I roll the twenty between my fingers and out from underneath a stack of bills. In one fluid gesture, it’s inside the cuff of my sweater, and the register is closed. I exhale through my teeth. My pulse slows.
Mrs. Sisson approaches the checkout counter with a plastic basket. Her white hair in an immaculate bun. Her face carefully powdered and spackled.
“How are you tonight, Mrs. Sisson? Quick Pick with Encore?” I say, all smiles and nods.
I eyeball the total of her pantyhose, nuts, and hard candies to be about ten dollars.
She shakes her head, “I’m fine, dear. And no, Bob already picked up tickets for tonight’s draw. Are you playing? It’s a big one.”
I type in the items as a return, then place her money in the till.
“Not me, I never win.”
And just like that, my ass is covered. Even if those cameras above the cash area work, which I suspect they don’t, I’m very discreet.
I’m not a bad person; it’s just that I refuse to accept that what I have is all I get. I’m white. I come from a middle-class background. I should’ve done something with my life. Still got time, but I’m not good at anything. So I steal.
Scribbling a fake signature and stuffing the receipt under the plastic clamp, my eyes remain fixed on the elderly woman's. It won't be until she’s sitting at home knitting unwanted sweaters for grandchildren that she might wonder about the receipt.
“Send my regards to your husband,” I say, stepping out from behind the register to flip off the first set of lights and begin shutting down the store.
She stuffs some wayward tissues into her giant purse. A small money clip falls from her pocket and lands softly on one of the runner mats.
I step on it.
Mrs. Sisson squeezes my hand with a squeaky leather glove, then waves goodbye. I wait until she’s passed through the second set of glass doors, then bend down, tying up an already tied shoe. I pocket what is probably thirty bucks. Love it when I don't have to work for my free money.
I remove the billfold, about to toss the clip when I notice its weight. Silver. The name Mary engraved on it and a small pearl inset on the edge. Probably worth something. Slide that into my cuff too as I lock the door.
Patrick “The Cunt” watches me from across the store. The fluorescent lights bounce off his chrome, bald pate. If it weren't for his crouton-like complexion, he would blend in seamlessly with the polished metal racks and mannequins. You can't see the whites of his eyes unless he’s looking to his extreme left or right.
He’s not called The Cunt because he’s a jerk, though he is a jerk. It’s because he has twenty-four/seven vagina breath. While you may not have consciously acknowledged this phenomenon, you've most definitely encountered it. Sweet, sour, and hot, with notes of rich cheese and fermenting citrus. Not to say that my vag has ever smelled like that because it hasn't.
I never pull my shell game in front of employees, but after the first few weeks of working in Litman's Department Store, I realized Patrick was just creepy window dressing. Milium-spotted drapery, barely observing. Barely alive. He’s the assistant supervisor, which is a fake job title if I ever heard one. “Well, Bob, we certainly can't promote The Cunt that's been here for eight years to a position of power, but we gotta throw the guy a bone if we don’t want to have to hire and train some jack-off fresh out of high school.”
It’s five minutes to close, and it’s just me and The Cunt. I let him deal with the change rooms and toilets, and take my sweet time counting and recounting the last register. When I’m sure he’s done all of the duties I don’t want to do, I fill out the slip, drop the deposit in the zip pouch, organize the float, and slide it through the mailbox-sized slot of the janky old safe. And yes, I have thought about breaking into it and taking off with the night’s deposit. There’s always tomorrow.
We each have a small cubby located at the back of the store in the lunchroom. In the eight months that I’ve worked at the department store, I’ve stolen from at least three of my coworkers – only food, mind you. The fourth I merely tampered with, but I can speak for everyone at Litman’s when I say that Tammy's salmon sandwiches made us all want to wretch and the bitch had it coming.
I transfer my take from the day into my purse. Forty-eight dollars and a money clip. Could've been worse. By the time I come out of the staff room, the store is pitch black, and Patrick jingles the keys by the door in his tan fleece.
