Maureen Doherty stood at the window of her corner office on the top floor of Boston's William G. Bartlett Building. "Rain," she muttered. "Pouring down rain. Just what I need." With a sigh, she turned away from the cold, gray outdoor vista and faced her almost-empty desk where a brown corrugated box stood open.
She reached for the framed photo of her parents, Nancy and Frank Doherty, posed in front of their San Diego condo. They smiled up at her. Into the box they went, followed by half-a-dozen brass plaques engraved with her name and "Independent Retailers Ready-to-Wear Buyer of the Year." With the closing of the venerable Bartlett's of Boston department store there'd be no more of those plaques in her future. A framed document certifying her degree in Fashion Merchandising, and a well-worn copy of Mastering Fashion Styling were next, along with a manilla folder of tax information. It was only September, so she didn't need to worry about taxes on past income just yet. The immediate problem was going to be future income.
The closing of Bartlett's hadn't come as a shock to Maureen. The shutting down of brick-and-mortar stores was happening all over the country. Even the big guys, like Sears and the great independents like Filene's, were gone, so it was no wonder that a family-owned department store like this one was doomed to fail, even after eighty-five years at the same address. It was a good bet that the market for women's sportswear buyers was dwindling too, even for an almost-thirty-six-year-old frequent "buyer of the year."
With another sigh, a "New York, New York" paperweight, a souvenir of one of many buying trips to the city, went into the box, followed by a dusty jade plant rooted in Maureen's maternal grandmother's willowware flowerpot. She made a final check of the desk drawers, pulling them out and closing them one at a time, just in case something had been left behind.
Not much to show for ten years in the same job, she thought, brushing back a stray lock of short blond hair and blinking back tears.
"Maureen? May I come in?" William G. Bartlett III stood in the doorway.
She wiped a hand across blue eyes and smiled at the gray-haired older man. He looked tired. "Of course, Bill. Just cleaning up a few loose ends."
"I understand. This hasn't been easy for any of us." He shook his head. "We held on as long as we could, didn't we? I want you to know how much I appreciate your staying on until the last minute." His smile was wry. "Nothing left to sell now except the store fixtures. The moving crew is having a ball sweeping up all the coins that have been under those old wooden counters since nineteen thirty-six. Probably quite a lot of silver down there."
A bit awkwardly, he handed Maureen a long envelope. "This'll help a little to tide you over for a while. Any plans for the future yet? You know I'll give you a glowing reference, whatever you chose to do next."
"Thanks so much, Bill. No plans yet, but I'll keep in touch," Tears threatening again, she slipped the envelope into her handbag and tucked the carton under her arm. Feeling more than a little sorry for herself because of the "no plans" reality, she pushed the last empty bottom desk drawer closed with her foot—a bit harder than necessary. "It's been a good ten years. I'll miss the old place."
"We all will," he said, and held the door open for her. A coin rolled slowly across the carpeted floor, stopping at Maureen's feet. He bent and picked it up. "A nineteen-eighty-three Bermuda nickel. Must have been under your desk."
Had she really kicked the drawer that hard? She felt a flush of embarrassment.
He turned the coin over. "The queen of England on one side and an angelfish on the other, but no silver." He handed it to her. "Can't be worth much, but here, keep it for good luck."
"I will." Sliding it into her pocket, she gave a wave with her free hand, stepped into the top-floor elevator, and pushed the DOWN button.
Leaving by the employees' ground level exit, she gave a reluctant backward glance and stepped out into the nearly empty parking lot at the rear of the building. It was early afternoon and the rain, by then wind whipped, fell in slanting, stinging sheets. Balancing the carton on the rear fender of a five-year-old green Subaru Forester, she unlocked the back hatch, shoved the box inside, climbed into the driver's seat, and headed for home.