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LAce Posted Monday, May 5th, 2003
And You Go
Jessica O'Connell

Today was the one-year anniversary of April Johnston's promotion to Manager of Mother's Many Helpers Maternity Wear. She and her sales associate, Jenny, had celebrated earlier that morning with hazelnut coffees and donut holes. But as with any career milestone, the day had been rather anticlimactic, and the routine of the job was weighing heavily on her.

Trying to maintain a chipper attitude, April had set her sights on a maternity blouse hanging on one of the racks up front…April would have died of boredom each day taking care of the typical managerial responsibilities at Mother's Many Helpers if she didn't plan a diversion. Some days it was pizza, other days it was reprogramming the cable radio, but today it was trying on that blouse she thought was so cute—even if it was maternity wear.

At 1 pm, she ate her lunch discreetly and greeted customers who came in. It was afternoon when she usually encountered over-zealous grandmother types just looking for a thing or two for a daughter or daughter-in-law. They didn't need much help and when they did, they turned to pregnant customers in the store. "You look just about the same size as my Cindy. Now when are you due? Well, Cindy's due in November. Now, would you mind holding these pants up so I can tell if they'll be too short?"

The store was a typical retail space. It was deeper than wide. Racks were up front, along the sides, and in the back they had their clearance items. In front of the counter there were several table displays with folded sweaters and tees arranged in an array of colors and patterns like a supersonic rainbow. And directly opposite checkout were a row of dressing rooms. The placement was simply perfect. As hesitant moms peered out from behind the curtain, Mother's Many Helpers employees could make an encouraging compliment or even offer to get them another size without even moving from their stool perches.

April waited until there was just one young shy couple in the store. The woman had auburn hair and wasn't showing at all. She and her husband were at Mother's Many Helpers doing what April called "The Big Clear." Once semi-attractive first-pregnancy women started to show slightly, their clothes became uncomfortable, so they'd come to the store to get a new wardrobe of sensible coordinates in order to literally "clear out" their old clothes closet. April had noticed that women who were already dumpy tended to glide through the first months of their second trimester without a wardrobe adjustment. Their sweatpants and muumuus continued to work fine for them until they got huge. The young shy couple was holed up in one of the dressing rooms with a mountain of clothes, trying on the 3-month and 6-month simulation strap-on pillows no doubt, and giggling softly.

April had been prepping Jenny for giving the blouse a go all morning. She'd had Jenny go through the store and name the cutest blouse that could pass as non-maternity. She'd even made Jenny walk the perimeter around the rack holding said blouse and check which sizes they had available. At long last April grabbed the blouse and headed to the dressing room herself. "What do you really, really think? I mean, do I look pregnant?"

Jenny shrugged. "No, I mean, you could wear that out, and no one would guess it was maternity."

"Hmm…I guess…It's just so cute, and I could wear it with those blue capris I have..?" April glanced at the tag--$35. With her employee discount, she could get the blouse for $28. Maybe if it was $25 or under…When was their next sale? On the other hand, she could probably drop in at Ross Dress For Less and get a hotter blouse that was actually tight and didn't tent out in front for the same price. April sighed, "Maybe I'm just bored…" It was sort of twisted that April got the job after she'd had Sam.

Sam was 2 ½, and although some part of April did feel he was indeed the love of her life, lately she had just about had it with runny noses, Blues Clues videos, and Popsicles. Before and after work she was often grumpy and tired. And when she was in a good or even a decent mood, she usually felt like she was going through the motions and taking every sweet blessing in her life for granted.

In many ways, April envied the customers that came into her shop. They had almost no idea about what lie ahead of them. And the physical symptoms of pregnancy could be so mysterious and engaging. April looked back on her pregnancy as a time of blissful ignorance. In theory she knew she was growing a baby, but sometimes it felt as if there were no tangible indications of what was really going on inside of her. She ate a lot, felt nauseous and tired all of the time, and her clothes got tight, but until she started feeling the baby move (like an involuntary twitch in her gut) she found she had to constantly remind herself of her condition. Once the baby started moving, she was full of wonder and amazement, but still couldn't comprehend what it would be like to actually have him in her arms and in her life.

The young couple had emerged from the dressing room. They were putting clothes back on racks and selecting others. The woman selected a black corduroy jumper. She had a quizzical look on her face. "What could I wear under this?"

"Well," April replied, "you could wear one of our poplin button downs, or any long-sleeve T-shirt. We have some right over there with scalloped necklines in blue, pink, and sage. The great thing about a jumper is you just throw it on, and you go!" Jenny nodded sympathetically. The couple looked at each other and smiled cheerfully as if they understood April's logic. They headed back to the dressing room for round two of "The Big Clear."

And you go. A year ago, a co-worker at Mother's Many Helpers started using that phrase regularly, and it resulted in wild retail success. Now they all used it. Something about "And you go!" made pregnancy sound like a busy and energetic time, where a woman became somehow super-organized while at the same time completely carefree. April snorted as she gazed at the cash register. She reflected that no one – even non-preggies – ever just threw on a jumper and headed out the door anymore. They had to dry their hair, do their make-up, select the right handbag, and throw an extra load of laundry in the wash. And pregnancy was even more of a hassle, what with all of the cocoa butter on your belly, the lanolin for your nipples, prenatal vitamins, and sensible shoes.

It's no wonder most of April's customers were retired at 35. How else would they manage it? She snorted again. Jenny asked her if she had a cold as she went around straightening the garments that the couple had replaced on the rack. Jenny was a neat freak and that made her an invaluable Mother's Many Helpers employee. Jenny's folds were so crisp you could often still see the creases in a shirt or on a pair of pants even when a customer was wearing them.

