TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The dark water racing under the bridge contrasted sharply with the yellow and orange leaves riding atop the ripples. Balding maple trees shadowed the riverbank while the remains of a cornfield rustled violently in the cold wind. Standing on the cobblestones by his trusty wooden cart, he shivered. It was going to be a bad winter but they were well prepared. Suddenly, a strong gust brought the sound of maniacal laughter. He stepped quickly to the back of the cart, and threw back the burlap cover…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
“It’s really not that hard,” he said giddily.
“You’ve done it?” I had to ask.
“Oh yeah,” he beamed. “We both have. Together.”
“I looked at her and she was smiling broadly too. “He’s right. It’s totally not that hard.”
“You steal them?” I clarified.
“He’s probably thinking about the cameras,” she offered.
“The cameras?” I asked, not following her comment.
“Sure, the store cameras,” she said.
“Makes sense,” I agreed. “So how do you get around that?”
“Should we tell him?” she asked.
“Depends. Can we trust him? You ever steal anything?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied instinctively.
“Truth is, we don’t actually take ’em from the store,” she explained. “We take ’em in the parking lot.”
“It’s all human nature,” he offered. “Mother fills her cart, takes it to the lot. She puts the kid in the car first. Mother doesn’t leave her baby out, ‘specially on a windy day. Those are the best days to steal ’em. Windy or rainy, or both.”
He continued. “I pull my car up behind hers as she loads the groceries and asks where I can find some crazy brand of milk. The mother says if I’m looking for any kind of milk or eggs, they got ‘em right here. Plenty of lactose-free choices. The mothers tend to be real helpful and nice.”
She added. “Plus he is very charming right? One mom drew him a map with an X on the dairy section! We still got it I think.”
I could feel their palpable derangement.
The three of us were in a supermarket parking lot. I had just come out of the store when I bumped into them for the second time today. The first was up on the bridge, three miles away. Fall day with rain threatening, dark water racing under the bridge contrasted sharply with the yellow and orange leaves riding atop the ripples.
It felt like a long, cold winter waited ahead.
Standing outside my car I had just opened the trunk, but some voices caused me to quickly throw the burlap cover back on my load and shut it.
“Morning there,” the man’s voice startled me. He looked to be 45, and she a few years younger, but aging fast.
“Morning,” I managed. Where had they come from?
“You ain’t thinking of jumping?” She laughed, looking down at the river below.
“No-No. Nothing like that, just some odd rattling made me stop.”
“Better look into that,” the man advised. “You don’t want things falling apart.” They continued by.
“Good day,” she hailed back.
When I came back out of the market completing my morning errands, there they were again.
“Small world,” he said. “Car okay?”
Now it was me being curious about how they operated. “What happens next?” I asked.
“Well, I thank the mother again,” he continued. “Let her know how gracious I am and go inside.”
“And do you go inside?” I asked him.
“Of course I do,” he said. “And I go buy an almond milk and a soy milk and some waffles and some ice cream and a scratch off and some flowers, too. I let them see me on the cameras.”
I asked, “So wait you…?”
But she couldn’t wait to tell it. “While he’s behind the car being all Prince Charming I just take my time and help the baby from the back seat. Simple. I drop the kid into my own stroller and I go into the store too. They look at video for who’s leaving he store, not for who’s coming in.”
I finally could see it. “So mom calls security and they’re all trying to figure out who’s left with the child, but you’re still right there?”
The parking lot seeming windier than before. Was that rain I felt? Were they planning to snatch some kid today?
“Don’t they come looking for you?”
“If they find me, I’ve got soy milk. Flowers for the wife, sometimes tampons, too. Frozen waffles. No nutrition, but stretches a dad’s budget, right? They come find me as a witness,” he said grinning.
They looked normal up on the bridge earlier.
I asked her. “They look for you?”
“Once,” she admitted. “I went so far as to nurse my baby right there in the store. Security moved on real quick.”
“Your baby?” It’s someone else’s baby,” I stressed, forgetting to ask how she could nurse.
“Someone who leaves a baby unprotected?” he said. “The first one? After four days the mother stopped looking.”
“How do you know?”
“We thought about giving the girl back,” he said. “I followed the mother and she’s in a bar telling her friend it really was a relief, how she wasn’t ready for all that responsibility. How about that?”
“How many times have there been?” I asked.
They looked at each other, lips counting silently. Independently, they’d each lost count.
The rain started falling. “I need to go,” I said, taking a few backward steps toward my car.
“We can trust you right?” he asked.
“Yes, yes. Nice meeting you.” I scooped up my lone bag of groceries, and pulled the car door shut, tears running down my face now.
Were they letting me leave? Was I letting this happen? The rain and wind an ominous sign.
I drove home and pulled into the garage. I went inside, trembling, and found my wife.
She looked at me and could tell something was happening.
“Honey,” I said. “What if I told you we can fix things? Replace Suzy?”
Maybe it didn’t have to be a long cold winter after all.