Blank Slate

Blank Slate

The man stepped out of the elevator into a department store. Elegant mannequins stared back at him. The man gazed down at his own wardrobe. A tattered worn shirt, faded jeans and worker boots.

“Can I help you, sir?”

The newcomer raised his eyes to find a man dressed in an elegant suit and tie standing before him. His accent had hints of a British upbringing that were, without a doubt, imaginary.

“I… am not sure. I don’t remember exactly how I got here.”

He tried to smile but found he couldn’t.

“I presume you took the elevator, sir.”

The salesman didn’t appear to be joking. He was being helpful and polite without being judgmental.

“What I mean is… I don’t remember getting here. I’m not exactly sure of anything right now.”

“Of course, sir. Perhaps I can be of assistance?”

“I don’t remember my name.”

“We’re aware, sir. I believe now would be a good time as any to pick a new one.”

There was a moment of silence. The newcomer cracked a smile.

“That’s really funny, James. Really funny.”

“It’s just obvious, sir. Without a name, it’s just hard to carry on.”

“Do you have a name, James?”

“You have already named me, sir. James it is.”

“Really? That’s amazing. Give me a moment, James, will you?”

“Certainly, sir.”

Turning away from the salesman, the man searched his pockets.

“I seem to have lost my wallet, James”

“All part of the process, sir. Would you like to choose a new one?”

“How would I pay for that, James?”

“It’s all been paid for already, sir.”

The man laughed heartily. He slapped his knee.

“Has it now?How about a new credit card?”

“I would suggest choosing a name first. A credit card is not valid without a name on it. Neither is a man, sir.”

The man’s vision blurred and he staggered on his feet. He sat down with his head between his knees. Then he was staring at a glass of water that James was offering him.

“Thank you, James.”

“We are here to serve, sir. You’re taking it better than most. After the first realization, I usually have to bring out the mop.”

“Where am I, James?”

“The men’s department, sir.”

“That’s not… What I mean is, what am I doing here?”

“You are picking a new life, sir.”

“A new life? What happened to my old one?”

“I believe that one has been discarded, sir.”

The man took another long drink of water and handed the glass over to James.

“Are you telling me I died?”

“No, sir. I know you were unhappy with your life and just decided to start a new one. This was your decision to make. This is your wish come true.”

“This has to be a dream.”

James cleared his throat.

“In dreams, you don’t question anything. You only do that in life.”

“You’re telling me I’m alive, then.”

“Without a doubt, sir. You have a new life starting for you from now on. A life you can mold as you wish.”

“And you can’t tell me how I won this fantastic opportunity, can you?”

“I only work in this department, sir,” said James. “If I may be so bold, I would suggest you make the best of it.”

“I’ve always liked the name Brown,” said the man getting up on his feet.

“Like James Brown, sir?”

He could have sworn he had seen James about to crack a smile.

“Make it Jim,” said the man. “Jim Brown. For now. I may change it later.”

“Of course, Mr. Brown. What sort of life would you fancy?”

He turned sideways and gestured towards the endless rows of elegant clothing.

“Well, I want the millionaire package.”

“Certainly, sir. What would you like to start with?”

“How about a suit?”

The salesman showed him a few to try. All the famous brands were there, including quite a few he had never heard of.  It almost didn’t surprise him to know that everything in the store was exactly his size.

He gazed at himself in the mirror.

“Now I look like a millionaire, James.”

“Clothes make the man, sir. We can also provide the life to match.”

“Really? How about a car?”

“I can take you to the car showroom floor whenever you’re ready. You can pick as many as you like. We also have a real state department where you can pick houses.”

Jim was laughing histerically.

“This is better than winning the lottery!”

“I should say so, sir. Everything done for you beforehand.”

“What about… women?”

“We indeed have a women’s section sir, but with the millionaire package you don’t really need one from the start. They tend to show up by themselves.”

Jim seemed to have an epileptic fit from laughing so hard.

“They tend to show up,” he said, pausing to breathe for a moment, “by themselves! James, you’re the best!”

“Thank you, sir. We aim to please.”

“What did I do deserve this, James? Did I sell my soul or something?”

“I can’t disclose those details, sir.”

Jim froze.

“Wait, a moment ago you said you didn’t know.”

James smiled for the first time.

“A slip of the tongue, sir. You caught me on that one. I am not allowed to disclosed the details of your… arrangement. I can provide you with a new life.”

“What I’d like for you tell me, James, is what is the price tag we’re looking at here.”

“The cost has already been covered, sir”

“See here, James,” he said. “I don’t remember who I was in a past life, but I’m sure I was not stupid. I’m sure I didn’t sign upfront before the deal was completed.”

“Everyone signs up front, sir. No exceptions. You don’t get to me without signing first.”

“I see.”

He chose all that he wanted and then some. The huge thrill he had felt was now gone. He followed the salesman to the cashier.

“I will ring you up now, sir. Of course, this is just a formality. Everything is already covered.”

“Of course,” repeated Jim without any emotion.

His gaze traveled to a showcase located to the side. There was a group of mannequins resembling a family. The father figure had clothes that looked very familiar to Jim.

“James, what is that showcase of?”

“That’s a family package, sir.”

“Those look like my clothes.”

Jim look at his left hand. There was a mark on his third finger where a wedding band had once been.

James cursed underneath his breath as he realized what the man had discovered.

“I’m sorry, sir. That was an oversight on our part.”

Jim grabbed the salesman from his coat lapels.

“That’s my life on that showcase, isn’t it?”

“Not anymore, sir,” said James. “That life was sold a minute ago.”

Jim released the salesman.

“To whom?” he said, whimpering.

“To me, sir. I’ve always wanted to get out of this business.”

“I… want it back…” said Jim, sobbing.

“I’m terribly sorry, sir” said James.

He hit a key on the cash register, which made a small ring.

“All sales are final.”

  1. #1 by pdaughter on December 10, 2008 - 1:04 pm

    Very nice! What a great way to start my day. Well done 😀

    • #2 by nocton on December 12, 2008 - 5:08 am

      Thanks! This was one of the short stories I submitted to the CBC contest. Glad you liked it.

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