I Am But An Earnest Woman

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

I Am But An Earnest Woman is a short story about a woman is caught stealing from a grocery store in the 1960s.


Margie once read that the smell of newly-cooked pastries at a bakery inspired a sense of empathy, charity, and leniency in people. Admittedly, it was the only thing that she could think of when the store cashier called out, “Ma’am! Ma’am! Hold on a second.” She stood a mere foot away from the door, edging it open slightly. The color drained out of her face as she whipped around to the man’s direction.

The cashier was a tall and brutish man with a thick mustache and light brown eyes. He towered above her, looking down with the eyes of judgment and suspicion. He waited for Margie’s and received none. He examined the woman’s height and proportions, scanning her top-to-bottom. The cashier picked up a sheet of paper he meticulously placed as Margie’s eyes were elsewhere.

“Ma’am, is this by any chance you in this picture?” The cashier held up a picture taken from a camera perched a cashier’s desk. The picture was not this or a bakery at all, but a large department store. The text underneath , “If you see this woman, be aware that she has shoplifted from many stories in the area.”

Margie perfectly resembled the woman in the picture, from the rounded nose and wide smile to the same grey sweatshirt. The picture showed Margie, dressed in her grey sweatshirt and light-blue jeans, smiling at the cashier. Margie flushed with red as she saw clearly what was her indictment. The cashier put the paper aside and narrowed his eyes.

“Ma’am, would you take of your sweatshirt?” The cashier said cooly, gesturing for Margie to take it off.

Margie was caught. She slowly unzipped her sweatshirt, listening to every single crunch and grind as she pulled the zipper down. Neatly tucked into the side of the sweatshirt was a cleverly-concealed bag of white bread, beans, and water. All three fell to the floor, a display of the evidence of the crime right in front of the criminal. Margie looked down at her crime, then looked straight at her judge.

“Sir! Sir, please! I only --”

Oh I don’t need to hear anything more.” The cashier hissed, looking Margie straight in the eye like a lion ready to pounce on a deer.

In what was a second, the events at the bakery flashed before her eyes. There she stood, her sweaty hands gripping the elaborate door handles. She pulled with one tug and shuffled in quietly. She had missed the cashier then, and headed directly for the cupcakes. Her modus operandi entailed not arousing suspicion, meaning that she had to buy something, usually something cheap.

She had originally planned to shoplift a can of beans, a loaf of bread, and other small items. Just as she picked up the beans, she noticed a bag filled with white bread. It called out to her, grabbing her by the hand and begging to be taken. Margie just had to, every bone in her body just wanted to wrap itself around that bag. She made her way around to the other side of the aisle when she noticed that the bag was just out of the camera’s sight, a treasure just asking to be taken.

As she walked around, she snatched the bag and with haste concealed it in the bowels of her sweatshirt. She was accustomed to this, and was enough of a professional to know how to make it seem like she needed to lose a few pounds and not that she had one big bulge on her waist. When in the camera’s sight, she picked up a candy bar, to complete the act.

After five minutes, Margie approached the cashier. Taking him as disinterested and cold, she approached him with a tight smile.

“Slow day, no?”

“Not much goin’ on here. You?”

“Not much here either.” Margie paid for her candy bar and bid the cashier farewell.

Just then, Margie was zapped back to the present. The cashier stood there, frozen in time for a split second. She scanned the bakery, feeling the walls closing in on her.

“Stay put.” The cashier moved back, one eye affixed on the phone and the other on Margie. Margie knew what would happen next; the cashier would call the police, she would be arrested, and...

Margie could not let that happen. She had to consider the possibilities. Running away would not work, as she was sure the man would outrun her and tackle her to the ground. Staying frozen meant certain defeat. She had to act quickly and concisely. Eyeing the cashier as he dialed the numbers, she waited for his eyes to slip off of her. She narrowed her gaze and took a slight step back.

With one swift blow, she leaped forward. She swung the loaf of bread at the cashier’s face, a distracting measure. The cashier, previously cool and calculating, growled like a beast, his face contorted and his eyes mad with rage. The maneuver gave the Margie the time to pull her hands to her back pocket.  He took one giant step forward, but Margie was expecting this. Quickly, she grabbed the knife tucked deep in her pocket and cashier’s legs, piercing deep into his blood vessels and causing blood to gush out and stain the floor a dark red.

The cashier screamed in torment. Realizing that the attention of anyone within twenty meters of the bakery was likely drawn on them, Margie dropped the blood-stained knife and ran out expeditiously. She refused to look back at the cashier grabbing onto the rails. She refused to look back at the crowd of people gathering around the bakery. She refused to look back at the items she stole or at the bloody knife that meant years in prison.

