(123-02-25) Supply and Demand
Supply and Demand
Summary: Two swallows do not make a summer; but two customers after the same style of thing begin to indicate a trend. And Esme is on it.
Date: 25-27/02/2016
Related: In one point, this.

The little red and yellow grocery shop on the corner of Oldtown Square and the Shambles is largely bereft this afternoon of customers; the little orange and green striped shopkeeper within it (one really has to wonder where she even finds those dresses) is relieving the tedium by getting everything down off the top shelves and giving them a damn good scrubbing.

Wooden steps not unlike the sort of mounting-block a lady might employ to get up into the saddle of a horse, suffice to lift her diminutive and industrious figure to the level of her task. She has her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, baring scrawny but strong pale forearms; a white apron tied about her waist, slightly damp from having her hands dried upon it; and a tendency to hum, not very tunefully. But then of course the bell over her front door tinkles (to her it’s distinct from the bell of the connecting door) and she turns, scrubbing-brush in hand, to look down upon that unexpected but welcome sight: a customer. “Good day t’ you,” she says pleasantly, giving the pretty theatre girl an encouraging smile and a nod as she steps down to ground level.

Into the shop enters a young woman in plain clothes, dark brown hair worn in a single braid, her features comely, her physique shapely yet clad in a plain brown dress and a chemise of undyed linen. Her overall appearance is tidy, and there is a scent about her that even stresses this tidiness even more; a faint scent of flowers, as if this young commoner may be quite used to the use of soaps and oils that are usually very much the arena of highborn ladies. Blue eyes regard Esme with a spark of recognition, as Iris has been in this shop before – perhaps not as frequently, and less so of late. “Good day, Mistress,” she greets with a smile, as she lets her gaze drift over the shelves, allowing the view to impress upon her, or perhaps searching for one or two things in particular.

The baskets taken down from the top shelves, square and shallow and full of this and that, may either hinder or assist her browsing, depending upon whether what she seeks is therein, or whether she may be obliged to reach past them to something else. Recognising the situation Esme says cheerfully, “Let me know if I can get anything out of your way, eh?” She drops the scrubbing-brush into the bucket next to the stool, and dries her hands once more on her apron. “It’s been so quiet this afternoon I thought I’d make a start on the cleaning… Is there anything I can help you with, dearie?” she suggests. “I don’t think I’ve seen you about lately — if that means I’ve not had the kind of thing you need in stock, maybe that’s something I could fix.”

Esme herself also smells of soap — but it’s a much cheaper kind.

Iris nods, and biting her lip, her gaze wanders for a moment longer over those shelves, and filled baskets, before it shifts to the small woman. “You could help me, perhaps?”, she says then, meeting the cheerful offer with a bit of hesitation. “I wonder… do you have any exquisite soaps? The kind that smell nice. And… scented oils? To keep the skin smooth?”, asks the young woman who can’t be older than in her mid-twenties.

“Ah,” sighs Esme, “not really much call for that sort of thing round here… I do have a couple of kinds of soap, something for washing your clothes and something for washing yourself, but that’s all,” she apologises, shaking her head. (Her headscarf of the day is very green, and a wisp of grey hair has escaped it on the left.) “But I’ve been getting in hair oil from the Summer Islands for one customer of mine, and if there’s something in particular you’re looking for and don’t know where in the city to find, well,” she spreads her hands and shrugs, “it might be I could put my hands on that, too. I often can, though there’s a little extra charge for a special order.”

A hint of disappointment flashes in those blue eyes, and Iris sighs as well. “Hmm…” But then there something in Esme’s next words that has her inquire: “Hair oil from the Summer Isles…? Do you have some of it here at the moment?” Taking in the explanation of the shopkeeper then about extra orders, and the dark-haired woman gets her small purse out, opens it and frowns slightly as she inspects its contents. “How much would such an extra order be…?”, Iris asks, lifting her slightly troubled gaze from her purse to the shopkeeper.

