The Stratford

 

 

 

     The inside was dark.  More than dark.  The inside was pitch black.  Alan Barker had heard that phrase many times, but now realized he had never actually experienced pitch black.  He’d done dark before.  Who hadn’t?  Nighttime, with no streetlight outside his window, curtains drawn tight.  Camping when he was eight, nothing but the stars to interrupt the night.  He’d even worn one of those sleeping masks a few times.  But nothing compared to this.  Alan ground his eyelids together, and the flashes of reds and yellows gave the only evidence that his eyes still worked.  He doubted it had to be so dark.

     The inside was soft.  Well, smooth really.  Almost frictionless.  But firm, with minimal padding.  Probably more than it really needed, but not quite enough to be comfortable. 

     It was big, too.  He stretched his legs and arched his back.  Plenty of room.

     Alan drew a breath in through his nose until his lungs were full, letting the air linger in his nostrils.  It smelled funny.  Acrid, but new, as though someone had spilled an entire bottle of “New Car Smell.”  You probably got used to that.  Plus, it would mask other, inevitable odors.  He had to remind himself, though, that if you cared about the smell, you had bigger problems.

     The Stratford, he decided, was definitely nicer than the Remington.  The Remington had a smidge more legroom, perhaps, but the overall comfort level was less.  Alan pushed his head back.  Definitely the Stratford.

     He might have to try the Osterberg again.  It had been the first one he tried, and his memory was perhaps a little fuzzy.  He was thinking it had been better cushioned, though not as roomy.  The decision would be between legroom and padding.  It was something he’d have to live with it for a long time.  Alan chuckled at the thought.

     The Harvey, though, was an absolute joke.  He had determined that in less than a minute.

     “Uh, Mr. Barker?”

     The voice belonged to Mr. Trumbell.

     “Yeah?”

     “Are you okay?”

     “Yeah.  Fine.  Could I have just another minute?”

     “Uh, sure.  I guess?”

     “Thanks.”

     The silence returned.  It was a necessary part of the equation, and he was a little put out that Trumbell had interrupted him.  Alan waited for his mind to return to a placid state.  He wiggled his toes, unencumbered by his shoes.  He had left his socks on, unsure of the precise etiquette. 

     The Osterberg was definitely more comfortable, but smaller.  And Alan needed to think about the future.  He would almost certainly gain weight.  Who didn’t?  And even if the discomfort of being cramped wouldn’t affect him, he did not want to look ridiculous.  Yes, it would be the Stratford.

     “Mr. Trumbell?”  Alan called.

     “Yes?” 

     “I think I’m done.”

     “Are you sure?”

     “Yeah.  I’ve made up my mind.”

     “You want me to open it, or do you need to try?”

     “No, I think you can do it.”

     What had been a soft, warm glow emanating from several corner lamps flooded in, and blinded Alan.  He clamped his eyes shut against the glare, but even through his eyelids the light was uncomfortable.  Mr. Trumbell waited patiently for Alan to reopen his eyes. 

     “How does it compare to the Osterberg?”  Mr. Trumbell asked.

     “Pretty good, pretty good.  Not quite as comfortable, but roomier.”

     “Yes, Sir.”

     “What’s the, uh, price difference?”

     “Negligible, Sir.  I’m sure we could work something out.”

     Alan nodded and stared back at the Stratford.  “Is chrome standard?”

     “Yes, Sir.  But if you’d like something different . . .”

     “No, no.  I like the chrome.”

     “Excellent choice, Sir.  Shall we discuss some terms?”

     Mr. Trumbell gestured through the doorway.  Alan nodded, and followed him down the hallway into the small office.  The furniture was nice; ornate, but not ostentatious.  Alan took a seat in the plush armchair across the desk from Mr. Trumbell, who had removed a black, leather-bound notepad from a drawer and placed it on the desk.

     “So, Mr. Barker.  You liked the Stratford, correct?”

     Alan nodded, and Mr. Trumbell jotted in the notepad.

     “Did you want any extra features or accessories?”

     “Accessories?”

     “Yes.  To customize it.”

     “I didn’t, I mean, I don’t know.”

     Mr. Trumbell slid a brochure across the desk.  Alan opened it and scanned the exhaustive, and, he thought, rather superfluous list of accessories.  He shook his head and pushed the brochure back.

     “You sure?”

     “Yeah.”

     “As you wish, Sir.”  Mr. Trumbell paused.  “And now comes the awkward part.” 

     “Payment terms.”

     “Yes, Sir.”

     “Well,” Alan shifted in his seat and looked down.  “I was wandering if you offered, uh, anything in the way of sort of a, well, layaway plan?”

     “Layaway plan, Sir?”

     “Yeah.”

     “Er, no, Sir.  Most of our clients require an immediate delivery.”

     “Ah.  Well, I shouldn’t need it for decades to come, knock on wood.”  Alan grinned and knocked on the desk.

     “It’s for you?”

     “Uh-huh.”

     “Oh.”

     “Is that a problem?”

     “No, it’s just that most people don’t shop for their own.”

     “Yeah.  Well, I figured, since I’m going to be spending a lot of time in it, it may as well be what I want.  And, what with costs on the rise . . .”

     Mr. Trumbell closed the notepad and replaced it in the drawer.  “Mr. Barker, I hate to turn business away, but I don’t think you need to buy one.  Most of the expenses are related to, er, location, if you will.”

     Alan nodded.  “Oh.  Well, thank you for your time.”  He stood up and shook Mr. Trumbell’s hand.  “Uh, you wouldn’t happen to know . . .”

     Mr. Trumbell produced a business card from his breast pocket and held it out, pinched between his fore and middle fingers.  Alan took the card and flicked the corner before turning it over.