by Stacy Post
“She’s back,” Carlos said to Don, the other security guard. He tapped the monitor to clear the screen. They spent most of their time reading department store register transactions for fraudulent returns and cash credits. Any excuse to escape the needle-in-the-haystack work was appreciated.
Carlos snickered. “She brought a bigger one this time.” On the screen, a young woman in a pea coat and a floppy hat paced at the main entrance. She carried a large cardboard box and set it down near the curb.
Don rolled over in his chair, set down his slightly stale Martin Luther King Day cupcake and took a closer look. “How do you know it’s her?”
Carlos squinted. “Her old Volvo with the teacher plates…she always moves it in and out of the parking spot at least three times.”
The lady paused in the road, turned and glanced at the camera. With quick steps, she moved to the car and got in.
“Want to see if it’s another one?” Don said with his mouth full of cupcake. Brown crumbs tumbled to his sleeve and he brushed them away.
“Sure.” Carlos grabbed his security jacket and checked the volume on his walkie-talkie before placing it on his holster. “Let’s go.”
They strutted through the almost vacant department store. Clerks tagged the dwindling merchandise. Beeps of scanners echoed behind them. Don held the door open for Carlos. Outside, a light snow cascaded and collected in the cracks of the sidewalk.
Carlos cupped his hands and blew into them. “I should’ve brought gloves.” He approached the box with little hesitation, even though it was unmarked and taped closed. He waved Don closer. “There’s no note this time.”
Don pulled out his pocketknife and gestured that he was going to open it.
“Be careful. It could be a bomb,” Carlos said and they both laughed.
Two weeks prior, Meredith was shopping with her new sister-in-law. Although she and Jordan had received thirteen place settings, no one had purchased the duvet cover from their wedding registry.
Meredith asked, “Do you think he’d like the plaid duvet or the striped one?”
Her sister-in-law Roxie fiddled with her belly button ring. “You mean, ‘Mr. Hospital Corners’? He likes boring.” She glared at her for a moment and then scratched her navel. “This is driving me crazy.”
Meredith saw Roxie’s navel was red and swollen. She shuddered. “Looks like that hurts.” They were still getting to know each other. For Jordan’s sake.
“Not as bad as it did when they pierced this,” she stuck out her tongue with a silver rod pierced through the flesh. “I almost passed out!”
Meredith tried not to roll her eyes. “Do you think about the example you’re setting for Levi?” She held up the plaid and the striped duvets and couldn’t decide.
“Nope.” Roxie pointed to the striped one.
Meredith set that one down.
Roxie strolled down the next aisle. “He’s with his father most of the time anyway.” She sighed and flipped her hair.
Meredith examined her list. Who needed two large crystal vases? It would be at least five years before they could buy a home with a formal dining room. Had that been Jordan’s idea?
She looked up. Roxie danced at the edge of the women’s section, holding up a blue sheath dress. A devil in a blue dress. She spun around. Her low cut jeans revealed a snake tattoo rising from the base of her spine.
She yelled across the store, “It’s only five dollars!”
Meredith nodded and closed her eyes. She was grateful no one knew her here.
When they left the store, Roxie stopped to light a cigarette. “Take a look at this,” she said and grabbed a stroller parked in the bushes. “C’mon, let’s put it in the car.” She pushed it off the curb.
“What?” Meredith replied, disbelieving what she just heard. “You’re being ridiculous.” She glanced around for someone else to discourage her. “What do you need a stroller for? Isn’t Levi too big for one?”
Roxie nodded. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” She smiled slyly. “I could sell it at the flea market. Make a little money. What do you say?”
Meredith couldn’t speak. How much could Roxie even get for a stroller? A car drove past and she gave the driver a look that said, Rescue me, NOW.
No such luck.
Roxie tossed her overstuffed purse into the stroller and pushed it past the cars.
Meredith followed a few paces behind so no one would think they were together.
“C’mon, Fuddy-Duddy. I won’t tell if you won’t,” Roxie taunted.
When Meredith reached her Volvo, she reluctantly unlocked the trunk.
Roxie set the stroller and her purse inside. She slammed the lid and laughed. “There.”
The entire drive home, Meredith glanced at the rearview mirror. She anticipated police car lights that never appeared.
The next day, Meredith returned to the department store and stood in a long line. She’d brought a paperback novel to read while she waited, but had a hard time focusing on the words.
When the Customer Service clerk glared at her, she asked, “Has anyone reported a lost stroller?”
The heavy-set lady behind the counter snapped in a gruff voice, “No. Next!”
Meredith drove to the baby superstore and purchased a new one. She couldn’t find the same style, so she selected a lightweight model with colorful fabric. Driving back by the department store, she stopped at the curb, jumped out and left the stroller where Roxie had absconded with the first one.
Several people saw her and one woman reported that a lady had abandoned a stroller near the entrance and gave a description of her car. Carlos and Don stored the new stroller in their office, hoping the unknown lady would return to claim it.
A week later, Meredith returned but didn’t enter the store. She called from her cell phone to see if anyone had claimed the stroller.
The same customer service lady yelled into the phone, “One family looked at it, but it wasn’t theirs.”
Convinced it hadn’t been a fair swap, she returned with a deluxe model and left it in the same place. She wrote a note on the box, For the family missing a stroller.
Once again, a good citizen reported that a lady left a package near the bushes. This time someone, who was concerned about the contents, had written down her license plate number.
Carlos and Don asked the police to return with the identifying information so they could contact her. But who knew how long that would take?
Meredith sat in her parked Volvo and stared at the box containing the third stroller. She slid down her leather seat. Then she tugged on the floppy hat, but her sparkling delicate diamond caught the edge. She jerked her hand free and hit the horn.
“Shit.” She squeezed her eyes and winced. The poor family missing a stroller, what were they doing now? Why hadn’t she stood up to Roxie? Why hadn’t she told Jordan?
The guards exited the store and walked around the box. The heavier one opened it and pulled out the mega stroller. This one had all the bells and whistles and had cost her the wedding check from her favorite uncle who’d told her to buy something nice with it.
–refers to Scot Siegel’s photo Devil in a Blue Dress