Our exit is always the same; wait for the alarms and locks, then head to the back parking lot. On nights when I’m feeling particularly good – usually because I’ve pulled in a hundred, I’ll make small talk with The Cunt. On nights when I walk away with nothing, I go the long way to avoid Patrick.
“Chill in the air tonight,” The Cunt says.
“It's winter.” My eyes flutter. They never roll. A couple of summers ago I got vertigo for a few weeks when I was working at a coffee shop. My doctor told me it was from rolling my eyes too much. Asshole. Could've been right though. Hated working at that coffee shop even more than I hate the department store. Coffee shops, as a broad rule, are funnels for every insufferable person in the Western world.
When the wind is blowing east, the air in Devil Falls has an eggy tang to it. When it's hot, it's like wading through rotten egg salad. I tuck my face in my humid scarf, which doesn't smell much better but at least it's my own brand. The Cunt heads toward his red Jetta and I begin my passage through the alley that leads to Swift and Main. I start thinking about dinner. I could make KD, but don't know if I even have any butter or margarine. Could use mayo, I always have mayo.
The Cunt starts his car, half-drives out of the parking lot, then stops.
“Martha!” The Cunt's shrill voice pierces my ear, an unwelcome and unlubed entry.
Slowly turning, “What?”
The Cunt shifts from side to side, his mouth opening and closing without making a sound. Maybe he isn't a pig, more of a strangled guppy. He scratches the back of his neck, waiting for me to come toward him before he says anything else.
It's this kind of passive-aggressive bullshit that makes me smug about robbing people.
“I forgot to lock the inner doors before I engaged the security system.” Patrick glistens in the lone streetlight.
“So?” What an idiot. I lean toward the heat of his car.
“Could you watch my car for a minute?”
I’m about to respond with - “Just turn it off, you asshat” - when from the corner of my well-trained eye I spot a twenty haphazardly wedged between a pair of Patrick's indoor shoes and a pile of scrunched up plastic bags. He probably doesn’t even know it’s there.
“Just go,” I say. “Chop, chop.”
Patrick scampers off into the darkness, and I slip fingers through the driver's seat belt and pull the plastic peg lock upward. I open the back door, and a pile of empty Faygos and a jumbo tub of antacids spill out onto my feet. That just earned The Cunt a second robbing. I toss the cans and Tums into the mess on the bottom of his car floor and retrieve the money.
I squeal, holding the tiniest edge of the paper with my thumb and forefinger. Now, this is the real test. How much does Martha Bagshaw—
Everything goes black.
My parents aren't mad at me; they keep repeating. My mom's hair has changed. So has her nose. Something isn't right about them. I’m on a TV show. Oprah? No, Oprah’s only reruns now. People clap. I’m not the baby's mother! Thank God. A wave of relief washes over me. How on earth did I even get this stupid baby in the first place? I look down, and the baby in my arms vomits. At first just a slug of drool, then black, oily clam chowder--
Dear God, that breath. This baby has the worst breath. The father must be The Cunt. That's where it came from, it all makes sense and--
“Martha,” the phlegmy voice repeats the word. Over and over. “Marthaaa.” Turning the name over a spit, roasting it to coal black, drying up the last bit of pink, juicy meat inside. “Martha!”
I jump. For an eighth of a moment, I’m back in grade ten history class, my head jerks forward, waking me up. The kid behind me smirks and whispers, “You farted while you were asleep.”
But I'm not in history class.
My eyes roll over the walls of the steamy, thirteen-by-thirteen bedroom. He comes into focus.
Soon I can see every grey pore, every nodule, every tiny black hair. God, I hope he doesn't rape me.
Bound wrists. Bound ankles. Cheap yellow nylon rope, the waxy kind that’s less likely to tear flesh. Not gagged. Could scream. I could scream loud, but then he might stuff something in my mouth. Something that was just touching his skin.
Fortunately, I still have my clothes on. Not my coat. But all my shirt buttons are done up. My breasts don’t hurt, so if I was fondled, at least it was gently. My back hurts though. Who would buy an awful chair like this? Probably came from Litman’s.
Yanking every limb in unison, I rock the chair forward.
