short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
The cars and trucks glistened, washed by late fall’s squall after squall as shoppers, hidden in hoods, scarves and hats, some bobbing umbrellas, danced and weaved over and around puddles.
The store manager, rocking on his heels, hands behind his back, watched out the front plate glass picture window. “Miserable day.”
“Doesn’t seem to keep people home.” The cashier, on her way outside to huddle in the alcove and smoke a cigarette paused to watch the rain go vertical. “Looks like a great day to quit smoking.”
“Anyday’s a great day to quit smoking, Denise.”
“Someday, Mr. Hill. Someday.”
They turned from the storm, attention drawn to a squeal. Sweat glistened on Chauncey’s caramel face, his jaw tight, conviction, resolute to his undesirable task. He gripped the belt of a boy half his size.
The boy squealed again, air walking, thrashing his arms, swimming.
Close behind, the assistant manager, his face taken with timeless anger as if he’d been personally violated, caught Mr. Hill’s eye, nodding sharp and smug.
Denise, with tight lips: “Kids today.”
Mr. Hill hung like Spanish moss. “I hate it. I really hate it. I got caught shoplifting about his age. Twelve? Thirteen?”
“You? A shoplifter?”
Mr. Hill shrugged, trying to shake it off. “Not really. I mean, only once. Got caught the first time. That’s a good thing.”
“I guess they saw the terror on my face. My whole future could have been flushed down the toilet, you know. They didn’t call my parents or the police. They made me promise.”
“Most kids are unredeemable. Kids today, no respect, you know.”
The door fell shut with a click behind Mr. Hill. Chauncey loomed over the child in the Spartan, cramped room.
“Put everything belonging to ShopWell on the table.” The assistance manager gnashed his teeth, threatening with a fist.
“Take it easy, Pablo.” He’s just a kid.
Pablo straightened, presenting a challenging glance, and then took a breath as the boy empted his pockets.
Eye shadow, eyeliner, foundation, mascara and a handful of gift cards.
Dirt brown eyes sunk in ashen flesh, framed by poorly cropped hair watched Mr. Hill carefully.
“Why, what, Sir?”
Pablo narrowed his eyes. “We’ll let the police handle it, Mr. Hill. With the cards, he’s way over the limit –”
“Well, theft is theft, but –”
Mr. Hill poured his full attention on the child across the table. “Why?”
Eyes froze, tethered.
“You see, Sir.” He blinked twice, slowly, swallowed hard and then went on: “You see, Sir. Dad says Mom’s not got much time. I thought, you know. I thought if she had some of this –” His small hand indicated the table. “I thought, if she had some of this, she could be pretty again. I thought, you know, she could look pretty if she meets Jesus tonight – or tomorrow night. Dad’s not sure and the doctors don’t know. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to be bad. I just want Mom to smile. To be pretty. Just one more time.”
“Take the makeup.”
“Oh, wow! Really!” Wide excited eyes glistened as he filled his pockets. “Oh! Thank you! Mom’s going to be so happy! She’s going to be so pretty when she meets Jesus tonight!”
Chauncey dabbed at his face with a handkerchief as the boy scurried from the room. “You’re a good man, Mr. Hill.”
“Sometimes you have to go with your gut.”
The boy skipped out into the driving rain, jumped over a puddle and climbed into a waiting car.
“Got caught again, huh?” The driver lit a cigarette from a cigarette.
“Yeah, Mom. Got the makeup, though.”
“They bought that crap?”
He snuggled back into his coat. “Yeah.”
As she pulled off, they sang together:
Sir, I wanna buy these shoes, for my Momma, please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
I want her to look beautiful,
If Momma meets Jesus tonight.