“If I were your granny,” Polly thought, as a pimply teenager grabbed four of her samples, “I’d slap your greedy hands.” Instead, she smiled at him and filled ten more little cups. ‘Show a fair presence and put off these frowns,’ she told herself: Romeo and Juliet, Act I. ‘Stir not a foot to seek a foe.’ Imagine: She was thinking in Shakespeare!
Two aisles over, Walter Allyn Gerard put a super-sized box of Cheerios into his cart and sighed. How had he come to this, a solitary shopper wandering about a vast warehouse, purchasing discounted food? At least no one would recognize him here. No one would recognize him anywhere, for that matter. The public’s memory for retired actors was damnably short. Morosely, he put a twin-pack of dried prunes next to the Cheerios and moved on.
Polly’s one-woman supply line was falling behind demand. No sooner had she filled her tiny cups than they disappeared from her table. Had everyone in the store skipped breakfast? Ripping open a fresh bag of granola, she ducked under her display table for her back-up box of cups.
The box wasn’t there. Frantically, she pawed through her supplies, but it just wasn’t there. She must have forgotten it in her rush to leave for work.
Okay, now what? The cups came directly from Granny’s; stores didn’t stock that tiny size. Her other box was at home, forty minutes away. Her last sample was disappearing down a little boy’s gullet. “I want more!” he cried. His mother looked at Polly.
“I’ll … I’ll put more out in just a bit, ma’am. Check back in five minutes. And be sure to take home a bag of Granny’s Granola!” The woman frowned and turned away.
Polly felt a distinct chill. She couldn’t afford to lose customers; this job supplemented her Social Security and paid for her English Literature classes. Wait! Maybe the store carried miniature muffin cup liners. At least they’d be close to the right size. She took off, jogging, for the paper goods aisle.
In that same aisle, Walter Allyn Gerard had come to a stop in front of a display of gargantuan packs of toilet paper. He’d never seen so much toilet paper. One pack could conceivably provide him enough toilet paper for the rest of his life. He was contemplating this gloomy prospect when a woman about his age came bolting down the aisle and skidded to a stop beside his cart.
“Excuse me!” she said, panting slightly. “Have you seen any muffin cup liners in this aisle?”
Her cheeks were very rosy, her eyes were very blue, and she was comfortably built. It occurred to him that she was quite attractive.
“Not lately,” he said. “Could you describe one?”
“Describe a muffin cup? It’s … it’s a little ruffled paper thing.” She made a circle with her fingers.
“‘Not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door?’”
Unbelievably, she recognized the quote. “That’s from Romeo and Juliet!”
“You know it? I played Mercutio.” He basked in her astonished stare.
“Oh, my gosh! That’s amazing!”
He shrugged. She really was quite charming.
“But … I’ve got to find muffin cup liners! I need them for my samples!”
“Dear lady, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but how can I help?”
Ten minutes later, Polly was sharing her table with the most distinguished-looking man she’d ever met. She kept sneaking glances at his noble profile and wavy grey hair as she raced to fill the muffin cups they’d found together.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he called to the crowd. “Come, taste the most delectable, delicious, mouthwatering marriage of fruits and grains ever to grace your cereal bowls!”
It wasn’t exactly Granny’s approved script, but a crowd was forming around her table and bags of granola were flying off the shelves.
At last she forced herself to put a hand on his arm. “Thank you very much, but I’d better take over now. I’m really not supposed to let other people demonstrate the product.”
He smiled. “‘That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.’ So would an unofficial demonstrator, were he not so called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title!”
She laughed aloud. “That’s a terrible misuse of Shakespeare!”
“You are right; I apologize. I must need to review my lines. Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to help me do that some evening soon?
“I … I can’t think of anything to say but ‘Aye, verily!’”
“That’ll do, m’lady. That’ll do.”
Author’s Comment: Flash fiction romance is easy to read and devilishly hard to write. Creating relatable characters having believable problems that resolve in 1,000 words or less is both excruciatingly difficult for me and a challenge I just can’t resist. I’ve written over 40 of these little gems over the past few years, some better than others, and I’m still learning. I particularly enjoyed writing this one because it’s about older lovers finding each other through a mutual interest in Shakespeare in a big-box store. What’re the odds?