A Novella


By Steve Martin

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One of the most acclaimed and beloved entertainers, Steve Martin is quickly becoming recognized as a gorgeous writer capable of being at once melancholy and tart, achingly innocent and astonishingly ironic (Elle). A frequent contributor to both The New Yorker and the New York Times as well as the author of the New York Times bestseller Pure Drivel, Martin is once again poised to capture the attention of readers with his debut novella, a delightful depiction of life and love. The shopgirl is Mirabelle, a beautiful aspiring artist who pays the rent by selling gloves at the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus. She captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy, lonely businessman. As Ray and Mirabelle tentatively embark on a relationship, they both struggle to decipher the language of love–with consequences that are both comic and heartbreaking. Filled with the kind of witty, discerning observations that have brought Steve Martin incredible critical success, Shopgirl is a work of disarming tenderness.



AT TWENTY-SIX, JEREMY IS two years younger than Mirabelle. He grew up in the slacker-based L.A. high school milieu, where aspiration languishes and the lucky ones get kick-started in their first year of college by an enthused and charismatic professor. He had no college dreams and hence no proximity to the challenge of new faces and ideas––he currently stencils logos on amplifiers for a living––and Jeremy's life after high school slid sideways on an imperceptibly canted icy slope, angling away from center. It is appropriate that he and Mirabelle met at a Laundromat, the least noir dating arena on earth. Their first encounter began with "hey," and ended with a loose "see ya," as Mirabelle stood amidst her damp underwear and jogging shorts.

Jeremy took Mirabelle on approximately two and a half dates. The half date was actually a full evening, but was so vaporous that Mirabelle had trouble counting it as a full unit. On the first, which consisted mainly of shuffling around a shopping mall while Jeremy tried to graze her ass with the back of his hand, he split the dinner bill with her and then, when she suggested they actually go inside the movie theatre whose new neon front so transfixed Jeremy, made her pay for her own ticket. Mirabelle could not afford to go out again under the same circumstances, and there was no simple way to explain this to him. The conversation at dinner hadn't been successful either; it bore the marks of an old married couple who had very little left to say to each other. After walking her to her door, he gave her his phone number, in a peculiar reversal of dating procedure. She might have considered kissing him, even after the horrible first date, but he just didn't seem to know what to do. However, Jeremy does have one outstanding quality. He likes her. And this quality in a person makes them infinitely interesting to the person who is being liked. At the end of their first date, as she stepped inside her apartment and her hand was delivering the door to its jamb, there was a slight pause, and they exchanged a quick look of inexplicable intent. Once inside, instead of forever losing his number in her coat pocket, she absentmindedly stuck it under her phone.

Six days after their first date, which had cut Mirabelle's net worth by 20 percent, she runs into Jeremy again at the Laundromat. He waves at her, gives her the thumbs-up sign, then watches her as she loads clothes into the machines. He seems unable to move, but speaks just loudly enough for his voice to carry over twelve clanking washing machines, "Did you watch the game last night?" Mirabelle is shocked when she later learns that Jeremy considers this their second date. This fact comes out when at one abortive get-together, Jeremy invokes the "third date" rule, believing he should be received at second base. Mirabelle is not fooled by any such third date rule, and she explains to Jeremy that she cannot conceive of any way their Laundromat encounter, or any encounter involving the thumbs-up sign, can be considered a date.

This third date is also problematic because after warning Jeremy that she is not going to pay half of its cost, she is taken to a bowling alley and forced to pay for her own rental shoes. Jeremy explains that bowling shoes are an article of clothing, and he certainly can't be expected to pay for what she wears on a date. If only Jeremy's logical mind could be applied to astrophysics and not rental shoes, he would now be a honcho at NASA. He does cough up for dinner and several games, even though he uses discount coupons clipped from the newspaper to help pay for it all. Finally, Mirabelle suggests that if they have future dates, he should take her phone number, call her, and they could do free things. Mirabelle knows, and she lets this be unspoken, that all free things require conversation. Sitting in a darkened movie theatre requires absolutely no conversation at all, whereas a free date, like a walk down Hollywood Boulevard in the busy evening, requires comments, chatter, observations, and with luck, wit. She worries that since they have only exchanged perhaps two dozen words between them, these free dates will be horrible. She is still willing to go out with him, however, until something less horrible comes along.

Jeremy's attraction to Mirabelle arises from her passing similarity to someone he had fallen in love with in his preadolescent life. This person is Popeye's girlfriend, Olive Oyl, whom he used to swoon over in a few antique comic books lent to him by his uncle. And yes, Mirabelle does bear some similarity, but only after the suggestion is made. You would not walk into a room, see her for the first time, and think Olive Oyl. However, once the idea is proposed, one's response might be a long, slow, "ahhhh . . . yes." She has a long thin body, two small dark eyes, and a small red mouth. She also dresses like Olive Oyl, in fitted clothes––never a fluffy, girly dress––and she holds herself like Ms. Oyl, too, in a kind of jangle. Olive Oyl has no breasts, but Mirabelle does, though the way she carries herself, with her shoulders folded, in clothing that never accentuates her curves, makes her appear flat. All this in no way discounts her attractiveness. Mirabelle is attractive; it's just that she is never the first or second girl chosen. But to Jeremy, Mirabelle's most striking resemblance to Olive Oyl is her translucent skin. It recalls for him the pale skin of the cartoon figure, which was actually the creamy paper showing from underneath.

