Part 3: Mushnik's Skid Row Florists – Schmuck, age 16, 1956
Mr. Mushnik is on lunch break. Seymour looks up from Gardening Today as the bell over the door rings.
The girl's name is Janet, and she is very pretty: blonde hair in a ponytail, bright blue eyes, white teeth, clean clothes in pastel shades, a book bag slung over one shoulder. But her skirt confuses Seymour. He didn't know they made skirts that short.
She stands close to him as he points out what bouquets she could get her girlfriend. The poor gal had a car accident; Janet's obviously a wreck about it. Those blue eyes tear up as she says she just doesn't have ten dollars on her, could he please do her a favor, she'll pay him back tomorrow….Seymour tells himself he's being a nice guy, but in the depths of his soul, he knows what decided him: that very, very short skirt.
She hugs him before she leaves. It makes him feel strange and squirmy; he stands behind the counter, staring at Gardening Today with his mind on something far different from plants.
When the fever clears, he realizes he has to pay Mr. Mushnik back. He checks the price book – the Deluxe Get Well Special bouquet is ten dollars and seventy-five cents. Janet paid five dollars and fifty cents. He runs to the basement and upends his Maxwell Coffee can. Two dollars and two quarters spill out.
Seymour looks sadly at his money. He'll have to wait another week to buy some food, but he can make his bread and milk last that long if he's careful. He puts all but one quarter in the till. Maybe Mr. Mushnik won't notice?
The first thing Mr. Mushnik says when he comes back is, "Ah, you sold our Deluxe! Wonderful job, boychik!" The rest of Seymour's day is hell.
Seymour is downstairs as Mr. Mushnik cashes out. "Seymour, come up here for a minute." Seymour does.
Mr. Mushnik's voice is casual. "I notice we have three dollars missing. I think, how could I have been so careless as to undercharge someone? Ah, but then I remember, that you were in charge of the store for one hour. And I think, would Seymour really steal from me?" His voice is rising. "I, who took him away from that orphanage, put a roof over his head! Is this how he repays me? Is it, you little rat?"
"No!" Seymour answers quickly, face white. "No, sir, I didn't steal anything. It's just—a customer came in and didn't have enough money—"
Mr. Mushnik is coming towards him. Seymour hurries to the other side of the counter, keeping it between them.
"And you didn't tell them to go to the bank while you reserved their bouquet? The bank is three blocks away! Instead you let them rob us!"
"It—you're always telling me about good customer service, sir—" Seymour slips to the other side of the counter when Mr. Mushnik reaches his side.
"Good customer service is for people who pay! Not petty thieves!"
"We weren't robbed! It's just— her friend was in the hospital, and—"
Mr. Mushnik stops dead, chest heaving. Seymour moves a few steps closer to the back room, ready to make a run for the basement.
"She?" Mr. Mushnik's eyebrows bunch together. Like he's figured it all out. "She! Oho! I forgot that it's spring – the time of year when dogs start sniffing around each other."
Seymour opens his mouth. Then he remembers his reaction to Janet's hug. He squirms, blood rushing to his face, sure that Mr. Mushnik knows exactly why.
Mr. Mushnik makes a noise of disgust. "You're supposed to chain up male dogs when a bitch is in heat. Get out of my sight before I do that to you!"
"She wasn't a bitch," Seymour mutters to his basement wall.
Mr. Mushnik says nothing to Seymour the next day that's out of the ordinary. Janet does not come in to pay what she owes them.
It's Saturday night when Mr. Mushnik calls Seymour over to the counter. Seymour has this Sunday off.
Mr. Mushnik pulls down the blinds and turns the sign from 'open' to 'closed'. He sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose, then beckons Seymour closer.
"Seymour, how old are you?"
"And you never knew your father?"
"They found me on the steps of the Home, wrapped in a blanket with my named pinned on it. I checked the phone book. No Krelborns in New York." He's told this to Mr. Mushnik before. It's not difficult to remember. Seymour looks at his feet to hide the resentment that flares in him.
"Right, right," his boss says dismissively. Then he sighs heavily. Seymour looks back up and sees him pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Well, since you have no one to teach you to be a man instead of a lowly beast, it falls to me. I tell you what my uncle Vlad told me this when I was twenty – twenty, mind you, because I was a proper gentleman and not Skid Row trash!
"He said, 'Boychik, you are a young man now. What this means, we all know. My child, I give you ten dollars. I do not want to see you spend it or hear of you spending it and if word of you spending it reaches your Aunt, I will ring your neck. But spend it you may, with my blessing.' And here, you rat, I give you ten dollars," he presses the bill into Seymour's limp hand.
Obviously he'll have to call a doctor, because Mr. Mushnik is out of his mind. "What?"
His boss rubs his temples. "How to put it so you can understand?" He looks around the store, then turns back to Seymour.
"Seymour, what happens to a plant when it's been over-watered?"
The question is so simple it takes Seymour a moment to respond. "It dies."
"Good! Now, what do you do to save that plant?"
"You drain the pot, sir." Does Mr. Mushnik think he's five?
"But it depends on the damage. Sometimes you have to re—"
"Shut up! Drain the pot. That's perfect. You have tomorrow off. Go, my boy, and drain your pot before you get any sicker." He laughs. "And if you cannot do that for ten dollars on Skid Row, you're not looking hard enough!"
Then Mr. Mushnik takes in the expression on Seymour's face. "You have no idea what I'm saying, do you?"
"Metaphor is too complicated a notion for you to grasp, is that it?"
