WHAT’S WRONG WITH A CLEARANCE SALE?
Sean Ohara looked up. There was that scat feeling in the air. He fanned himself with his clipboard. He looked around. There he was. In the basement of the furniture store. He shook his head, smiling.
“What?” Mr. Singh asked. Mr. Singh had that indelible questioning look on his face. Less wonder. More suspicion.
“It didn’t have to be this way.” Sean smirked and shook his head. Oh God, it would have felt good if he had. Long blond hair.
“What way? What are you talking about?” Mr. Singh pleaded. His hands began to play with each other. Like piano keys spontaneously erupting into a melody.
Pat Ohara sighed. Pat was Sean’s brother. And volatile side.
“If only you had come to us sooner.” Pat cocked his head to one side. It didn’t mean a thing. Pat had a slight case of Turrets.
“How could I have come to you sooner?” Mr. Singh cried. He looked from one of the brothers to the other. God, he would have like an answer from someone.
“Don’t you hear it?” Pat Ohara asked. Turned his head and cupped his hand behind his ear.
Mr. Singh listened. What are they talking about? Mr. Singh couldn’t hear anything different. Except that buzz in his ears. But that had been there for twenty years. Originally he thought it was a broadcast station from Delhi. But when it stayed with him when he moved to Canada, he put that thought aside.
“What am I supposed to listen for?”
“Their heart beats,” Pat said. And sighed. Like someone who had just opened the oven. And smelled the lovely aroma of bread rising. “Civilians can’t hear it. But when you’ve worked in the service you can hear them beating. Their poor little hearts racing. It’s all about survival. The battle of the fittest.”
“What creatures? Mice? Don’t tell me I have mice!”
Sean shook his head and laughed. He looked at his brother.
“Tell him, Pat.”
Mr. Singh looked at Pat. “Tell me what?”
“If only it was the mice. We could rid you of that problem in a few days. Not that you don’t have mice problems. It’s the ants, Mr. Singh. They’ve moved into most of your furniture. All those mattresses you’ve got stored in the back. They’re pretty much a total loss. We’ll probably have to burn them. And hope that their empire hasn’t reached out to the futons.”
“Empire?” Mr. Singh cried.
“People don’t understand these creatures,” Sean explained. “They’re smart, Mr. Singh. Not smart individually. Hive smart. Like Republicans. They organize for months before they set out on their conquests. And then…”
Mr. Singh’s face sank into his hands.
“It’s not that bad,” Pat said. He put his hands on his hips. And leaned to one side ever so coquettishly.
Mr. Singh looked up and dared to smile.
“You still got your health,” Pat added. And clapped his hands together. In glee.
Mr. Singh cried out in horror. He wept openly. Sean handed him a handkerchief. Mr. Singh nodded in appreciation and wiped his tears.
“I’ve got to sell everything as fast as I can,” Mr. Singh said. “Try and cut my losses. Maybe I can clear enough to start over again. A new shop. Smaller of course. In another plaza. Give up on my dream.”
“Your dream?” Sean asked.
“To have a shop in a mall,” Mr. Singh said. “Like the big chain stores. And no more sales. I want to sell at retail. That’s the only way to get respect.”
“Maybe…” Pat said rubbing his chin. And tapped his toes. To a song that was seeping through the walls. From some unknown source. So far away.
Mr. Singh looked at Pat Ohara.
“What?” he asked.
Pat leaned over and whispered something in his brother’s ear. Sean shook his head. Pat whispered something else in his ear. Mr. Singh paid close attention to the performance.
“What?” he asked again.
Sean looked at Mr. Singh.
“We don’t normally suggest something like this,” he said. “But you seem at the end of your rope. Well…”
“We could delay our report to Mr. G.,” Pat said. “For a small remuneration of course.”
“And what should I do then?” Mr. Singh asked.
“Have a clearance sale?” Sean suggested.
“A clearance sale?” Mr. Singh asked. “That’s your solution?”
The two Ohara brothers nodded.
Mr. Singh sank down. Into one of his living room chairs. His face was in his hands. Ants, squeezed under the seat cushion, began to crawl out. Mr. Singh began to weep. The two Ohara brothers looked at each other and shrugged. The ants began to climb up Mr. Singh’s trousers.
“What’s wrong with a clearance sale?” Sean asked.
Mr. Singh looked up at the exterminator.
“Look around,” he said. “That’s been my gimmick for twenty years. I’m always having a clearance sale.”
The Ohara brothers looked at Mr. Singh sink deeper into despair. And then his leg began to move. One at a time. His feet began to ever so slightly move from side to side. Fingers twitched. His arms straightened out and bent at a ninety degree angle before his hands slapped those same arms. Fingers snapped. Mr. Singh jumped to his feet and began to move around the room. Like Michael Jackson. An outsider might have supposed that Mr. Singh was overcome by joy and needed to express it in dance. The Ohara brothers knew better. It wasn’t rhythm that made Mr. Singh’s limbs twist and turn. It was the ants.