"Jenny, have you ever noticed that most of our customers seem to be approaching menopause faster than motherhood? What do you think is going on that women are just putting off pregnancy for so long?"

Jenny sighed thoughtfully and pulled a blond wisp of hair away from her amber eyes. "Oh I don't know. Maybe they are just getting married later, putting their careers first and all…"

"Did I ever tell you that before I had Sam, I took one of those childbirth classes at the hospital? I was the youngest woman in the room by 10 years! And I was 24—in the prime of my fertility…Of course I was also the only one without a birthing partner too…I guess my mother was right about Rick all along."

"Your mom have Sam today?" Jenny asked.

"Yup. And Rick's mom has her tomorrow. Did I tell you that my sister is coming for President's Day weekend?" Jenny shook her head.

April nodded, "She is such a great auntie. She always brings Sam books or videos. And she just adores getting him all hyper…Geez, do you know how many times my sister saved me from hours of intense abdominal pain when I was pregnant?"

"What do you mean?" Jenny asked absently.

"I used to get so constipated. You know they make you take these prenatal vitamins and the iron just blocks you up. So anyway this one time I was in bad shape. I mean, I really couldn't get out of bed, and I had talked to my doctor twice that day. Well, I called my sister, and within five minutes I was racing to the toilet! I think just talking to my sister made me relax. "

Jenny chuckled. " I don't really think my brother's voice has that effect on me. All he does is piss me off!"

"Jesus. Do you know what I just realized? Forget President's Day--Valentine's Day is just around the corner!"

"Hey, yeah…Aren't we going to get some of those edible maternity underpants this year?" Jenny asked.

April did a quick visual sweep of the store. "Listen, I need to call and check on that order. We still have not received our shipment of Valentine maternity tights, bras, and breast pumps. What's up with that?"

"Uhh…I told Nicole to check up on that order on Sunday. Didn't she do it?" April punched a couple of numbers into the cash register and whistled knowingly.

"What?" Jenny asked.

"Nicole closed the register out at 4:43 on Sunday. What the heck was she thinking? We close at 5 pm on Sundays. Did she think she'd just knock off early? I would never even consider that, and I have a son to go home to! I'm going to have to have words with her, and I can't even deal with her excuses this time."

"Tisk, tisk…" Jenny said, "Do you want a piece of gum?"

"No, I've gotta call these people." April dialed, "Hi. This is April Johnston. Mother's Many Helpers store number 056200. Yes, that's right. I'm calling to check up on our Valentine's shipment. Yes, that's fine. I'll hold." April started waving her hands at Jenny and whispering, "I need you to look up the shipment number in that blue notebook."

Just then the couple emerged from the dressing room looking at once victorious and slightly apprehensive. April smiled knowingly. Yes, "The Big Clear" was indeed an expensive feat. But with each "Big Clear" customer was a weekly sales goal met, so she pushed her empathy aside. Jenny was breathlessly lugging the blue notebook to the counter.

April addressed the couple sweetly, "Can you give me just one moment, please? Now do you have any maternity bras or stockings yet? You may want to check out the display to the right where we have some on sale. Your breasts are going to swell like you can't even imagine." The couple heaved their pile of chosen items onto the counter, and waltzed over to the bra display. Jenny's pink manicured fingernail was pointing to the shipment number from two weeks ago.

"Two weeks!" April hissed, "Nicole should've checked on this Sunday before last! Jenny, check on when she closed the register week before last would you? Yes, yes, I'm here, and I have the shipment number. It's number 11469/val…Look, I know this should have been verified weeks ago, but I'm in a bind here. Valentines Day is two weeks from today, and I don't have one Sweetheart maternity bra in my store!" The couple looked up from the bras they were sampling in bland taupes, whites, and blacks. The young man winked at his wife. Jenny gestured at the register output. It said 4:38. Nicole had closed shop even earlier the week before. "I have a situation on my hands here," April said. "I have an employee who is cutting out early every Sunday before closing time and isn't doing her regular inventory checks. What would you suggest? O.K. O.K. If you'll just agree to get the order out today? That means I'll have it here in 3 days. Uh-huh. Thanks for your help. B'bye."

April shot Jenny a look, then she batted her eyelashes at the couple. "Are you folks ready to be rung up?" When the grand total came to $331.02, the woman flinched and the young man flung his plastic card at April proudly. Jenny was methodically removing the clothes from hangers and folding them in a stack. When the credit card authorization line was busy, April just rolled her eyes. "You can probably tell…It's been one of those days." The young woman was fading. She was pale and her eyes were bloodshot. April finally got the card authorized and sent them on their way. She spared them the "Would you like to join Mother's Many Helpers' exclusive mailing list whereby you'll receive promotion specials, a free issue to Parenting magazine, and coupons for Enfamil baby formula?" "Big Clear" customers usually went for it, but April could identify an exhausted preggie when she saw one.

The sun was drooping into the clouds on the horizon outside of the storefront. "What do you think Nicole's excuse will be this time?"

April imagined her son in his jammies smelling sweet after a bath and curled up in front of the T.V. under a blanket. All she wanted to do was squeeze, kiss, and tickle him. "What time you got?"

Jenny gestured at the clock on the wall. It was 4:40.

April kind of gurgled. "Look, we've made our sales for the day," she said. "No one can do "The Big Clear" in 20 minutes, and the grandmas will come back tomorrow to torture Nicole. I think we should cut out early…I know you thought you'd never hear me say that."

Jenny shrugged. "You're the boss."

April removed the bills in the register, counted them, and then put them in the safe under the carpet. She locked the register. Jenny folded a stray shirt, turned off the lights, and set the alarm. Within 3 minutes they had both slipped covertly out the door. And you go! April thought to herself as she unlocked her car door. And you go.

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