“Stop that now,” he gets up.
“Let me go, Patrick.”
I’m in a bedroom in a house. Nicotine-yellowed wallpaper, even the pattern of roses seems to be wilting from The Cunt's oppression. The faint smell of human-generated ammonia creeps toward me from hard-to-clean crevices and corners. A single, lumpy bed with a stuffed bear on it sits in the far right beside a night table stained with water rings. Framed photographs of a woman through various stages of aging on the walls. A crab figurine made of shells and stones. A giant bookshelf. No classics. All self-help. Therapy. Mind Control. More self-help. And a device on the table beside my chair.
This is probably where Patrick conducts unspeakable acts of beastiality, autonepiophilia, gerontophilia… All kinds of philias. And I’m next. Beautiful, vibrant and young. A pressed flower in The Marquis de Cunt’s memoir.
He stands in front of me, a formal presentation, hands folded, a grave expression. “I brought you here to help you. To get to the root of your problem so that you can break free of it.”
This is an intervention.
“Do you know why you’re here, Martha.”
“Because you hit me over the head and tied me up.” I refuse to make eye contact. Acknowledgement is half the thrill for these guys.
“Actually, I didn't hit you over the head. I injected you with a sedative.”
Is this how it all ends? A dirty needle. I shift my weight in the chair, back and forth. You have seventy-two hours to get to a hospital if you suspect you've been infected with one of the for-lifer blood viruses, and then they flush you out with vitamins. Or at least that's what someone who couldn’t remember if they had unprotected anal sex at a rave in Barrie told me. I have a bad immune system. Always sick. I probably won’t even last twenty-four.
“You’re here because—“
“You’ve seen me stealing, and now you’re going to live out some amateur psychologist fantasy. For the record, I would rather go to prison than suck your dick, if that’s where this is headed. And I’m a biter.”
Patrick did what I can only describe as “gasp.” He grabs onto the chair adjacent to mine for support.
“Who’s room is this?” I ask.
“It was my mother’s," Patrick says this without blinking. But not in a natural way. He’s hiding pain.
“Do you want to talk about your mother, Patrick?” I smile.
He takes a deep breath, thankfully in the opposite direction, then sits down in a ratty office chair across from me. He unfurls the device’s accessories. Pretty sure it’s a polygraph unit. He plugs me in. Wraps the blood pressure thing around my arm. Puts the other thingy on my fingers. I’m too lazy to bother fighting it.
I look at the clock on the wall and realize I’m missing one of my Gordon Ramsay shows. The one where he yells at people for having semen on the sheets in their crappy hotel.
He straps tubes around my chest, nervously trying to avoid touching my breasts. Probably not gonna rape me then.
“Is this a lie detector?” I ask.
Patrick smiles. He thinks he’s impressed me. “Got it off eBay a while back.
“I don’t care enough about what you think to lie to you.”
The Cunt begins a rehearsed monologue. “Resistance is natural but you can relax, Martha. You’re in good hands. You’ve been feeling apathetic. Stealing makes you feel alive. But the more you do it, the bigger the crime you’re going to need to commit to get that same feeling. Until you end up in jail, Martha.”
He pulls out a notebook. A fucking notebook.
“I decided not to approach the head cheese about this because I knew it would result in your firing and you wouldn’t learn anything. You would probably go out the next day and find another job and do the same thing over again. Or perhaps you'd sweet-talk your way out of the situation, as I've seen you do. You may even turn the tables on me, and get me fired. But I can help you. I understand now what I did wrong in trying to help mother--… But I can fix you, Martha. This I am confident of.” Patrick’s hand shakes as he wipes a bead of sweat from his face. “Please state your name.”
“Alright, well… Is your birthday April fourth, nineteen-eighty eight? Yes or no.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Do you live in Devil Falls, yes or no?”
“I have no idea where I am. I’m so high from those sedatives you injected me with.”
He looks over to his bookshelf for reassuring buzz phrases like, “life is a gift” and “if you want security, go to prison.”
