Read this story as published in the online Canadian literary magazine, Literary Heist
He felt in his pocket for the key. The place belonged to the bank or the auctioneer now, but they would hardly mind his coming for a last look around. By the end of the day there might be nothing left but the empty walls with which he’d started four decades ago.
Rudy’s Hardware, in old-fashioned huge neon script, stood out in the infant dawn. Good: They’d had the decency to leave the sign switched on. In the plate-glass window, his tall, lanky reflection had a ruby cast that gave way, as he neared the door, to the pallor of the overnight lights inside.
He smiled at himself under his wide-brimmed canvas bush hat, the trademark image he’d adopted on his first day of business. Taking a deep breath to expand his chest, he gave himself a toothy grin, then deftly opened the door, strode to the counter and reached over to disarm the alarm system and turn up the lights. He didn’t want the beat cop seeing a dim mysterious figure in here; better to be easily recognized as good old Rudy.
The shelves and wall displays were pock-marked with empty spaces, evidence of his reasonably successful going-out-of-business sale. Today someone – maybe from a nearby town, an entrepreneur still trying to stay in business against big-box competition – would buy for a song whatever was left. He didn’t expect Lowe’s or Home Depot to bother coming: They bought by the boxcar, and would have no interest in archaic stuff like the half-full kegs of nails in the back room.
Forty years ago, he’d hoped for an heir who might carry on this business. Now he was glad not to bequeath anyone an albatross; just as well that Myrtle had proved unproductive. In their courtship, she talked about wanting a family, but once wed was not inclined to spend much time or effort trying to start one. He finally went alone to be sure his sperm count was adequate; she declined to be tested. She came to the store for the grand opening, but never again; she became a tolerable cook and a prize-winning bridge player. Her death twelve years ago was a bearable loss, and he’d immersed himself still further in running the company.
His meandering had taken him now into the back room, where a sagging upholstered armchair squatted among the shipping boxes. There had once been a second-hand sofa squeezed into that spot. If Myrtle had ever come back, he thought, she would have disapproved. He took the view that his floor clerks might occasionally stay alert by taking quick naps.
A real hardware man needed an encyclopedic memory, an intuitive grasp that the thingamajig a customer described was a number ten left-handed screw — and the unhesitating ability to find it on the store’s shelves. With one exception, Rudy hired only such men – and they’d been increasingly hard to find. Walter had been with him from the start, persuaded to stay on long past 65; Oscar and Howie – “the boys” — were almost as long in the tooth. He’d given all three and their wives first-class tickets to Florida as retirement gifts, and they were off into promising sunset years.
They deserved it: Customers had come from miles away to benefit from their expertise. Of course, in the latter years that became his undoing: People came to buy left-handed screws for a few dimes, but went to a superstore to buy their hundred-dollar power tools.
The exception to his male staff was the girl behind the counter.
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