This story is by Theresa Jacobs and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
As Mrs. Winterbottom’s hand came down on the door handle, her back grew rigid, she squinted and gave a low grunt. Her perfectly coiffed hair remained motionless as she spun to the sales girl. “How do you expect me to leave with that disgusting man out there?”
The young sales girl lifted her head from the register eyebrow raised, “Sorry Ma…”
“Do you know who I am!” Mrs. Winterbottom glared at the girl’s nametag. “Casey.” She bit. “Get the Manager. Now.”
Casey’s face flushed, her cheeks burned. She wasn’t sure what the woman wanted her to do, as she was about to respond, a voice rang out and saved her.
“What is going on out there?” Fantima poked her head from the back of the store where she was busy receiving the latest shipment of Burmese Silk scarves.
Mrs. Winterbottom hoisted her Louis Vuitton bag higher on her arm, her chin lifted, her diamond tipped nails flashed in the florescent light. “I want that -” her lips drew back, exposing pearly white teeth, “thing, moved from the doorway. I would like to leave without being subjected to his, surely offensive odor. Not to mention pounced upon for money.”
Fantima took her job in stride; her small boutique couldn’t afford the ‘right to refuse service’ even to the likes of Shelly Winterbottom. Without hesitation, she stepped past the woman and pushed out the door; the tiny bells a delightful peel on a dreary autumn day.
“Hi, Charley.” Fantima greeted the filthy old man standing by her storefront. He was a regular; she was used to him and him to her. He had never spoken a word, but from the noises he did make – she feared he had lost his tongue.
She drew a five out of her flowing bohemian skirt. Charley’s hand opened, showing a black dirt encrusted palm. She placed the wrinkled bill in his hand and tucked her fingers over his. “Go get something hot to eat; I’ll see you later ok.” Fantima pat him gently on the shoulder, never afraid of the grime that coated him, after all, he was just another human in need.
When Fantima returned to her cozy store, the bells gave a soft tingle, as if sympathizing with Charley. “He’s gone now Mrs. Winterbottom; you can leave.”
“Well, it took you long enough.” Mrs. Winterbottom elbowed open the door, not wanting to touch where Fantima may have. At the curb her limo driver was ready, he opened her door – eyes dead ahead.
Casey shook her head, never having witnessed anything like this before. “What a bitc…uh…horrible woman.”
The corners of Fantima’s lips lifted ever so slightly, as she watched Charley maneuver laboriously across the road. “Nothing to worry about my dear,” she took Casey’s elbow and drew her away from the window. “She’ll get hers.”
“Yeah, well, I guess karma and what-not.”
Fantima nodded. “Yes, yes, Karma.” Her eyes traveled knowingly to the bells above her shop door.
At midnight that night, the shop was all closed up and dark when suddenly the silver bells on the door began to dance. They vibrated violently, shook, jumped and banged together, creating a cacophony of noise; had anyone been in the store they would have had to cover their ears. At 12:01 they stopped dead, the job was done.
The next morning Casey was back at work, updating the window display when she saw the Limo pull up out front. “Fantima! Can you come up, she’s back.”
“Who’s back darling?”
Casey stepped down from the step ladder, desperately wanting to be somewhere else when Mrs. Winterbottom came into the store. She was about to say, “her” when the sight outside stopped her dead.
The Limo door flew open without the driver’s assistance, and Mrs. Winterbottom tumbled out of the backseat. She was wearing body-hugging jeans, a red fluffy sweater, and high-tops. Her hair was standing in all directions, a shit-eating grin plastered on her face.
The door to the shop opened with a bang; the gentle bells jangled along with the excitement. Mrs. Winterbottom raced up to Fantima. “It was you wasn’t’ it?” Her eyes danced joyously, her grin so wide it looked as though her cheeks were ready to split open. “You did this?” She grabbed Fantima and lifted her off the ground, planting kisses on her cheeks. “All I ever wanted was to be heard…and safe! What you have given me is a gift.” She put Fantima down and held her at arm’s length. “I am going to make things right again; you know that, don’t you?”
Fantima smiled and took Mrs. Winterbottom’s hand in her own. “I know you will,” she leaned in close,”Charley.”
“Where do you think he…uh..she…is?”
Fantima shook her head. “Sadly, I did hear Charley making quiet a raucous last night; I think the cops came and took him away.”
Mrs. Winterbottom frowned. “Oh, I know where she’ll be then.” She leaned in and kissed Fantima once more. “I’ll take care of her, don’t worry, and here – this is for you.” She waved at Casey and raced back outside.
Fantima stood with a large wad of cash in her hand and a gentle smile on her lips.
“What the hell was that?” Casey blinked, confused. “Has she gone off her rocker?”
“Quite the opposite my dear, she has found salvation.”
As the autumn blew on and winter moved in, Fantima kept a close eye on the news. There were stories cropping up daily about the newfound generosity of Widowed Billionaire, Mrs. Winterbottom.
How she donated millions to local shelters, orphanages, and mental hospitals. She became an advocate for the war veterans, helping replenish their coffers and working on getting them new housing. Giving aid, funding, and rehab, to the disabled. She even took one old vet under her wing, slathering him with the most attention and care. Even going so far as allowing him to live in her guest house, which of course was nicer than most working class homes.
When the reporters questioned Mrs. Winterbottom, “Why him?” She would reply. “Charley here was in Vietnam with my dear departed husband. And when I finally found him, I vowed to see that the remainder of his days were lived out as comfortably as possible.”
One reporter was bold enough to question. “Even though he keeps making crazy accusations that he is you … or should I say, was you? That by some crazy magic you and he swapped bodies, do you feel safe around him?”
“Well, of course he’s a bit touched in the head, but he means no harm. Besides, I promised.” Mrs. Winterbottom placed her arm across Charley’s denim clad shoulder and pulled him in tight. She showed her pearlescent teeth for the camera and as the flash went off a single tear leaked from Charley’s eye.
“Didn’t I Charley? I promised.”
As the news played in Fantima’s shop, the silver bells tinkled a happy tune.