The Wisdom of Solomon Wise
by Robert G. Cantor
Solomon Wise rose from his bed in eager anticipation of the new day. His bones ached and his joints hurt as usual, but he had long gotten used to the discomfort. After all, it was Wednesday, and his weekly visit to the Dollar Bargain Store was at hand. The monthly rent had been paid for his sparsely furnished efficiency apartment, and there was enough money left from his Social Security check to splurge a little. He'd been alone now for close to two years, and though he missed his beautiful Molly, after all, fifty years was a long time for any marriage, and God had been kind in letting her stay with him as long as He had.
He dressed as quickly as he could, considering his physical limitations, and after a warm shower, which always helped lift his spirits and pain, a hastily eaten breakfast of canned orange juice, corn flakes with skim milk, and instant coffee, he grabbed his cane and headed for the shopping mall only two blocks away. There are always so many new things at the Dollar Bargain Store, he thought. I wonder what they've brought in this week. His pace quickened in anticipation, and despite his halting step, he was at the entrance to the vast store and all its wonders in less than ten minutes.
Gertrude Blum stood behind the cash register as usual, her dyed blond hair carefully groomed and combed in what had to have been at least a couple of hours of hard work. Her wrinkled face broke into a wide smile as she saw Solomon Wise reach for a shopping cart.
"Good morning, Sol," he heard her say. "It wouldn't be Wednesday without you here."
"Right you are , Gertrude. My but you're looking lovely this morning. And without you standing there this store wouldn't be the same."
Solomon and Gertrude always exchanged a little banter at these weekly meetings. Gertrude had been a widow now for many years, and she was happy to be able to supplement her meager income with the cashier's job. It was obvious from her well kept appearance that she had indeed been a very attractive woman in her prime, but time had caused at least the outwardly youthful beauty to fade, and though she still felt young in spirit, she knew the mirror didn't lie. She was seventy-three and counting, and there was no getting away from that.
"You go ahead, Sol, and enjoy your shopping. I'll be here when you're finished, and check you out."
With a wave of his hand, Solomon was on his way. He stopped at almost every item, examined it carefully, and returned most things to their place on the shelf. A few were dropped into his shopping cart, but not very many. He was lost in thought for a moment, when an ear-splitting wailing caused him to look up in startled surprise.
"I want it, I want it, I want it," he was able to understand between the loud sobs that reverberated throughout the store.
"Now Julia, how many times do I have to tell you that Mommy isn't going to buy this piece of junk? It has sharp edges, and you're too young to play with it. It's absolutely out of the question."
A glance down the aisle he was standing in, and he saw the source of the disturbance. A young woman, in her early twenties he guessed, was crouched before a little girl perhaps four or five years old. The child's tear-stained face and piercing screams told it all. The object of her desire was, indeed, "a piece of junk", as the mother had so aptly described it, and Sol watched with increasing alarm as the conflict escalated.
"Julia, I want you to stop it this instant, or I'm going to turn you over my knee and give you a good spanking."
"I want it, I want it, I want it," the wailing continued.
Julia's mother had apparently reached the breaking point. With an exasperated cry of frustration, she grabbed the child, and with a movement that seemed to come from almost nowhere, delivered a swift blow to the child's bottom. Solomon gasped as he saw the arm raised again for a second strike.
"Excuse me, Miss," he found himself saying, "but may I ask you a question?"
The young woman's eyes flashed in fury as she glanced up at the old man. "Mind your own business," she said in a loud voice, and turned to deliver a second blow.
"I'll give you a dollar for her. That's the going price in this store. I know she's probably worth a few dollars more, but everything in this store sells for a dollar."
A surprised expresssion came over the woman's face, and the upraised arm dropped to her side. The look of anger rapidly disappeared, and was replaced by one of sudden awareness as to what she was doing. Both arms were now placed around the weeping child, and the mother's quiet whispers in the little girl's ear quickly brought the sobbing to an end.
"Thanks for the offer, sir, but she's not for sale. All the money in the world couldn't buy this little girl."
"Well, for a moment there I kind of thought you didn't want her anymore, but I can see now how mistaken I was. I hereby officially withdraw my offer."
"Thank you, sir. I think an ice cream cone ought to help with the hurt. Julia, how does that sound to you?"
A now smiling child reached for her mother's hand, and she skipped along eagerly in anticipation of the promised treat. "Thank you, sir," he heard the mother say, "from now on I'll try to keep your point in mind."
Solomon watched as mother and child headed out of the store. He pushed his shopping cart to the cashier, and waited as Gertrude totaled up the items. "Looks like you really broke the bank today, Sol," she laughed. That will be three bucks."
Solomon opened his wallet and placed the three singles on the counter. "Here you go, Gertrude. See you next week."
Gertrude gathered up the bills, and placed Solomon's purchases in a plastic bag. "I'll be looking forward to that, Sol," she said in her most seductive voice. She watched as, despite his limp, he almost sauntered out with his bargains. One of these days he's going to really notice something more than the dollar items in this store, she mused, and with a hand reaching to pat her splendid hairdo, turned to wait on the next customer.
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