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Floor Models by Bryan Jones

The agency books two of their best models for an advertisement shoot at a small furniture store. But the models have car trouble. A manager at the agency tries to communicate the problem to the furniture store, but due to an error in the agency’s records, the message that the models are running late is left on the machine of a different store.

The photography equipment is already set up inside the store. A sign on the front door informs the public that the opening will be delayed. An old married couple owns the store. They are having a big sale that day. In the parking lot, impatient customers wait to get inside. Two newlyweds are out there hoping to get the jump on some good deals.

The newlyweds get bored with waiting. They amble around to the back of the store and find an unlocked door. They go inside and walk past the armoires and credenzas to the corner of the store that is arranged under the soft lighting to resemble a large master bedroom. Nearby, a sophisticated camera is mounted on a tripod. They see an older man in some shabby dark clothes behind the tripod fiddling with the camera settings.

“You finally made it,” the man in the shabby clothes says to the man and the woman. “Time and money are wasting. I think the husband should stand next to the big-screen television. The wife should sit on the corner of the bed.”

The man and the woman look at each other for a moment. Then they do as they are told.

“This has to look real in order to sell this stuff, so act like there are big problems in your marriage,” the man in the shabby clothes says gruffly. He walks over and turns on the television.

The woman recognizes a particular made-for-television movie that is playing. The movie is based on a popular paperback. The book is on a nightstand near the bed.

The man in the shabby clothes steps back to consider how everything looks. He goes back behind the tripod. He tells the husband to stare at the television. Then he tells the woman to pick up the paperback and act as though she can’t put the story down.

She grabs the book and opens to a random page. She squints at the text. She reads a few sentences and then her eyes stray to what is playing on the television screen. She watches an escaped convict runs toward a rural farmhouse in the middle of an uneven corn field. He reaches the house and bounds up the porch steps and crashes through the front door. No one appears to be home. He dashes into the kitchen and opens the well stocked refrigerator. He finds plates of sliced ham in there along with a bowl of potato salad and fruit. There is booze, too, but he doesn’t have time for that. The big man jabs his dirty fingers into the potato salad and scoops a heavy portion into his mouth. Then he grabs a plate of ham and walks over to take a seat at the kitchen table. As he eats, he notices three shoeboxes on the table.

In the furniture store, the husband sees that his wife is not reading the paperback. She is watching the television program.

On the screen, the escaped convict reaches out and flips the lid off the first box and finds a note inside. He picks it up and begins to read.

“Of course life is meaningless and unnecessarily painful,” the note reads. “It has been almost a year since my husband, Fred Fogarty, passed away and all he left me was this house which is a constant reminder of the immeasurable loss I have suffered. These dark hallways all lead to the same silent rooms.”

The convict looks up from the note at one of the hallways. The hallway isn’t dark. He returns to reading the note.

“My dying wish is to have this house utterly destroyed with dynamite at 2:00 p.m. on the anniversary of my husband’s death.”

The convict appears startled when he realizes he’s there on the day of the anniversary. He looks at his stolen wrist watch. It is exactly 1:59 p.m.

The convict quickly opens the second box and finds another note.

“Life doesn’t seem as bleak as it did just a little while ago,” the second note reads. “The doctors say my recovery is a miracle. Sheriff Ray has been coming to see me more and more. I think I can almost imagine myself getting married again, even at my age, and learning to live under the same roof with another man.”

The convict on the screen opens the third shoebox. It contains a clipping from one of the nearby town newspapers about how the Fogarty house was blown up ahead of schedule. According to the report, the property is up for sale.

The convict sits there perplexed for a moment. He gets up and goes to the kitchen door which he opens quickly in order to walk out onto the back porch. Across a big field, on the other side of a distant property line, he sees a FOR SALE sign next to a pile of destroyed lumber and roofing material. Suddenly, someone else on the porch cocks a lever-action rifle and the criminal reaches for the sky. Sheriff Ray, still dressed in his wedding tuxedo, stands there with his groomsmen deputies who have just returned from the reception. An older woman in a wedding dress waits inside her new husband’s truck until the lawmen can figure out the identity of the uninvited guest who just walked out of Sheriff Ray’s kitchen.

The husband in the furniture store sees the man in the shabby clothes is upset with his wife because she doesn’t look interested in what she’s supposed to be reading.

“The television show is better,” she says in her defense. “The paperback doesn’t make sense.”

The man in the shabby clothes walks over and takes the book from the woman.

“The book is better,” he grumbles. “That’s what everyone says.”

He goes back behind the tripod. With a free hand he angrily adjusts a setting on the camera.

Suddenly, an older woman holding a Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee walks up. Her silver hair is pulled back in a tight bun.

“Get away from the equipment,” the woman with the coffee says.

The man in the shabby clothes clutches the paperback to his chest. He slinks away down a walkway past other, less expensive bedroom sets.

The woman with the coffee goes over and checks the settings on the camera.

“You can’t turn your back on that man,” she mumbles while inspecting the lens of the camera.

The newlyweds stare at each other for a moment.

“I hope he didn’t break anything,” the woman with the coffee says. “Now, we need to get people to buy this stuff, so act like everything in here makes your marriage the happiest in the world. That’s what people want to see. They could care less about how things really are.”

The older woman looks at them and smiles. Her wrinkled fingers slowly rotate the coffee cup. The ring on her wedding finger has lost one of its diamonds.

“Stay just like that until the photographer gets back from his van with his special lens,” the woman with coffee says. Then she turns and walks away. The newlyweds wait until she is gone. Then the woman stands up and grabs her husband’s hand. They walk off hunting for better deals.

Outside the place, the two models arrive by cab at the storefront. They go up to the front door and discover it is locked. They try to peer through the store windows by putting their faces into their cupped hands. Their warm faces fog the cold glass. They don’t notice the photographer in the parked van behind them. He aims his special lens at them and takes his best picture of the day.


Short fiction by Bryan Jones has appeared in The Danforth Review, Diddledog and Pequin. He lives and works in Texas.

One Comment leave one →
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