"This one is, sir."
"This is what I get for trying to help you. Slobs like you don't deserve anything! Give me my money back, you schmuck!"
Seymour does. At 21, Seymour still has no idea what that was about. That's why it sticks in his mind.
Schmuck, Age 19, 1959
Mr. Mushnik says they need fresh blood. "And you bore the hell out of me, Krelborn." Seymour bores the hell out of himself, sometimes, and agrees that another person is a good idea. Not that what he thinks makes much difference, really.
There were three applicants; today is a day for interviews. Looking back, Seymour can't remember the other two. This is all Seymour does remember:
He's on his knees, sweeping around some of the larger potted plants on the floor. The bell chimes as the door opens. Seymour is halfway done and really wants to finish up – he says, "With you in a sec!" and continues sweeping. The dustpan is almost full.
Shoes – high-heeled – click towards him. A leopard-skin heel catches his eye. "It's so lovely in here, isn't it?" says a light, female voice.
Seymour looks upward. The vision in front of him is fairytale princess and Hollywood movie-star all in one. Her dress is bright red and shiny, with cloth roses around the front and sleeves. Her milky white shoulders are bare, a green snakeskin purse slung over one. Even the harsh overhead lights don't wash her out, steal the healthy glow of her cheeks or the bright redness of her lips. Her long fingernails match her dress exactly, twinkling like jewels.
She's looking at him in the eyes. No one ever looks him in the eyes.
Seymour squeaks a noise that could be considered 'yes.'
She doesn't shift her gaze and her smile doesn't falter. "I'm Audrey. I'm here for an interview with Mr. Mushnik?"
"Oh, uh, h-hi." He can't move. "He's in the back."
"Thanks! What's your name?"
"Nice to meet you, Seymour." Audrey bends closer to him – Seymour tries to keep focusing on her face – and says, "If all goes well, we'll be seeing a lot more of each other." She straightens, smiling, and Seymour can't help but smile back.
Audrey turns to go to the back room. Seymour feels a sudden urge to say something to keep her here just a moment more.
"Good luck!" he stammers.
She shoots him a bright smile. "Thank you! I always get so nervous."
"Aw, well, you don't look it, not a bit."
"That's so sweet – thanks again, Seymour." Audrey click-click-clicks over to the back. As she lays her hand on the doorknob, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Muscles ripple in her swan-like throat as she swallows. Her expression becomes serene, which only deepens her beauty. She reanimates momentarily. She smiles, her eyes open, and she confidently steps through the door.
Only when she's gone does Seymour test getting to his feet. The world spins. He slinks over to the back room to hear the interview.
Audrey has a lot of experience in the retail industry. She's worked as a saleswoman at Sally's Shoe World, as a bag-girl at Skid Row Foods, and as a waitress at Wannabes Diner. Her assets are her experience, her hard-working attitude, and her outgoing personality. Her weaknesses are that she used to have a punctuality problem, but she's working on getting that fixed. She sees herself working here in five years.
As she leaves, she shoots Seymour a happy smile. "Finally over! It was really nice meeting you, Seymour."
"You too, Audrey."
After she leaves, Seymour eventually remembers to empty his dustpan and put away his broom. When he goes to the back, Mr. Mushnik is reading over the resumes.
"So, whaddaya think, sir?"
"Tony from Jersey's the only one with floral experience, and he's a no good greasy wop," Mr. Mushnik growls.
Seymour has to play this carefully. Mr. Mushnik won't hire Audrey if he thinks Seymour is interested in her. It will be an intricate dance of manipulation.
"Pretty thing," Mushnik comments casually.
"Hmmm? Oh, I didn't notice."
Mr. Mushnik always knows when he's lying.
"Shut up, Krelborn. Well, we won't be seeing any more of her," Mushnik decides. "As if I need you mooning over her and causing mass destruction and mayhem in my store!"
"Sir, please—" Where the inspiration comes from, he'll never know. "—A pretty face might bring in some more customers! Maybe a woman's touch is just what our little shop needs?"
Mushnik snorts. "We don't want the type that'll be here just to gawk at a salesgirl. Other than you, we're tryin' to keep out the vermin!"
In the end, a week of no customers pushes Mushnik over the edge. Seymour knows Audrey is in when Mr. Mushnik asks him if he could keep his eyes in his skull if she were around all day.
"I can, sir," Seymour says eagerly.
"And no office romance!" Mushnik snaps. "If I ever hear of you two going steady…."
The idea is flabbergasting. "Me and her, sir? Heck, that'll never happen." He gestures to himself, glasses and gangly limbs and pimpled skin.
Mushnik glares at him, as if trying to catch any hint of mockery. Then he laughs. "If there's one thing you know, it's your place, isn't it?"
"Of course, sir."
For all of Seymour's protests to the contrary, it's very hard to keep his eyes in his skull when Audrey is around. A lot of pots get dropped, feet get stepped on, sales pitches get babbled, and even a few plants don't get watered like they should.
Mr. Mushnik is forced to yell at him a lot. "Seymour, this hurts me just as much as it hurts you," he tells him once. Seymour is not entirely convinced it does.
Eventually Seymour can talk to her normally. They become friends.
Audrey changes the dynamic between Seymour and Mr. Mushnik. Audrey's presence makes them pretend to like each other sometimes. Mr. Mushnik even gets Seymour a Christmas present – socks, but Seymour doesn't complain.
At age 21, Seymour reflects that these are the happiest years of his life.