Do Your Christmas Shoplifting Early ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was the Christmas season again and shoppers were packed into Rosenblatt’s Department Store. An amazing profusion of tinsel and frippery, fake poinsettias and plastic snowmen adorned every surface and hung from the ceilings. Cheerful holiday music blatted from loudspeakers. Children misbehaved, forgotten for the moment as their mothers and fathers focused their attention on the merchandise at hand. Sales clerks tried to smile but their smiles were pained and unnatural.
Out of the crowd emerged a girl named Melody Leclair. She was a girl like any other, wearing a dark wool coat and a knitted hat of red-and-green wool pulled down low on her forehead Her cheeks were red and round. Her appearance was bland, wholesome and innocent.
Melody Leclair carried a shopping bag containing some towels she bought for her mother. She casually approached a display of ladies’ gloves, tried on a pair and, deciding they didn’t fit right, tried another pair. She took the second pair off, laid them on the edge of the table and, checking to make sure nobody was watching her, pushed them off the edge of the table into her shopping bag. She then picked up the bag and moved on.
On the end of a glass counter in the jewelry department was a display of earrings. She picked out three pairs and placed them in a row on the edge of the counter and bent over and examined them closely. She flicked the pair she liked best off the counter into her shopping bag and placed the others back where they belonged.
Coming to a display of moderately priced men’s wristwatches (the more expensive ones were locked inside a glass case), she stopped and began looking at them with intense interest. She picked one up, put it back and picked up another one. When a saleslady asked if she needed any help, she just shook her head without looking up. After examining a dozen or so of the watches, she dropped the one she liked best into the shopping bag.
In the book department she found a small volume of Keats and Shelley with a rich-looking leather cover. When the male clerk moved away to assist another customer, she dropped the book onto the floor, where it conveniently landed in her bag. She smiled at how easy it all was, picked up her bag and moved on.
A set of fancy guitar picks found its way into her bag in the music department; in housewares, a small pair of salt and pepper shakers, a nutcracker and a corkscrew; in notions, some spools of thread and a fancy pair of scissors. She surveyed all nine floors of Rosenblatt’s, moving casually and without hurry among the shoppers. When she found the things she wanted (small items, of course), she dropped them into her bag, careful not to be too greedy or push her look too far. Finally, she had everything she came for and decided it was time to leave.
She made her way to the Twelfth Street exit, where people were in line to get in and to get out. She waited patiently and when her turn came she spun herself happily through the revolving doors, welcoming the cold blast of air.
She had gone no more than half a block when she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned around and saw a tall woman with bright red hair like a clown’s and a pockmarked face (a face out of a nightmare) looking sternly at her.
“I think you forgot to pay for some things, didn’t you?” the woman said.
“No, I didn’t,” Melody said.
“Yes, you did. I’m afraid you’ll have to come with me.”
The woman took her upstairs to the part of the store where the offices were and shut her up in a tiny, vault-like room with a table and two plastic chairs and nothing else. After the woman had gone away again, Melody tried to open the door but found it locked. She was a prisoner! All she could do was wait and see what was going to happen.
In a little while a man came and took her into another small room with a desk and some chairs and told her to sit down in a chair in front of the desk. He wore a dark suit, round glasses like a Chinaman and had a mustache that covered his upper lip. He gave her a pitying look and then sat down on the other side of the desk and cleared his throat.
“I’m Mr. Pfeffer,” he said. “Head of store security. And what is your name?”
“Pearl Watson,” she said.
“Well, Pearl Watson, don’t you know that shoplifting is a very serious offense?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He gave her a sad smile and lifted her shopping bag onto the desk and began taking the things out and laying them alongside the bag.
“I need to see your sales slips for these items,” he said.
“I never keep sales slips,” she said. “I always throw them away.”
“Where did you throw them?”
“In a trash can.”
“A trash can where?”
“I don’t remember. I think it was on the third or the fourth floor.”
“So you had the sales slips but threw them away?”
“You should always keep sales slips. You never know when you’re going to need them.”
“It’s never been a problem until now.”
“How old are you?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“How old are you?”
“Seventeen, I think.”
“Don’t you know for sure.”
“Yes, I’m seventeen.”
“You’re a juvenile offender.”
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to steal things that belong to other people?”
“I didn’t steal anything!”
“Then show me your sales slips!”
“I threw them away, I said!”
“So you expect me to believe that you paid for all these items in this bag?”
“I don’t care what you believe.”
“At least three people saw you stealing these things.”
“Do you want to end up in jail?”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“If your mother could see you now, don’t you think she would be very ashamed of you?”
“I don’t have a mother. She’s dead.”
He stood up and went around the desk toward her. She thought for a moment he was going to slap her in the face but instead he grabbed her purse and opened it and dumped it out on the desk.