“I want you to tell me about the first time you stole. I want you to detail why you did it and how it made you feel.”
Jesus. The first time I stole? I can’t remember something like that, but I can remember the first time I stole and it felt really fucking good.
I was eight years old and attending my last in a long line of sleepovers. I wasn’t invited by anyone in particular. My mom always seemed to have agreements with other children’s mothers. She’d organize a bake sale if one of them pleasefortheloveoffuckingGod took her “spirited” daughter off her hands for one night.
This particular slumber party was themed - the annoying ones always are. At the time, there was some popular cartoon about a teenage girl band or a bunch of teen girls who drove motorcycles. I don’t remember. My mother had gone out and bought me a doll specifically for the occasion.
I didn’t want to go and ripped my doll’s head off. My mother, used to this behavior, simply shoved the head back on. But it didn’t do that articulated neck thing anymore. My doll, Jerissa, was now neckless with a squashed head. She was the ugly doll. And every girl at that slumber party alienated me for it. Especially Gillian Mann, the hostess with the mostess, and in possession of the same doll - hers with a swan-like neck and dainty jawline.
Your doll is stupid. Your mom bought it at the poor barn that’s why it looks like that. It looks like you. You’re ugly, Martha.
As a youngster, I got anxiety diarrhea. And the more anxious I got about the potential for diarrhea, the more likely it was that my ass would explode. So of course, after relentless nitpicking, my ass indeed exploded.
I stunk out the bathroom and Gillian wouldn’t let me rejoin the sleepover. I ended up hanging out in her basement with the family beagle for several hours looking through her older brother’s hidden Penthouses. Finally, Gillian’s mother noticed that there was one less sweetie-pie at the party and marched me back upstairs.
In the still of night, I took my Jerissa doll and dragged her arms and legs up my tiny diarrhea-crusted butt crack. I slid out of my sleeping bag and swapped my doll for Gillian’s. Then I snuck out.
I lived two blocks away and nobody locked their doors in my neighborhood. I broke off the head of my fancy new Jerissa so that I could never be blamed for what happened. The mothers couldn’t “prove” that I switched them, but I never had to go to another slumber party after that.
“Well?” Patrick rasps in a gentle tone. He’s mistaken my reminiscing for some kind of emotional obstacle that I’m trying to overcome in my mind.
“I stole candy from a corner store when I was five,” I say.
He stares at me for a few moments, then shuffles over to the bookshelf. He sits back down and holds tightly to the self-help book as if he’s a preacher with a bible and I’m the damned soul he’s exorcising. Keep trying, Cunt.
“And what is your relationship like with your mother?”
“Haven’t talked to her in years. Neither of us wants to.”
He examines me. “Why do you think your mother doesn’t want to talk to you?”
“She has self-loathing issues,” I say.
“Or maybe it’s because of your problem. Why do you steal, Martha? Let’s identify the root of this deviancy. Do you need the money?”
“Is it for attention?”
“Let me make this is easy for you, Patrick.” I try to put my hands behind my head and lean back in my chair. Impossible. “I steal because I almost never get caught, I hate everyone - including you. I don’t give a shit, and I want more than I have but without having to work for it. I’m a product of my generation. You wouldn’t get it. You kinda had to be there.”
Biting his lip, he takes a few notes.
“If I hadn’t come along and sedated you by the car, would you have put back the twenty dollars back or kept it?”
“I would’ve put it back.”
He glances at the polygraph read-out as if it means anything.
“Because you admire and trust me?” He asks.
“Because it felt contagious. It was wet.”
His face falls.
“What was your relationship with your mother like? Were you there for her in her final moments?” I ask.
He looks over at the cot. Sinks into himself. “Of course.”
“But she didn’t care, did she?”
“I don’t know.”
“You tried to fix her. Didn’t you, Pat?”
The Cunt lifts his head and locks eyes with me. “You’re a smart girl, Martha. You don’t belong in a department store. Maybe I don’t either.”
You definitely do, Pat.
