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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Phew! (02/11/10)

TITLE: Guilty as Charged?
By Marita Vandertogt



The express line-up is long, too long. There are seven items in my cart. The lady in front of me has nine. The limit is eight. I count hers, just to be sure, pretending to read a magazine in the wrack beside me.

“I don’t know where people get the nerve,” a woman behind me says, frustrated. “I only have three things here, and the lady in front of you.... well,” her voice trails off.

That’s all I needed. “Yes,” I say, pulling my purse strap up higher on my shoulder, in an almost militant move. I look briefly at the woman behind me, lips curling into a supportive smile.

The woman in front empties her cart on the counter without so much as a backward glance of guilt. The noise below me is my foot tapping hard on the cement floor.

“Excuse me.“ I muster up the courage, brought on by the woman behind me, “but we notice that you should probably be in the line next to us. You’re over the limit.”

I turn around to bring the woman behind her into the conversation. But she isn’t there. She’s standing in the line two rows over and ignores me. I was alone.

“Well,” the woman is small, older than I thought. Her eyes look down and counts the items again. “Oh my,” she says, her voice sweet, apologetic. “I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry dear. Sometimes I forget which line I’m in, or how many things I have.”

I feel my neck shriveling inside the collar of my coat. How petty, I think. What was wrong with me. It was one item for goodness sake.

“That’s okay,” I apologize to her. “I’m sorry actually. I’m not normally this picky.” She pats me on the shoulder, and smiles.

That’ll be $45.16. The clerk stands waiting for the woman to hand her the money.

“Oh dear,” she reaches into her pocket. “The money, it’s not here.” Her voice gets higher with each word. “It’s gone. It’s not here.” She pulls at both pockets, her eyes little grey sockets of wild. “I know it was here. I left with it this morning.” Then she turns to me, her eyes calmer, her voice mellowed down to a low accusing tone. “I had it when I came into the store.” She looks at me, with a hint of accusation in her voice. “Then this woman, well, she started accusing me of having too many things. I don’t know what happened to the money.” The woman begins to ramble, her sentences don’t make sense to me.

“Yes, I just mentioned you had too many items.”

She keeps on talking. “I think she might have my money.” She keeps pulling at her pockets, and looking at me.

“What,” I repeat, slightly stunned. By now there is a substantial line behind us. I am too embarrassed to turn around. I just want this to be over with.

“I’m sorry.” The clerk stands waiting. “But I need the money. Did you want to come back later with it.”

“I guess so,” she says, staring straight at me as though all this were my fault for not giving it back to her.

My hands are sweating. The pause between us seems eternal. So far this whole event only took moments, enough to make my thirty-two years of living bring question to my own character. What had I done?

“Elsie,” the clerk says. “You can’t keep doing this. We’ll hold the groceries for you until you can get the money and come back for them.”

The clerk grabs her two bags and puts them behind the counter, then starts to check my items through. By now, I was white with worry. “I’m so sorry,” I say to the clerk. “I never meant to cause trouble by telling her she had too many items.” Now I was rambling.

“Hey,” the clerk smiled. “Relax. She does this about once a week. Either forgets her money, or hasn’t cashed her check and doesn’t want to admit it. I didn’t think you were taking her seriously.”

“Whew,” I feel the tension drain from inside. The flash cards of the prison cell in an orange suit shut down immediately. “No, of course I didn’t take her seriously. ”I smile as I hand the clerk my money. “Of course I didn’t take her seriously.”

And “whew”, you made it to the end of the most boring story I have ever written.

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This article has been read 496 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Laury Hubrich 02/19/10
Yes, I got through your entry and felt all the anger and then regret and then the sheer terror of the woman accusing her of taking the money. It was a good story. You took me out of the story line fast, though, with that last line. :(
RuthAnn Cornelson02/21/10
It's strange how sometimes when you review something you've written it suddenly seems "boring" or just not what you thought it was going to be as you were writing it. I'm glad you submitted it anyway and I thought it was kind of fun the way you let us into your feelings at the end. If it's the MOST boring thing you've ever written, you're way ahead of many! Good descriptions and interesting characters.
Lisha Hunnicutt02/22/10
The story was great until the last line.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/23/10
Absolutely nothing to apologize for as far as the storyline. I thought it was fun and was going back in forth if the old lady was a scammer or if the troublemaker behind the MC somehow lifted the money.
There was a minor editing typo, but it was so little and I was into your story that I can't remember what it was. Good job.
Rikki Akeo02/24/10
Yea. You think it's boring, but it's one of the few stories I read to the end...explain that!
Lollie Hofer02/24/10
Thanks for your honest feelings at the end there. The sentence caught me by surprise, but you know what, it's okay. Even if you were WRONG :) This was not a boring story. It was genuine and real. How many of us have stood in an express line and stewed over the rude customer in front of us who had the nerve to have too many groceries? Well done. I liked how the mc was able to shut down the idea of going to prison. Funny!
Beth LaBuff 02/24/10
LOL! I actually really enjoyed this, especially the beginning. Your humor with your MC's righteous indignation, "pulling my purse strap up higher on my shoulder" was something I could see. Then her foot tapping and when she did finally confront the offender and then looked to the woman behind her for support...what a hilarious moment. I really enjoyed this... and your ending line too!