“No, I’ve not got any left,” admits Esme, “it was a special order, and it went to my customer who needed it. But if you’d like to try it, I could have another bottle here for you inside a fortnight, I should think—” And then she names a price that’s fairly steep for something to put on one’s hair, but perhaps not out of the way for such a pretty and persistently fragrant girl. “Smells of cocoanuts,” she explains helpfully. “That’s with my order fee added into the price, of course. What I charge for that depends on the trouble I have to get hold of whatever it is, and if it’s something new I don’t always know that till I’ve got it, see? And then, if it has to come from far away, the cost of gettin’ it here is sometimes hard to judge. I can tell you about the hair oil because I’ve had it in before, but I can’t tell you what I don’t know. I think I’m fair enough in my prices but if it’s not something you want to have a flutter on, I do understand.” She nods kindly to Iris and her purse, in full comprehension of the conflict between means and desires.

“Oh,” Iris looks once again disappointed when told that there isn’t even a bit of hair oil to assuage her urge to buy something nice for herself on this day. Her gaze shifts away from Esme, back to the shelves, but she seems to be thoughts, not really searching for anything there as it seems. The explanation is received with a slightly impatient nod, as Iris considers. When she finally turns her attention back to the shop keeper it is to place an order. “I’m not sure about that hair oil. I’m more into the flowery scents. But if you could acquire some scented oil carrying the fragrance of roses or something similar… I could pay you…” Her gaze flits down again towards her purse, as if to check, “a touch less than the price you’ve just told me. But it needn’t be from the Summer Isles.”

By the end of Iris’s struggle with her need for instant gratification Esme has, in the fair expectation of a sale, taken up her usual place behind her counter and with her hands resting upon it. “Rose or jasmine or suchlike,” she agrees, nodding, “and somethin’ a bit uncommon, but not from so far away as all that. Aye, I can find that for you at your price, now I’m in the way of carryin’ this sort of thing…” She tilts her head and names a sum just comfortably less than the greater one Iris refused, lifting a hand to waver it in the air in the universal signal of ‘ish’. “But half down, dearie,” she says with gentle firmness, “for you’re not a regular of mine, and where shall I be if you change your mind and I never see you again, eh?”

“Aye, rose and jasmine…”, Iris echoes, shifting a little in her stance, as her eyes gleam eagerly. She considers the price Esme tells her, biting her lip. “How big a flagon are we talking about?”, she inquires. And then her brows jump upwards as when the shopkeeper gives her conditions of payment, and she nods. “That’s fair enough, I think. The name’s Iris, by the way. And I work at the Quill and Tankard. I mean… that is, when Ser Loryn has no need for me to perform in his plays at the Whimsy.”, Iris offers in belated introduction. “It hasn’t happened in a while,” she confesses then, with a light shrug of her shoulders.

“It’ll be as big as it can be at that price,” explains Esme patiently, leaning forward upon the counter; “and I don’t know to tell you, do I, till I’ve gone into it further? I only know since I’ve bought one or two similar for other folk lately that that’s about the sort of price that sort of thing costs, if it’s at all out of the common way. And I think if it was somethin’ in the common way you wanted, you’d have found it already somewhere else… you’re looking for something a little bit special, eh?” She nods. “And special is apt to cost what it costs, isn’t it, dearie.”

She nods again to Iris’s introduction; “Aye, that may be where else I’ve seen you. I’m sure the theatre work’s more exciting,” she allows with a sympathetic smile, “but it’s nice you have such a good steady job for when it doesn’t come along fast enough. My name’s Esme,” she adds. “My son’s the butcher next door; it’s our meat that’s to be feeding the audience at the Whimsy from now on, I understand. You’ll have to let me know next time you come in how you found it.”

Iris listens, her deep blue eyes lingering on Esme, and a smile appears on her features, one corner of the mouth lifting just a tad higher than the other. “Special. Aye. I’ve already said I’d pay the price.” Her smile deepens when the shopkeeper introduces herself. “Mistress Esme.” Then the smile dims somewhat. “As I said… It’s been a while. But next time I’ll be at the Whimsy I’ll make sure to try the meat there. Your son?”