Jeremy's thought process is so thin that he has the happy consequence of always ending up doing exactly what he wants to do at all times. He never complicates a desire by overthinking it, unlike Mirabelle, who spins a cocoon around an idea until it is immobile. His view of the world is one that keeps his blood pressure low, sweeping the cholesterol from his relaxed, freeway-sized arteries. Everyone knows he is going to live till age ninety, although the question that goes begging is, "for what?"

Jeremy and Mirabelle are separated by a hundred million miles of vacuum space. He falls asleep at night in blissful ignorance. She, subtly doped on her prescription, time-travels through the terrain of her unconscious until she is overcome by sleep. He knows only what is right in front of him; she is aware of every incoming sensation that glances obliquely against her soft, fragile core. At this stage of their lives, in true and total fact, the only thing they have in common is a Laundromat.

Mirabelle's Friday

SHE STANDS OVER THE GLOVE counter, and from her secluded outpost looks far across the hall toward the couture department. When the view is reversed, and a couture girl bothers to glance toward her, Mirabelle looks like a puppy standing on its hind legs, and the two brown dots of her eyes, set in the china plate of her face, make her seem very cute and noticeable. But pointlessly so, at least today. For this Friday is what she has termed the day of the dead, when for some reason––usually an upcoming Beverly Hills dress-up event––the couture department fills with women who are unlikely to notice the slender girl standing at one end of their hallowed hall. They are the Wives of Important Men.

The metamorphosis most wanted by the wives of important men is that they become important in their own right. This distinction is achieved by wielding power over any and all and is characterized by an intense obsession with spending. Without spending, there would be thirty to sixty empty hours per week, to be filled with what? And not only is there the spending itself, there is the organization and management of spending. There is hiring and firing, there is the discernment of what the spending needs to be on, and there is the psychological requirement that the husband be proud of the wife's spending. The range of the spending can go from clothes and jewelry to furniture and lighting, dishes and flatware, and catalogue seeds and firewood. Sometimes it is fun to spend economically. Of course, economic spending is not intended to save money, but is a practice of ethics.

Along with the desire to spend comes a desire to control what is coming back at them from the mirror. Noses are bobbed into a shape that nature never knew, hair is whipped up with air and colored into a metallic tinted meringue, and faces are pulled into death masks. The variety of alteration is vast, except when it comes to breasts. Breasts are made large only––and in the process misshapen––and the incongruity of two bowling balls on an ironing board never seems to bother anyone. In Beverly Hills, young men, searching for young women who remind them of their face-lifted mothers, are stranded and forlorn in a sea of natural-looking twenty-five-year-olds.

Today, as she stares hypnotically at these tribal women, one clear thought emerges to Mirabelle: how different this place is from Vermont. Then, out of the idleness that permeates every day at work, she shifts her weight from one foot to the other. She scratches her elbow. She curls her toes, then angles her leg to give her calf a stretch. She flicks a paper clip several inches across the glass of the countertop. She runs her tongue along the back of her teeth. Footsteps approach her. Her automatic response is to straighten up and look like she is an ever ready force in the Neiman's sales team, for the sound of footsteps could mean supervisor as likely as customer. What she sees, though, is a rare sight in the fourth-floor glove department. It is a gentleman, looking for a pair of ladies' dress gloves. He wants them gift wrapped and could they do that? Mirabelle nods in her professional way, and then the man, sharply dressed in a dark blue suit, asks her opinion on which is the finest pair. Being a sharp dresser herself, she actually does have an opinion on the merchandise she offers, and she gives him the lowdown on smart glove purchasing. There is some conversation about what and who they are for. The man gives her some embarrassed, vague answers, often the case when men shop for women, and in response she suggests that the silver satin Diors are the best. He purchases the gloves with a credit card, smiles at her, and leaves. Mirabelle watches him walk away. Her eyes go to his shoes, which she understands and knows something about, and her inner checklist gives him full marks in all categories. Mirabelle catches herself in the countertop mirror, and realizes she has blushed.

There are a few late browsers that day, and they punctuate the tedium like drops from a Chinese water torture. Six o'clock, and she is down the stairs rather than the elevator, which can become clogged at closing time, and out onto the main floor. Several customers linger at the fragrance counter, a few in cosmetics, surprisingly light for a Friday. Mirabelle thinks the salesgirls in these departments overuse their own products, especially the lipstick. With their inclination toward the heavy application of a greasy burgundy, they look like Man Ray's disembodied lips floating over a landscape of boxed perfumes.