His rotting patent leather slippers slide across the gristly carpet as he heads to the warped old dresser. “I can’t fix you, same way I couldn’t fix mum. She wasn’t a thief like you, but boy she liked to lie,” he continues, as he forages through what appears to be a drawer full of craft supplies. “She lied about who my father was, she lied about girls calling me… Lied about everything.”
A soft breeze pushes at my back. The door opens a crack. A draft, maybe.
The Cunt pulls out a pair of polished steel scissors, the kind dressmakers use to cut precisely on chalk outlines. “Even her last days. She was hiding pills under that pillow, right over there.”
The cot willingly gives way to Patrick’s pear-shaped behind. He wields the pair of scissors like a serial killer, plunging them into the thick marshmallow pillow. I wriggle again. It's useless. I’ll give the guy credit for one thing; he knows how to tie a knot. This is what I get for bringing up his mother.
“She wasn’t hiding her pills because she didn’t want to take them. She was taking plenty of those. She could barely walk, but she would get out of bed while I was at work and hide my prescription pills. So I thought, she’s addicted to meds, she just can’t stop. Not true. She didn’t ingest a single one. She just wanted to hide mine to fuck with me. Do you know what she did when I asked her about it?”
A small grey kitten has woven its way into the room unnoticed by Patrick. Its little body rubs against the backs of my jeans, oblivious to the emotional storm.
“She defecated herself, Martha. My mother had been too proud and too in control to do anything like that before. I spent thousands on this wheely toilet, so she could spend her last days expelling what little waste was left inside her like a lady. Only for her to shove it in my face - not literally. But, guess who had to clean it up? I did.”
That’s when I notice the dried blood on the lie detector. On the blood pressure armlet, the finger cup, even the machine. Faint against the black plastic, but there. He killed his fucking mother, the fucking liar. And now he is going to kill fucking Martha, the fucking thief.
“Not to get graphic, but I’ve really needed to talk about this. It wasn’t even normal stool. It was like tar. It was almost like her body was finally so full of lies that she was just… well, frankly, she was just shitting them out!” Patrick claps, finally looking in my direction. “Do you know what it’s like to clean the waste from your mother’s—“
“I’ll kill your cat if you don’t let me go.” The kitten picked the worst time to wedge its little triangle head between my meaty (but sexy) calves. I (gently - I’m not a monster) turn my body into a kitten pillory.
The Cunt clutches the giant scissors to his chest. “But Specter is just a little kitten.”
“I’m gonna rip it’s fucking head off!”
“No! Stop! Let her go, and I’ll untie you.” A tiny stream runs down Patrick’s cheek. “Just let her go.”
“Untie me first.”
“Just wait. I’m not done yet,” Patrick whimpers.
“If you don’t untie me right away, I will choke the life out of your cat, and then start screaming. When the cops arrive, I’ll say that you made me wear your mother's frocks while raping me. I'll say that you held up a picture of Mr. Litman's youngest daughter while you did it. And that you kept saying over and over, ‘This is just the warm-up!’”
“Enough!” The Cunt curls over and sobs into the crook of his arm. “I was trying to help you. Don't you see? Oh, God. What have I done? I’ll be sent to prison.”
“Tell you what, Patrick, I won't tell anyone that you captured me.”
He crawls over to the chair, still weeping. He cuts the ropes from my feet, then my hands. I release the kitten.
“On one condition,” I say, putting distance between myself and the pair of scissors.
His face falls.
“Five hundred bucks.” I hold my smile. “Pain and suffering.”
“Five hundred dollars? But that's a quarter of my monthly wage.”
“I might have an infection from this.” I point at the sore spot on my neck where I assume The Cunt jabbed me with the syringe. “Maybe I should also factor in medical expenses. And that could be, oh-- I might need to talk to a lawyer.”
“No, no. Five hundred. I have it. Tucked away... Be right back.” Patrick bundles Specter into this arms and leaves the room.
I relax some, rubbing the raw indents on my wrists. Totally worth it for five hundy. I wonder how many more people I could trick into kidnapping me to teach me a lesson.