It’s understood. Special. And that’s why Esme is inclined to go to the trouble for a small order and a casual customer; for her finely-honed retail senses are hinting that such a pretty girl, whose eyes take on that particular gleam when they speak of substances which might make her prettier, has the makings of a regular. Another regular is not to be sniffed at. Whatever the lightness of her purse. Little things add up in time. Esme is smiling too, every bit the harmless and friendly and perhaps mildly eccentric old biddy eager to help where she can.

“Aye, I’ve a son,” she explains, “he’s called Edmyn. Finest butcher in the city, though I say so who helped bring him up to it. Between the two of us we can usually sort you out with whatever you might need for your own meals at home, simple fare or a bit more exotic. We’re very convenient to the theatre here so I hope you shall look in for whatever you need, when you’re back at the Whimsy, eh? Pretty girl like you — I’m sure it’s only a matter of time,” she promises.

Iris’s hands join before her as she listens to what Esme has to say about her son the butcher. "Edmyn, hmm? He's your only child?" The comely barmaid actually engaging in some smalltalk, as she shifts again ever so slightly. Canting her head a little to the side as she regards the small woman, deep blue eyes taking in the comparatively unremarkable outward appearance of the shopkeeper. The smile curling Iris's lips may hint very well at the fact that she is grateful for Esme's assistance - even if costly - in acquiring such impressive olfactory specialties from abroad. But it is the next remark that makes her enthusiasm dim somewhat, and Iris shrugs, as her gaze shifts down to where her hands are before her. "Maybe I should try to audition once again for the impresario of the Whimsy. It has been some time, certainly." A hint of bitterness there perhaps, in the twitch that occurs at the corner of her mouth.

Wholly unremarkable, surely.

A nod confirms that Edmyn has indeed that distinction; then Esme listens, and offers with genuine warmth, “Good luck to you, then, dearie. And you’ll be sure to let me know if you’re to be on stage again, eh? I might like to come and see.” She glances down at Iris’s purse, just out of interest, for as it happens it hasn’t been opened yet except to have its contents counted.

Esme's words seem to draw Iris from her slightly thoughtful state. She looks up, her posture straightening. "On stage…? Umm… yes… sure. I'll let you know, Mistress Esme. Of course." She smiles, an expression that appears rather swiftly on her comely features, her gaze following the glance of the shopkeeper towards her purse and her eyes widen. "Oh! I almost forgot…" She begins to count the coins and then hands the required amount - half of the supposed final price to Esme. "Is this settled then?", Iris inquires, glancing towards Esme. "And how will I know when I can come and collect the scented oil?"

Esme deposits the coins on the counter and flicks them with the fingertips of one hand off the edge into the palm of the other, making sure of the count. “I’ll send you a message along to the Quill,” she says promptly; flick, flick, “either that I’ve got it or I know when I shall do. Week or two I should think, unless we’re lucky and I can put my hand on something in the city straight away; in that case, even tomorrow or the next day. But you’ll hear from me, dearie, don’t worry. I haven’t kept a shop here twenty-six years by promisin’ what I can’t deliver.”

While she keeps her gaze on the coins, as Esme counts them, Iris seems quite assuaged from parting with them, by the prospect of what she is about to acquire. "Aye… the Quill," she smiles, as her hands straighten out the skirts of her brown commoner dress. "I'll shall wait for your message then." Inclining her head then, as this has been a somewhat concluding remark to their transaction, the comely barmaid Iris offers the shopkeeper a smile, her deep blue eyes sparkling with glee of anticipation. "A good day to you then, Mistress… I must be off." Said, as she moves to leave, and the door soon closes behind her.

Esme soon has the coins put away beneath her counter; “Good day, dearie,” she says, cheerfully but with finality, for that shelf won’t scrub itself, now will it? … Nor will its accustomed contents tidy and condense themselves, to leave room for the small diversification of her stock which is beginning to strike her as a sound notion. Hair oils indeed!

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