It is six-fifteen and pitch dark on the drive home down Beverly Boulevard. It is drizzling rain, which causes the traffic to move like sludge in a trough. Mirabelle wears her driving glasses as she grips the wheel with both hands. She drives in the same posture as she walks, overly erect. The glasses give her a librarian quality––before libraries were on CD-ROM––and the '89 Toyota truck she drives indicates a librarian's salary, too. The rain splashes on the roof and Garrison Keillor intones on the radio, creating a warm, fireside feeling in this unlikeliest of circumstances. All this coziness sends her into a little ache and she swears that she will find someone tonight to hold her. This is an extremely rare decision for Mirabelle. The last time she was even mildly promiscuous was in college, when it was the thing to do and she was feeling her bohemian oats. She decides that when she gets home, she will pick up the phone and call Jeremy.

Sleeping with Jeremy

IN CALLING JEREMY, MIRABELLE KNOWS that she is making a devil's bargain. She is offering herself to him on the outside chance that he will hold her afterward. She feels very practical about this and vows not to feel bad if things don't work out. After all, she tells herself, she isn't really involved with him emotionally or otherwise.

For Mirabelle, there are four levels of being held. The first, and highest, is the complete surround: he will wrap his arms around her and they will spoon as he whispers how beautiful she is and how he had been transported to another plane. The odds of this particular scenario unfolding from the youthful Jeremy are slim, in fact, so slim that they could slip out the door without opening it. There are, however, other levels of holding that for tonight would suit Mirabelle just fine. He could lie on his back and she would rest her head on his chest, while one of his arms holds her tight. Third best would involve Mirabelle lying on her back with Jeremy alongside her, resting one hand on her stomach while the other plays with her hair. This position requires the utterances of sweet nothings for her to be fully satisfied. She is aware he has barely spoken a sentence that didn't end in "you know" and then trail off into a mumble since they have been together, which makes the appearance of these sweet nothings unlikely. But this could be a plus, as she can interpret his mumbles any way she wants––they could be impeccably metered love sonnets for all she knows. In fourth position, they are lying on their backs, with one of Jeremy's legs resting languidly over one of hers. This is the minimally acceptable outcome, and involves a commitment of extra time on his part to compensate for his lack of effort.

Coming out of her reverie, which was so specific she could have been a lawyer formulating a contract, she picks up the phone and dials. It rings a few times, and the thought that he might not be home sends a shiver of relief through her. However, just as she is about to hang up, she hears the clatter of the phone being picked up. But instead of hearing his voice on the other end of the line, she hears what she makes out to be Jeremy's TV set filtered through the telephone. She keeps waiting for him to say hello or yeah or anything, but the TV continues. Eventually she hears him walk across the room, open the refrigerator, walk back to the living room, and flop himself down on the sofa. She can hear the laugh track of the television, and a few moments later, Jeremy's vociferous nose-blow. Mirabelle stands there, wondering what to do. She thinks surely he will see that the phone is off the hook. Surely he heard it ring. Now committed, she worries that if she hangs up, she will get a busy signal for the rest of the night, as it is already clear that the phone doesn't lie in the path from sofa to refrigerator, and that that particular route is the only one he will be taking that evening. She presses the speakerphone button and cradles the handset. Jeremy's TV is still present in her house, but at least she has her hands free.

In her small apartment she is never far from the speaker, and she gets out of her shoes and takes off her skirt and blouse, throws on an oversized shirt, and walks around in her underwear. She completes several chores that are left over from the weekend. A couple of times she screams Jeremy's name into the speakerphone, with no effect. She catches herself midscream and thinks how it must look and swears never to do something so humiliating again for any reason, ever, in her life. Then, with the TV still squawking through the telephone, she sits back on her futon and starts to laugh. The laughter causes a few tears to appear at the corners of her eyes, which sets her off on a crying jag. Then a hiccup gets her laughing again, causing her to fall over sideways on the futon, and at one point she is actually laughing and crying at the same time. She finally burns herself out and after resting for several minutes, goes over to hang up the phone. As she is about to press the hope-ending speaker button, she hears Jeremy's footsteps coming across the hardwood, increasing in volume, clearly walking toward the phone. Her hand hesitates. Then she hears the touch-tones of Jeremy dialing the phone. She waits. Suddenly his voice says, "Hello?" Mirabelle picks up the receiver and says hello back.

"It's Jeremy."

She responds, "Do you know who this is?"

"Yeah. Mirabelle."

"Did you just call me?" she says.


It is at this point that she understands that Jeremy knows nothing about what has occurred over the last twenty minutes. He thinks he has just walked over to the phone and dialed Mirabelle, and she has answered. Mirabelle decides not to ask what happened, afraid that they might enter an infinite loop of explanation. It turns out that he wants to see her that night, so she invites him over and everything falls into place.


On Sale
Jul 1, 2001
Page Count
144 pages
Hachette Books

Steve Martin

About the Author

Steve Martin is a celebrated writer, actor, and performer. His film credits include Father of the Bride, Parenthood, and The Spanish Prisoner, as well as Roxanne, L.A. Story, and Bowfinger, for which he also wrote the screenplays. He’s won Emmys for his television writing and two Grammys for comedy albums. In addition to a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, he has written a bestselling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel, and a bestselling novella, Shopgirl. His work appears frequently in the New Yorker and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Los Angeles.

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