Summoning all of his strength, the cashier wattled out the door. As loud as he could, he bellowed, “GET HER! SOMEONE, GET HER!”  Margie heard a stampede of people coming up on her. She sped up and looked behind her.

Margie came to a very abrupt start, pushing her organs to her spine. Before stood a large man in a heavy jacket, similar to the cashier. He grabbed at her shoulder and shook her like a piece of plastic.

“I’ve got ya’!” The man declared, putting his weight on her shoulders. Feeling the rumble of the crowd, Margie pent up and drew on her energy. She paused, indicating surrender, and then with all her might kicked the man’s groin.

The man screamed with unbearable agony and fell to the ground. Margie did not stop. She hit the ground sprinting, darting into alleyways, sprinting into crowds of children, and pushing aside mothers with their strollers. She zoned them all out, focusing solely on gliding through the streets.

After three minutes of incessant running, Margie came to a precipitous stop near an alleyway. She fell down panting, throbbing with defeat. After two minutes of excessive panting, Margie rose up and headed for the alleyways. In the darkness, she passed the streets that she ran past, studying them from afar. They were quiet, barren, and dingy.

Her rendezvous was precariously close to the bakery. Margie could hear the sound of and chatter. All of the attention in the area was drawn towards the bloody cashier and his bakery. A chill passed through the streets, engulfing Margie in a breeze.

On a bench just behind the bakery sat a little boy dressed in a Red Sox shirt, a navy blue cap, and rusty blue jeans. He was merely four, hands holding nothing but stretched out and bent upward, holding some great weight.

The boy’s head bobbed up and looked straight at Margie. A mix of relief and surprise flooded his face. He grinned and raced toward her.

“Mommy! Mommy! Where've you been?” The boy wrapped his arms around his mother’s legs, beaming with hope and enthusiasm.  

Margie’s voice, previously fierce and empowered, shrank to a wheeze. She caressed her son’s ruffled and grabbed him by the hand. The boy shuddered for a second, then followed his mother. The pair walked to the bench; Margie sat down first, followed by her son next to her. Margie drew in air, sucking in the world’s suffering, hate, and anger.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve got nothing to eat today Larry.”

a crushing blow. It knocked the wind right out of Margie, more than the mile she had to run, more than the embarrassment of being caught, more than the thought of having to steal and lie to feed herself and her child.

Larry brought his hands to his face, pressing them on his eyes as he let out a deep and grinding moan. He looked up, gazing at the poster of The Sound of Music.

“Mommy! I’m hungry,” cried Larry. “I haven’t eaten in days!”

“Shh!” Margie hissed, immediately regretting it. Larry fell into his mother's lap, defeated and powerless. His cry was intense but soft and barely audible. It was the cry of the world’s unseen and unknown in the sullen recesses of everywhere.

Margie refused to cry. She refused to let the pain go through. She held her son’s tiny head in her lap, cradling it while she rocked back and forth. The streets were dark and narrow, closing in on them. Margie could hear the sirens blasting, the commotion just outside the bakery. She could hear the rumble and rage, she could feel the ground shaking before her. She could feel her world envelop her. She could feel the snakes slithering about, ready to devour the rancid shell of a human that she was.

For years, she lurked in the shadows, surviving off of the waste. She developed an art for stealing, for lying, for hurting. She gave birth to Larry in a cold damp alleyway with no man to hold her hand or no friend to console her. She never felt more alone, more vulnerable, than that moment. She had kept up the act, she had built herself into a voracious woman, stepping into the blinding light only to find herself crawling back to the shadows; her home, her solace, and her life. Today was the breaking day, where the road ends and all that is left is a desolate wasteland.

Larry’s cry calmed to a whimper, his face rested on his mother’s cold lap.  Her eyes were glassy and cold, but she would not cry. She could not, she would not. She would not let those vermin tear her apart as she cried like some wobbling infant. She could only think of Larry now, how the snakes would devour him first, squeezing him to death as she watched. She knew this very well: they would never eat the appetizer after the main course.

There was no light at the end of the tunnel, no saving grace. There was no hope for them, only time could tell their quietus. Pitiful, yes, but was this not the nature of these things? The utter hopelessness was approaching, darkening all dark places and snuffing out all light. The snakes were advancing, showing themselves in the thick black. She had accepted it: utter and irreparable defeat.

The tears came rolling through.



Submitted: January 07, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Honoré Montague. All rights reserved.

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