After several minutes of shuffling and sighing, Patrick finally hands me my money, which I slip into my new antique money clip. Mary. Martha. Close enough. Five hundred and forty-eight in total.
“Okay, well bye.” Patrick waits.
“Uh, I'm not walking home with this much cash in my purse. You can drive me.”
We drive in silence, save for the odd directive grunt, until we pull up in front of my apartment building. The Cunt's breath has hotboxed the car by the time we arrive. Patrick yawns an achingly long yawn and stretches his hand toward me.
“You won't say anything to anyone, right?”
“No, Patrick. I won't. But if I catch you watching me steal again, I'm telling everyone what you did.”
Patrick's expression is that of an utterly defeated man. I feel a tinge of pity, then remember he drugged and kidnapped me.
“I hope you’ve learned your lesson.” I slam the door and smile. Perhaps the first genuine smile I’ve smiled in months. Years. Someone up above is watching over me and wants me to succeed--
A siren bleats from the dark west wall of the brick prison I call home. It’s a sketchy neighborhood, it happens. I gather my thoughts and think about the two Mooseheads in my fridge as I race toward my building.
The squad car pulls up in front of me.
An officer steps out of the vehicle. I look around, mystified. Did the cops see the whole thing? Was The Cunt going to get arrested?
“Are you Martha Bagshaw, cashier at Litman's Department Store?” The officer walks toward me.
“Yeah. Did I win something?”
A second officer opens the back passenger door and helps Mrs. Sisson out.
“Ma'am, is this the woman you said robbed you?”
In the distance, I hear The Cunt's Jetta peeling off down the street.
The old witch rattles over in her polyester and acrylic wool fountain. “Oh yes, that's her. She stuck her hand in my purse and stole my money and my money clip. She said she'd kill me if I told.”
“Miss, give us the bag.” The first cop gestures for my purse.
“No, I know my rights. You're not allowed to look in my bag without a warrant.”
Just then the nasty old wart lunges at me, using those pointy bones as weapons, gnashing dentures like a rabid terrier – and she snatches the purse right out of my fingers. Before I can react, she roots through my belongings. Her tongue wags back and forth in excitement.
And there it is; Mary. Her fucking clip with my five hundred and forty-eight dollars.
“Oh no, you don't! Only thirty of that is yours, bitch!”
“See officers! My clip with my money. ”
I growl and charge at her, very dramatically.
The first officer sticks out an arm and grabs me by the wrists.
“Only thirty of that is hers, you gotta believe me. I found Mrs. Sisson’s clip with the money on the ground and I was going to give it back to her the next time I saw her. But five twenty of it is mine.”
“Where’d you get five hundred from?” The officer eyes me in the darkness. The street lamp lights his face in such a way that it looks like he has a small crystal forest of peach fuzz on his cheek. Kind of beautiful.
"It’s mine. I just have it. Can’t I just have money? I have a job.”
“Why did you put it in a money clip that you were intending on returning?” The first officer asks.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about buying one for myself, and I wanted to give it a test drive before I commit. You know what I mean? Like a car. Or a woman - right, officer?” I wink.
The officer roughly ushers me into the back seat of the patrol vehicle. “Jacobs, will you see that the kind lady here gets home nice and safe without getting jumped by any more hooligans?”
The second officer nods.
“But that’s my money!” I scream. “This is a fucking outrage! I’ll sue! I’ll sue all of you!”
Some guy on the third floor screams at me to shut up. You just made my shit-list too, asshole.
“Why a young woman would do such a thing—“ Mrs. Sisson trails off.
“Who knows why people do what they do. You know what I mean?” The second officer says.
The banshee sneers at me as the officer pushes my head inside the car. Her flat, black coal eyes remind me of The Cunt's. Only hers are different. Plucked straight from the head of a Great White.
“Hey, Mrs. Sisson,” I say, straining to push my head back up to the car roof. “Hope you lost on that lottery ticket.”
As we drive off in the cop car, I wonder who the fuck I can call to bail me out of jail.
© Larissa Thomas 2017/2018
Plagiarize me and you will fucking perish.