"Will this take an LED bulb?"
Sadie McGregor looked up from the manifest she had been checking, to see a huge fat man. At first she took him for a glutton, but a closer look told her he was not. Perhaps he had a glandular condition? It didn’t matter. What mattered was the box he was thrusting a standard lamp at her.
"It will take any bulb with a standard Edison screw," she said.
"You sure? I don’t want to have to bring it back."
Sadie looked up from her manifest and gave the man her full attention. His eyes widened, startled and he swallowed hard. This often happened to people on the receiving end of Sadie’s full attention. She stared further into his eyes. His soul was in relatively good shape, other than some mild office pilfering and... ah. A short, doomed affair that he’d never told his wife about. He really should tell her.
"Here,’ she said. "I will show you."
"Uh, if you say it will work, I’m sure you know…"
"I will show you. Behold!"
She pointed at a line of shelves, packed high with all shapes and sizes of bulbs. She took an LED bulb from its box and screwed it into the lamp. She unplugged an ugly plastic reading lamp in the display area, connected the big man’s standard lamp and switched it on. A warm feeling rose inside her as the LEDs flared into life, and the lamp gave off a pleasant glow. She smiled at the big man, who seemed to relax.
"Do you see? Do you see the light?"
The man gave a nervous laugh. "Yes, thank you. I’ll take it. And the bulb. They cost almost as much as the lamps, these days."
"They give off more light than the old bulbs," Sadie said. "So much more. And they last longer. Use less electricity."
"So I guess you make your money back in the end?"
Sadie could see the big man’s fear. Not serious fear, like the pedestrian who sees a truck coming a moment too late, or the swimmer who realises, a moment too late, that the dorsal fin he has been watching does not belong to a dolphin. Just the day to day uneasiness of a man who does not know what to make of something.
"It is not about money," she said. "It is about light. That is what matters. Can I help you with anything else?"
"I’m good," he said, quickly. "Thanks a heap!"
He left in the direction of the cashiers, casting worried glances backwards.
Sadie went back to checking her manifest against the shelves of bulbs. Everything was correct, but it was her duty to check, so she checked all the bulbs and globes, all the tubes and downlights, all the halogens and LEDs and all those cool-looking but dim Edison bulbs that all the hipsters seemed to love. It was a huge range, spreading over two lanes of tall shelving. She had seen strong men brought to helpless confusion by the bewildering array, unable to find which of the hundreds of products could replace the missing bulb in a ten year old fridge.
But Sadie was always there to help them. Help them find the light.
Sadie’s junior, Donna, scuttled over. She always seemed to move that way, in a sort of half-sideways walk, like a crab that refuses to commit. The girl was an inveterate liar, she occasionally drove drunk, and was addicted to a particularly revolting form of Japanese pornography. Still, she had not been under Sadie’s tutelage for long. She would learn.
"Hey, boss lady," she said. "You hear the goss? Central office wanted to lay off a bunch of us, but Marlon managed to get them to change their minds. They are cutting our hours instead – a lot of hours."
Donna did not seem overly concerned at this change. She was a student and her parents were quite wealthy. She only worked at the Pavilion in order to make purchases that did not show up on her parents’ credit card bill. To the other youngsters, the blow would cut deep.
"How many hours?"
"I’m basically down to Saturdays and Thursday nights. It sucks."
"Language," Sadie said. "Well, I suppose I can do without you Sundays."
Sadie could have done without her at all. She could have run the whole department herself, from 7am open to 7pm close. Her team existed purely because head office believed them necessary.
"Well, at least it means I can stay up later Saturday night, if I don’t have to be in early Sunday," Donna said.
"You mean you won’t get in trouble for turning up late and hung over any more," Sadie said.
Donna laughed. She seemed to find all of her moral failings amusing. It did not matter. She was young. She would learn.
As if determined to prove Sadie right, Donna shook her head in that awkward way she did when she wanted to do something right. "You, uh, you were going to explain about the arc-lights to me?"
Sadie did not smile, yet she was pleased. They always came, in the end. No matter how hard they worked to deny it, the human soul is drawn to light like moths to the flame. She looked down the aisle that ran across the back of the Pavilion.
Down several aisles, past hand tools, past mail boxes, past doors, door numbers and doormats stood Sadie's sister Angela, team leader in charge of Curtains, Blinds and Shutters. Sadie bristled as she saw that Angela was demonstrating shut-out blinds to the big man with the standard lamp.
Angela realised that she was being watched. She looked up and for a moment, her eye met Sadie’s. With a gesture of her head, she directed Sadie's gaze further down the corridor, where Axel Platzoff was shaking the hand of Marlon Dillinger, the Duty Manager.
Now? So soon? Her shock must have shown, because Angela smirked at her, before returning to her hideous business.