This week’s assignment was to write about someone who stole something she didn’t need. I wandered off into the melodramatic here. Bear in mind that writing short stories is not my forte, and be merciful!
Jana looked furtively around her, checking to be sure no one was watching as she slipped the can of formula into the Winnie-the-Pooh diaper bag she was carrying. She meandered slowly down the aisle of the grocery store, ostentatiously checking the prices of the various baby bottles and binkies or reading the list of ingredients in the jarred baby food. Every now and then her hand would surreptitiously slide another item into the capacious diaper bag while Jana checked her grocery list.
After leaving the baby aisle, Jana briskly completed the rest of her grocery shopping, crossing the dog food, ground round, eggplant, and Swiss cheese off her list. She stood in line, tapped her foot in time with the music, and blushed whenever anyone smiled at her when she was caught singing along to the song.
The cashier wore a bright red name tag that proclaimed her to be Maria. She chatted cheerfully with Jana about the brand of detergent she preferred (All) and the outrageous cost of bottled water ($6.98 for a 12-pack). She hit the button to get the total, and asked if Jana had her frequent shopper card with her.
Jana shook her head, and forked over $78.64 cash for her groceries. Casting one last bright smile at Maria, she thanked the bagger and then headed out the front door. Just as she was about to go down the curbside ramp that led to the parking lot, she was stopped.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I’m afraid I have to ask you to come with me.”
Jana looked quizzically at the speaker. “I don’t understand.”
“I will explain inside. Please come with me.”
“But I have to get home.” Jana appeared to be calm, but her voice rose slightly.
“Ma’am, you don’t want to do this on the curb. Please. Come inside.”
She yielded, and allowed the burly man to usher her back into the store past dozens of curious faces with a few knowing glances interspersed among them.
The man opened a door, and showed Jana to a chair.
She sank into the chair, and looked up at him. “Now will you please tell me what this is all about?”
“May I see that diaper bag, please, ma’am?”
She handed it to him. “There’s nothing in it but my baby’s things.”
He nodded. “Now may I see your receipt, please?”
She handed him the receipt.
He carefully compared the receipt with the items in her grocery bags. “You didn’t pay for the items in the diaper bag.”
“Well, of course not, silly!” Her brittle laugh tinkled and then smashed on the floor. “Those things were already in my diaper bag. Why would I pay for them again?”
“Where is your baby?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Where is your baby? Why did you bring the diaper bag to the store with you when you don’t have the baby with you.”
Jana stared at him. “I brought the diaper bag because my wallet is in it. Now may I please leave?”
“No, ma’am. A store employee saw you put these things into your bag, and they do not appear on your receipt. I’m afraid we have no choice but to call the police.”
“There must be some mistake,” Jana said. “I already told you, I always carry a spare can of formula, a package of diapers, some bottles, and some baby food with me. I don’t understand what the problem is.”
He picked up the phone. “Send Ted in, please. Thank you.”
A moment later a knock sounded on the door. “Come in.”
A gawky teenage boy opened the door. His acne-scarred face was hot with embarrassment, and he carefully avoided looking at Jana.
“This is Ted. Ted, tell this woman what you saw.”
Ted snuck a look at Jana. “She put some formula, some diapers, bottles, and baby food in that diaper bag.”
“Are you sure it was this woman?”
Ted looked at Jana again and then nodded awkwardly.
“Thank you. You may go back to work.” Ted exited the room, and the man leaned back in his chair and looked appraisingly at Jana. “Ma’am, I hate to call the police. You seem like a nice lady and all, but unless you open up with me and tell me what’s going on, you leave me with no choice.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? I didn’t steal anything, and there’s nothing going on. Call the police. And call my husband, too. He’ll straighten things out. His number is—aren’t you going to write it down?—817-555-5283. Tell him what you told me. He’ll explain everything. You’ll see. It’s okay.”
The man sighed heavily. “Fine. I’ll call your husband. And then I’m calling the police. You stay here.” He got up and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Jana put the items back into her diaper bag, and loaded her groceries back into the cart. Humming a lullaby, she opened the door and began walking toward the front door.
“Lady, where the hell do you think you’re going!”
“I have to go home and feed my baby!” she insisted, twisting away from him. “Let me go!”
“Your baby’s home, alone?”
“It was only going to be for a minute. Please! I have to go!”
“I’m calling the cops,” he warned.
“Fine. Just let me go now, okay?”
“Let me see your driver’s license first.”
She took her wallet out of the diaper bag, and slipped her license out of its protective plastic sleeve and handed it to him.
He scribbled down her name and address, and then handed her license back. “Let me tell you, lady, if it weren’t for your kid being home by itself, you would be sitting back in that office in handcuffs! And don’t think you’re out of this thing!”
“I know, I know, but I have to go now.” She shoved her license into the bag and turned to go.
“One last thing, lady. What’s your baby’s name?”
She stared at him mutely.
“Your baby? The one that’s home by itself? What’s its name?”
“Her name—” she faltered.
“What is her name?” he asked again.
“Her name was Stella,” she said as she began sobbing hysterically. “Her name was Stella.”