By Dee Senchak
No doubt about it. It’s Grandma Hazel. As she steps into view at the end of the long hall, I recognize her sensible brown shoes supporting her slightly stooped 5’ 2” frame. Her tight gray curls are in place, just like always. She’s wearing a white, high neck blouse with a sky blue cardigan sweater casually draped over her thin shoulders, one iridescent pearl button fastened at the neck. And there’s no mistaking those trade-mark bright red fingernails on her eight ringed fingers. She’s smiling at the man walking down the hall next to her. The only thing wrong with the scene that I see through the small window of the locked door between us is that the jewelry on her wrists is not her customary bracelets. She’s wearing shiny chrome handcuffs.
I shake my head in disbelief and take a step backward. Framed by the window I’m looking through, it could be a photo of Grandma I’m looking at. But it’s not. I’m standing on the Court House side of the door that separates the County Court House wing from the County Jail. I’m here to bail Grandma out of jail.
My brain is churning out questions; my stomach is in equal turmoil. My voice catches in my throat before I can finally say, “Are the cuffs really necessary, Joe Bob? You’ve known Grandma since you were a kid. You know she’s not dangerous.”
“We gotta’ follow protocol no matter who it is. Larry’ll take them off when she comes in here.”
I move away from the door before Officer Larry and Grandma walk through. Grandma is smiling and talking to her jailer, “…but they’re so much better with my relish. I’ll come back for a visit and bring some for you.. Would you like that?”
The uniformed officer grins at her as he removes the handcuffs, “Yes Ma’am.”
Grandma sees me and says, “Buckey, darling, how sweet of you to come.”
“This isn’t exactly a social call, Grandma. Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes dear. I’ve met such nice people here. Everyone is so polite.
Hello, Joe Bob. Do you work in the jail too?”
Joe Bob sucks in his cheeks before saying hello to Grandma. I know that look. He’s trying not to laugh, which gives me a gut feeling that the next fishing trip we take together is not going to be fun for me.
I grab the papers Joe Bob holds out, “Thanks. Can I talk to you tomorrow?”
He gives me an affirmative nod and winks. He’s sucking in his cheeks again.
I take Grandma’s arm, “Let’s go, Grandma.” The skin on her boney arm is soft and loose. I can’t believe that this is the arm of a shoplifter. There has to be some mistake.
Grandma says, “Good-buy officers. You have a very nice jail.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” Joe Bob and Larry say in unison.
Gently but firmly holding Grandma by the elbow, I steer her past the front desk and toward the exit doors. She waves at the young woman at the desk who says, ”Have a good day.”
Quietly I mutter “I wish.” I guess it was loud enough for Grandma to hear because she starts humming When You Wish Upon a Star.
I look to the right and left as I usher Grandma through the door into the warm afternoon sunlight. The street is as clear as the sky. It’s a relief to see that even the park across the way is empty. I want to hurry to my car which I realize I parked too far away. Grandma is not in a hurry. She stops on the sidewalk in front of the local bakery and inhales deeply, “Doesn’t that smell of cinnamon and sugar just make your mouth water. Mmmm, I could go for a coffee and one of those fresh cinnamon buns.”
“Now?” I rub the back of my neck and try to think. There are questions I want to ask her and losing my cool will get me nowhere. A sweet roll and coffee; sugar and caffeine? Maybe that’s not a bad idea. We can have a casual conversation in the park.
I buy a roll and coffee for her and carry it across the street where we settle on a park bench. Pacing anxiously around the bench as she calmly eats, I allow Grandma to finish her roll before saying, “Okay Grandma, Tell me what’s going on. You’re accused of shop lifting at Moore’s.”
“That’s right dear,” she wipes her hands in a napkin, “ but it was Miller’s not Moore’s. Miller’s has better quality goods.”
I’ve stopped pacing, I sit down heavily next to her. “Are you saying that you did take something?”
“Why, yes dear.”
“But why?” I remind myself to speak calmly. “What did you need that you couldn’t buy? I would buy it for you. You know that.”
“Oh yes, I know that. But…, well …, you know I used to go to bingo. But I started having trouble seeing the numbers on the bingo cards when that problem with my eyes started getting bad.”
“You mean the macular degeneration?”
“Yes, so I stopped going to bingo and I wanted something else to do.”
“So you took up shoplifting?” I couldn’t stop the rise in my voice.
“It’s better than bingo.”
“What do you mean, it’s better than bingo?” Be calm. I remind myself.
“It’s something I can do almost any time during the day. It’s more exciting and the odds are better.”
I’m losing the battle to stay calm, “The odds are better? The odds are better? You just got arrested.”
“Well, I didn’t often win at Bingo. And I thought I was getting good at….”
I tell myself to count to ten and breathe deeply. I get to six and blurt out, “Grandma, think of your reputation. What will your friends say?”
“Oh, my friends do it too.”
“What are you saying? That you’re part of a geriatric shoplifting sorority?”
I start chewing on my nails, a habit I stopped years ago.
“Buckey, the middle of my back is terribly itchy. Please scratch it for me. I can’t get my arm back there.”
I reach over to scratch as requested and feel a firm rectangular tag attached to the sweater. “What’s this? A price tag. Grandma, did you steal this sweater?”
“No, I did not steal it. I just borrowed it. That’s what we do. We return everything we take because we really don’t need it.”
I groan and look skyward. Heaven help me.
“That’s what I was doing today, but they thought I was taking the teapot when actually I was returning it. I probably would not have gotten caught if Emmie had been with me as usual.” Grandma tugged her sweater around her arms. “Oh my, I didn’t get to return this sweater either.”
“Emmie? Miss Emily Trotter?” I am too stunned to think about the sweater.
“Yes, we always have a lookout. But Emmie was not feeling well and the teapot had to be returned today because they take inventory tomorrow. We always get the merchandise back before inventory. That way the store has no loses. So you see, I wasn’t taking, I was returning. But they didn’t believe me. So they arrested me.”I resume chewing my nails and wonder if the bingo hall would accept a donation of bingo cards with over-sized numbers.
Copyright 2013, Dee Senchak
Originally from Pennsylvania, Dee Senchak and her spouse now enjoy retirement in South Carolina. She enjoys exploring local sites of interest with friends, reading the old fashioned way, book discussion groups, and writing short fiction. Several of her short stories have appeared in publications of Immaculata College and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Coastal Carolina University. Her stories lean toward humor and irony. As Grouch Marx said, “Life is too short to be taken seriously.”