Take a Look at the Five and Ten

Take a Look at the Five and Ten

Illustration By Jon Foster

Dust jacket and full-color illustrations by Jon Foster.

We’re pleased to present a new Christmas novella by long-time SubPress favorite, Connie Willis. Jon Foster is contributing not only a full-color dust jacket, but two full-color interior illustrations, as well.

About the Book:

Ori’s holidays are an endless series of elaborately awful meals cooked by her one-time stepfather Dave’s latest bride. Attended by a loose assemblage of family, Ori particularly dreads Grandma Elving—grandmother of Dave’s fourth wife—and her rhapsodizing about the Christmas she worked at Woolworth’s in the 1950s. And, of course, she hates being condescended to by beautiful, popular Sloane and her latest handsome pre-med or pre-law boyfriend. 

But this Christmas is different. Sloane’s latest catch Lassiter is extremely interested in Grandma Elving’s boringly detailed memories of that seasonal job, seeing in them the hallmarks of a TFBM, or traumatic flashbulb memory. With Ori’s assistance, he begins to use the older woman in an experiment—one she eagerly agrees to. As Ori and Lassiter spend more time together, Ori’s feelings for him grow alongside the elusive mystery of Grandma’s past. 

From beloved New York Times bestselling, multiple-award-winning author Connie Willis comes another enchanting science fictional Christmas tale and screwball comedy, Take a Look at the Five and Ten. Readers in the need for a dose of Willis’s humor and heart will want to curl up with this novella for the holidays.

Limited: 1500 signed numbered hardcover copies

From Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):

“Hugo and Nebula Award–winner Willis (Blackout/All Clear) tests the boundaries of the science fiction genre with a grounded, realistic story that’s sure to impress… This brisk holiday novella is quirky, heartwarming, and impossible to put down.”

Take a Look at the Five and Ten



Everybody has a traumatic Christmas memory, and mine was always Christmas dinner, partly because in my family (a term used very loosely), it’s actually a series of dinners—Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, and a New Year’s Eve buffet, and if my one-time stepfather Dave had his way, we’d also have St. Lucia’s Day and Boxing Day and Twelfth Night dinners, and who knows what else.

He’s very big on family gatherings, even though he’s been married at least half a dozen times and has terrible taste in women (including where my mother was concerned), which means he thinks of me as his daughter, even though he was only married to her for about fifteen minutes back when I was eight and is always really nice to me, even to the extent of helping me with college, so it’s hard for me to say no to coming.

I’m not the only sort-of-relative he invites. There’s also Aunt Mildred, actually a great-aunt of Dave’s second wife, and Grandma Elving, the grandmother of his fourth. Got all that straight?

Also at the dinner are Dave’s current wife Jillian (another bad marital choice), her stuck-up daughter Sloane, Sloane’s boyfriend of the moment, who is always blond and tall and going to law school or med school, and Jillian’s equally stuck-up friends, who Jillian introduces Aunt Mildred, Grandma Elving, and me to by saying, “Dave is so kind. He wants to make sure everyone has someplace to go for the holidays!” as if we were people he’d picked up on the sidewalk outside a homeless shelter or something.

Add to that the fact that Jillian refuses to have roast turkey and pumpkin pie like normal people and insists on serving poached sturgeon and Senegalese locus-pods, that Aunt Mildred complains about everything from the table settings to my failure to bring a date, and that Grandma Elving insists on telling the same interminable story of how she worked at Woolworth’s in downtown Denver one Christmas, and you can see why I start dreading Thanksgiving dinner some time in July.

This year was no exception. Jillian met me at the door with a look that said clearly, “Why didn’t you use the servant’s entrance?” and the news that I needed to go pick up Grandma Elving. “Dave’s on a conference call, and he doesn’t think she should be driving.”

“Couldn’t I go get her instead?” Sloane’s boyfriend said to me. He was named Lassiter this year and was even taller and blonder than usual.

“Oh, no, Lassiter, I couldn’t let you do that,” Jillian said. “You’re a guest. Ori can go.” She turned to me. “And on the way, pick up ice and some turmeric.”

“And don’t drive Grandma Elving anywhere near downtown on the way back,” Sloane said. “I don’t want her telling that stupid Woolworth’s story again.”

“Woolworth’s?” Lassiter asked.

“It was a dime store,” I explained, “a kind of variety store, like—”

“The Dollar Store,” Sloane said, putting her hand possessively on Lassiter’s arm. “She worked there one Christmas back in the fifties when she was ‘a girl,’ and we have to listen to her go on about it every single year.” 

“Really?” he said. “That’s interesting.”

“No, it’s not,” Sloane said. “It’s boring beyond belief, so, Ori, whatever you do, don’t mention Christmas shopping or snow.”

“Or Bing Crosby,” Jillian put in.

“Oh, God, yes, especially don’t mention Bing Crosby. Or lunch counters or nativity scenes.” She turned to Lassiter. “And if she starts in, don’t encourage her. She can go on for hours. Just ignore her. Or change the subject.” She turned back to me. “Do not say anything to her on the way here that’ll set her off.”

That was easier said than done. Almost anything, from buses to the weather, reminded her of it. Even the traffic lights. “Look at them, turning from red to green,” she said after I’d picked her up from her retirement community apartment. “They look so festive, almost like Christmas decorations themselves. I remember that Christmas I worked at Woolworth’s getting off work and seeing them, blinking red and green on Sixteenth Street.”

“Jillian asked me to pick up a few things on our way back,” I said, pulling into Safeway. “Is there anything you want?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t suppose they’d have hot roasted nuts? They sold hot salted peanuts and cashews at Woolworth’s from this little red-and-white striped cart. It had a yellow heat lamp in it to keep the nuts warm, and little paper bags to scoop them into.”

“I’ll see. Will you be warm enough sitting here?” I asked, looking at her doubtfully. She was bundled up in a black cloth coat and a gray scarf and gloves, but she was awfully thin and frail-looking, and my car heater doesn’t work all that well.

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she said. “This is much warmer than that bus I used to take that Christmas I worked at Woolworth’s. It was so cold the windows used to frost over and—”

I fled into the store, grabbed the ice and the turmeric and hurried back out, hoping she’d forgotten about the roasted nuts.

She had. She was looking at the Santa Claus collecting money for charity outside Safeway’s main door. “That Christmas I worked at Woolworth’s there was a Santa right outside the front door. He had a cotton-wool beard and a chimney you put the money in. It was made out of—”

“Aunt Mildred’s going to be at dinner,” I said, trying to change the topic. “And Sloane and her new boyfriend Lassiter and Stan and Louise Devers—”

“Is he cute?” Grandma Elving asked. “Or whatever it is you girls call it nowadays?”

“Stan Devers?” He was at least fifty and completely bald.

“No, Sloane’s boyfriend,” she said. “Is he cute? And more importantly, is he nice?”

“Yes,” I said, even though I was basing that solely on his having offered to pick up Grandma Elving and the fact that he’d spoken to me at all. None of Sloane’s boyfriends had ever so much as asked me if I wanted some more salad, though last year it had been distressed kale with anchovies, so that was no loss.

“Lassiter,” she repeated thoughtfully. “There was a boy named Lamar who worked in the music department at Woolworth’s that Christmas. They sold record players and 45s and guitar picks,” and she was off again.

Jon Foster
Connie Willis
120 pages
United States
Subterranean Press
Out of Print