buggies from the front of the store. Then I had to empty the entire case of its contents into them. The grill that was between the ring and myself supported the weight of all the frozen birds resting on top of it, I could not just take off one small section. So unless I was super strong or something I had to corral every piece of poultry off of it.
The Cornish game hens, the ducks, the ginseng chickens, the regular chickens, even the rare turducken were all unceremoniously thrown into the carts. They performed a morbid last flight as I mechanically chucked them out of my way. I did this without any gloves of course, since going to the back of the store and digging them up would take much too long. My fingers stung from their frozen burdens but I laboured methodically to meet my deadline.
I made good progress but the final most daunting obstacle lay ahead. The turkeys. Heaping mountains of the rock hard birds. There were the self-basting butterballs, with their ability to be cooked without being defrosted. Then boxed turkey breasts, for those that were culinary challenged. Organic turkeys for the gourmets , and even free ranged turkeys for the ethical diner. Then there were the generic grade A birds that were organized like cannon balls from "small" ten pounders up to the massive thirty pounders, which I was sure could sink a ship if fired at the right velocity.
I figured I removed close to a ton of them and soon I found I had run out of room in my carts. I considered racing up front to get more grocery buggies, but instead I chose placing them on the ground to save time. My window of opportunity was getting smaller and smaller.
After this herculean task was completed, I sensed I was close to my goal. I wrapped my frozen fingers on to the even colder metal grate. My hands felt like icicles were stabbing them since the temperature of the grate was near minus 30, just a few Celsius off from the point where flesh freezes to metal. Despite my digit's pain, the siren call of the bar would not be denied. With a swift yank followed by a loud audible snap, the grill broke free of its moorings. I practically threw the grate on the ground and triumphantly scooped the ring and presented it to the old woman that had witnesses my flurry of activity.
She looked stunned at the ring. The look of joy on her face was all the thanks that I needed but that did not stop her from gushing over me. "Thank you. Thank you sir ! Thank you! Please let me reward you.", she offered as she pulled out a fifty dollar bill. It was an ancient piece of currency that had more of that mothball scent. Just by looking at it I guessed it probably had not seen the light of day for years. Not one of those see through plastic ones, not even the ones with the hologram on it, this was old school money with McKenzie King scowling at you, daring you to spend it.
I looked at the bill but shook my head. "No thank you Ma'am. I'm just doing my job. "I said. Thought I made it a point never to accept any form of gratuity for doing my work, I felt kind of bad for refusing her offer. Though she recovered her ring, I sensed a hidden disappointment in her. I guess she wanted to feel some form of validation and the tip was her form of showing it.
"Can I at least help you put everything back?", she inquired hopefully as I began the task of reassembling the display.
I wouldn't normally get a customer to do my work but how could I say no after I turned down her money? She wanted to feel useful and get some sense that she mattered, while I just wanted to get the hell out of there and go to the bar and hook up with my friends who were probably now engaged in a round of shots with the waitress. My time was fast running out and I could use all the help that I could get.
"Sure! "I said as I watched her face brighten considerably.
Though she didn't prove to be too useful she did what she could and at the time I was grateful for the assistance. The grate that was my nemesis earlier had warmed slightly and it was considerably easier to snap it back into place. The turkeys of various sizes once again took flight as they returned to their frozen nests like migratory geese. The Cornish game hens, ducks, chickens and even the rare turducken were swiftly deposited back into their rightful slots along the display. A couple were misplaced in my haste, but I didn't worry too much about it, they could fix that in the morning. Everything was going according to plan, she got her ring and some pride back and I would soon be driving off to the bar and making last call.
As I started to gloat to myself, disaster struck. As I was reassembling the last members of that frozen menagerie, I watched in horror as the gold blue ring once again slipped off the old lady's finger. It fell on a turkey, bounced ever so slightly, rolled down its frozen back before plunging back into the abyss past the grate. I guess she must have put the damn thing on after I returned it, somehow thinking it wouldn't happen again. Unfortunately her fingers were so shrunken with age it easily fell off.
The pair of us were both stunned as we stared at the ring. It was once again deep in the recesses of the freezer, surrounded by its army of poultry defenders, silently taunting us. Both of us were filled with disappointment at the turn of events.
"Can you wait up front?" I said in a defeated voice. " I'll have your ring back in a few minutes. "
"Yes , I think that's for the best. " she sighed . "I'll resize it as soon as I can .", she added.
I stared back at the freezer display case before me. There was no way I was going to make last call. Nothing goes according to plan.