A Small Price to Pay

Bennie Lou tapped her cane repeatedly against the metal leg of the desk. I heard the store manager sigh heavily. I whispered to Bennie Lou, “Stop it, Ma.” She looked up at me and mouthed what?

“The tapping. Stop the tapping. It’s annoying,” the store manager said to Bennie Lou. It wasn’t the first time we’d been in his office but I still couldn’t remember his name. Four times in the last six months, he had caught Bennie Lou stealing some little knickknack – a 6”-tall, ceramic angel, a tin box, and a leather pouch filled with marbles. Today, it was a coffee mug with World’s Best Daughter emblazoned in a cartoonish font.

“She stole it for you, huh?” the manager asked me as he filled out the theft report.

“Me?” I laughed nervously. I felt guilty by association already, and now Bennie Lou implicated me with this stolen mug. “So, what do we need to do now? Is she going to jail?”

Please, please, please, say yes, I thought to myself.

The manager ignored me. “Bennie Lou, I’m not pressing charges against you. You’ve been a loyal customer of Country Jack’s Gifts for as long as Jack can remember.” Jack Humphries was the owner of Country Gifts; although semi-retired, he still had a hand in the day-to-day business.

Bennie Lou batted her eyes for a second, as if flattered, then bit her lip. “Yes, you’ve been downright kind,” she said. “I don’t know why I do it. I tell myself I’m not going to take anything without paying and then I go and do it anyway.”

“Well, Jack wants me to file this report with the police but he doesn’t want you locked up. I guess that’s for the police to decide. But you can’t come in here anymore, Bennie Lou. ”

The police officer stood in the doorway, folded his arms and kicked gently at the doorjamb, looking bored. He said, “Ms. Langley, you will get a court summons. Most likely, the judge will fine you $500 and you’ll have to attend a class, maybe do some community service. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do, sir. Thank you, sir.” Bennie Lou stood up. “Am I free to go?”

“Yes,” said the manager. “Remember: don’t come in.”

Outside, I confronted her. “Ma, why do you keep doing this?”

“I can’t help it.”

“OK, well, I can’t keep an eye on you all day long. Maybe we should talk about the Village Green Home.”

“I’d rather be in jail.”

“You got a problem, Ma. “

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I do it because I want to see Jack. I want a memento of him.”

“Country Jack? Jack Humphries?” My heart panged a little, hearing Bennie Lou was in love like some shy 12-year-old. “You can see him every day at the Grill. He sits on the same stool every morning.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“You sound like a teenager,” I said.

Bennie Lou sighed, looked up at the sky. Cumulus clouds had puffed themselves up, stuck their chests out at us. “I’m 82. I just want pieces of him. I don’t want all of him.”

“Well, how ‘bout I bring you home his empty sugar packets? Or the newspaper he leaves behind? I’ll go in there and steal them for you.”

“OK,” she smiled. I patted her on the head. I thought how Bennie Lou would probably steal again, maybe an eggcup or a tree ornament. She’d probably be arrested; eventually she’d have to stay at the Village Green Home. But today, she was in love.

19 Comments A Small Price to Pay

  1. Beth October 15, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    It’s adorable!! I love the “I just want pieces of him. I don’t want all of him”. You have such an eye for quirkiness…..makes me wonder if you worked in social services:0))

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      Never worked in social services, Beth. I do, however, keep my eyes open for quirkiness. And I live in a small town where quirkiness is rampant. Thanks for reading, Beth!

      Reply
  2. Jen October 16, 2014 at 9:49 am

    This is totally cute! Man, you write such amazing detail. From Bennie Lou’s tapping the desk, to “eggcup” and “tree ornament”. I love your words!

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      Oh, good! I specifically worked on the detail in this piece, limiting as it is by word count, trying to make economical choices. Thank you, Jen!

      Reply
  3. Splendid Empress October 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    An old lady love story! I so enjoyed reading this, nicely done Meg! I always look forward to your work.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      What I love about old people is their disregard for convention and impatience with nonsense. Appreciate, as always, your kind words, Splendid.

      Reply
  4. Stacie October 16, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    This: “I’m 82. I just want pieces of him. I don’t want all of him.” That really struck a cord. You have created such a likeable thief!

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      Yay! Glad it worked. Thanks a bunch, Stacie!

      Reply
  5. Renada Styles October 16, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    This is adorable and so sweet! It just goes to show one can never be too old to love. I like how she only wants “pieces of him”.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:50 pm

      Yes, Bennie Lou doesn’t have time for all of him. I kinda like the idea that she has other stuff to do. Thanks, Renada!

      Reply
  6. inNateJames October 16, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    $20 says she steals more things even with the newspapers and empty sugar packets! She’ll find a way!

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm

      Absolutely. She will keep stealing. I think she finds it exciting. Thanks, Nate!

      Reply
  7. katybrandes October 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Very nice. “Cumulus clouds had puffed themselves up, stuck their chests out at us.” Love that description.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm

      Awww, thanks, Katy. That makes me happy.

      Reply
  8. Silverleaf October 17, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Meg, this is so sweet, so endearing, and a little bit achingly sad. You really got into the moment with all those details and into the character with their unique words and thoughts and ways of looking at things (like the clouds, and just wanting a bit of Jack… I could go on). It’s all so realistic, and so riveting.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 24, 2014 at 11:52 pm

      You are so kind, Silverleaf (I keep wanting to use your real name!). Really appreciate your generous comments. xoxo

      Reply
      1. Silverleaf October 25, 2014 at 10:06 am

        I know, I really hate being anonymous! And you’re most welcome xoxo

        Reply
        1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 11:53 am

          I LOVE your flipface!

          Reply
          1. Silverleaf October 25, 2014 at 4:56 pm

            Aw, thank you! And thanks to Stacie and Rowan for their help. I think I mentioned that way back before the summer I wanted to get one done. I’m a bit slow!

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