“Hey, you can’t do that!” she said.
There was a pack of gum, a comb and lipstick, some balled-up Kleenex, a tiny mirror, a pack of Lucky Strikes and a book of matches, a rabbit’s foot on a keychain with no keys, two movie-ticket stubs, and a ballpoint pen that didn’t write.
“Where’s your identification?” he said.
“I must have left it at home. Is that a crime?”
“I can’t confirm that you are who you say you are.”
“That’s your tough luck.”
“We’ll just call the police and let them deal with you.”
He went out of the room and in a few minutes another man came into the room and sat down at the desk. He was a different type of man than the first one, more the bullying type, with sparse red hair and mean eyes like a sewer animal. His voice was gruff when he spoke.
“Shoplifter, huh?” he said.
“I didn’t do anything!” she said.
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Pearl Watson, if it was up to me, I would handcuff all you thieves to a post out in front of the store, no matter the weather, and put a sign on you that says: This is what will happen to you when you steal from this store!”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to treat people that way,” she said.
“Shut up! If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”
“Can I go home now?”
“Hah! We called the police and they’re coming to pick you up. They’ll handcuff you, take you downtown, fingerprint you, book you, and throw you into a cell with a lot of dangerous criminals. It’s going to be a long time before you go home again. You’ll have to get yourself a really good lawyer. Hah-hah-hah!”
“I want to call my father!”
“You’re not calling nobody!”
She began to cry in spite of herself. It had turned out to be such a bad day.
“Of course, there might be a way out of this,” he said.
“You could pay the fine to me, sign an agreement stating that you will never shop at Rosenblatt’s again, and we could let you go without getting the police involved.”
“How much is the fine?”
“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”
She took a billfold out of the pocket of her coat and counted out two hundred and fifty dollars.
“If I knew you had that much moolah,” he said with a laugh, “I would’ve made the fine more.”
“Can I go now?”
“First let me ask you a question. If you have that much money in your pocket, why do you come into a store and steal things?”
“I told you, I didn’t steal anything!”
“All right. Have it your way. You’ve paid the fine.”
“Can I go now?”
“You have to sign the agreement stating that you won’t grace Rosenblatt’s Department Store with your presence ever again.”
“I would never shop in this store again anyway after the way I’ve been treated!” she said.
He laughed and took a paper out of a drawer, made some scribbles on it and handed it over for her to sign. She signed the name Pearl Watson and stood up.
“Give me back my things!” she said.
“The stuff I had in my shopping bag!”
“Store property. Doesn’t belong to you.”
“I’m going to tell my father to sue you!” she said.
“Better tell all your little shoplifting friends to go to Grimminger’s down the street and stay away from Rosenblatt’s if they know what’s good for them. Hah-hah-hah!”
When Melody got home, she went right upstairs to her room so she wouldn’t have to face her mother just yet. She was afraid she looked guilty and her mother would be able to tell, just by looking at her, how she spent her afternoon.
At the dinner table, her mother asked her where she had been that afternoon.
“Downtown,” she said.
“Did you do any Christmas shopping?”
“Well, I was going to, but the store was so noisy and crowded I just left after a few minutes and walked along the street and did some window shopping.”
“That’s always nice,” her mother said, wishing to change the subject.
“I was thinking this afternoon,” Melody said.
“I was thinking of what it would be like to be poor and not be able to shop in a store like Rosenblatt’s.”
“Rosenblatt’s is an expensive store. They have lovely things. Poor people don’t shop there. Poor people shop other places.”
“We’ve always been rich, haven’t we, mother?”
“Well, we’ve never been poor. Nobody in my family has ever been poor.”
“I have a friend who’s poor. She wants to buy nice Christmas gifts for her family, but she doesn’t have any money, so do you know what she does?”
“Oh, my! Who is this friend?”
“He name is Georgette. You don’t know her.”
“Well, maybe she’s not the kind of friend you should have.”
“When I was in Rosenblatt’s, surrounded by beautiful possessions, I was just thinking about what it would be like to not have any money and not be able to buy anything.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about it, dear. You have plenty of money, and if you don’t have enough, let me know and I’ll give you more.”
“All right, mother.”
“And tell Georgette she’s going to get into a lot of trouble if she’s shoplifting things in Rosenblatt’s. She could go to prison.”
“I don’t think she’s going to do it anymore now.”
“Would you like to invite her to spend Christmas with us? Sometimes it does your heart good to invite an underprivileged person into your home and be kind to them. They’re always so grateful.”
Melody didn’t answer but kept right on eating her butterscotch pudding, looking dreamily out the window at the snow falling among the now-leafless maple trees in the side yard. She was thinking about tomorrow. She had always loved the snow. She would put on her new boots and walk downtown and do the rest of her Christmas shopping at Grimminger’s.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp