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Mother's Day by Aaron Wiegert

At 7:30, Andy Blankets walked up the cracked cement stairs from his basement efficiency apartment.  It had been a nice day with no rain, a first for the week, and plenty of sunshine.  Taking the keys from his pocket, he started towards the parking lot in the back yard.  Finding the long thin key to his two-door sedan, he saw a small bunny snacking on grass near the tire of another car.  He stopped and smiled.  Then he remembered what he was doing, creating a chain of thoughts that ended in an ambiguity about what to get his Mom for Mother’s Day.

He turned the key over and took off down the alley onto the main street of the campus town.  It was quite empty for a nice day, as everyone was likely at home with their Mother.  This made Andy feel guilty for getting such a late start as it was a ninety minute drive to his hometown.

Andy saw the Hillsbury welcome sign. Population: 2439.  The digital stereo display read 8:56, but it was an hour fast.  Regardless, the closest town with flowers is about fifteen minutes away.  He wasn’t sure that the store would be open and he didn’t know what it was called.  Come to think of it, he wasn’t even sure that Summerset had a flower shop.

“I can’t get my Mom a present from the gas station.” Andy said to himself.

Andy entered the town of Summerset from the West.  There is a gas station on each end of town, with a shopping square in the middle.  The one-way streets took him around the courthouse where he saw the white building with the green striped awning: Down Town Bouquets.  He pulled into one of the many empty angled parking spaces and got out.  As he faced the building he was greeted by a black sign with orange letters: Sorry, We’re Closed.

Damn it!  Andy looked at his watch.  It was past eight thirty and he had obviously missed supper.  With a sigh, he inadvertently blew the bangs from his face.  The courthouse behind him sat on its bulky foundation in the shade.  Andy turned towards The Dollar Store at the end of the square.  Not much better than a gas station, he thought.  Andy drove around the courthouse once again and parked in front of The Dollar Store.  This time he was greeted by a much friendlier sign.  He got out and walked past a row of yellow and pink tulips near the sidewalk.

The artificial grass carpet felt crispy under his feet as he pushed open the door, sounding the heavy clang of bells.  The mud rug looked like at some point it may have caught fire.  The square tile had yellowed and the wax no longer reflected the florescent light but simply served to highlight the scuffs and cracks.

The aisles were terribly disorganized, much like a Salvation Army.  There was plenty of empty space on the shelves and he had yet to see a store clerk.  Andy looked at the content of his pockets to see how much he had.  He pulled out his keys and cell phone but no wallet.  Musta fallen out in the car.  He went back out the door, ringing the clumsy bells and searched his car. No wallet.  While looking under the passenger seat, he found a quarter, then a dime.  He scooped all the silver coins from his cupholder and ashtray. Almost three dollars.  Mom would be proud.

With a pocketful of change, he went back inside and was greeted by a small septuagenarian wearing a white wool sweater.  He was about to ask this woman why she wasn’t at home on Mother’s Day, then realized that such questions often bring unexpected answers: her family was killed in a car accidentor her only daughter was institutionalized, or the five miscarriages she had caused her husband to take up with a younger woman leaving her barren and childless.  So instead he said hello and headed towards the back of the store.  Mirrors bordered the tops of walls and leaned in at the top so one could monitor the entire store from the front, a la Walgreens.

Who would want to steal anything from this store?  Mesh bags of jumbo Easter eggs, plastic lawn furniture, inflatable swimming pools, board games that no one would ever play.  To his surprise he found an item that would be worthy of taking.  Yes, it was even worthy of buying.  It was a hand blown glass vase shaped like a seahorse.  Brilliant yellows, oranges, and pinks blended together soaking up the artificial light.  There must be a mistake, certainly this isn’t for sale.  The bottom of the vase had a small rectangular sticker in which the price had been scribbled out by a permanent marker.

Andy was afraid to take it to the front and ask the price.  He only had $2.80 jingling in his pocket.  What would this old lady think if he didn’t have enough money to buy an empty vase as a gift to give to the woman who had given him life?

Then again, how long could someone stay in the back of a store like this before they are accused of shoplifting? I’m sure quite a long time, but such a person would likely be wearing an old shawl with cigarette burns and jerking along one of the store’s three dilapidated wire carts.

Quietly placing the vase on the counter, he watched the old woman.  Her stiff grey hair remained motionless as her head bobbled from side to side.  She had busied herself with a small cardboard box beneath the adjacent register. Andy considered leaving.  Then she lifted the entire box, placed it on the counter in front of her and he was able to get her attention.

“There’s no price tag on this vase.  I mean there is, but it’s been blacked out.”

“Let’s see here…”  She lifted the vase over her head with both hands like some sacrificial gesture.  Andy looked at the dark grey name tag hanging limply from her vest, it read:  Maggie.  She set the vase on the counter and smiled with the left side of her mouth.  She wasn’t about to rush into any decision, because for her there were few.

“Okay, Maggie, what’s the damage?”

She either didn’t hear him or wanted to keep up the appearance of poise and focus.  Turning toward the cash register she pressed a button, looked back at the vase and pressed another button.  The customer screen said WELCOME in green digital letters.  He looked over at Maggie and then looked back at the screen. It read: 1.99.

Now that that was over, her head began to bobble gently about as it had before.

“So, how much is it with tax?”

“No.” She groaned unintentionally, “there is no tax.”

Andy took the money from his pocket along with his car keys.  He laid out four quarters in a stack, seven dimes in a pile and six nickels to the right of that.  She pushed a few buttons and the register opened.   Then she scooped the quarters into her left hand and dropped them clumsily into the register, then she corralled the nickels and dropped them in, then the dimes.  All the while the machine was printing off the receipt.

Andy was waiting to make sure he had given her the proper amount.

“I don’t need a receipt.”

She dug her thumb into the place which held the pennies and dragged one out holding it securely in her jittery hand as the receipt finished printing.  While she tore off the receipt, Andy picked up the vase ensuring that she wouldn’t put it in a bag.  Holding out her hands, looking from left to right she said, “Here is your penny and your receipt”.

Andy thanked her and pulled open the door.  He tossed the receipt and the penny into the garbage can and looked down at the empty vase.  Then he looked at the tulips still blushing pink and yellow under the streetlights as the sky conceded its color.  Then he looked inside at Maggie.

He unlocked the car and set the vase carefully in the passenger seat.  He looked down both sides of the street.  There was no traffic, pedestrian or otherwise.  A few parked cars had been there since he arrived and the only person he could see was the clerk.  He started the car.  As he stood up it hit him like a flash of white light: NOW.

First step, left foot on the pavement, then a skip up to the curb, straight for the tulips. There and back in the car.  Five perfect tulips, two yellow and three pink, stems and petals intact.  The clerk was on the phone inside.  Andy’s car was in gear and past the courthouse.

“No need to worry.  Don’t worry.  It’s just fine.”

He turned down an alleyway and a white cruiser pulled out and forced Andy to stop.  The man in the car smiled from beneath his cowboy hat.  Stepping out of the car, he looked powerful but overweight.  What’s going on?  Do cops wear cowboy hats around here? Andy turned off his car.

The man approaching Andy’s car appeared to be the Sheriff. Andy rolled down his window.

“How’s it goin?”

“Well, that jus’ depends.”

Andy waited for the Sheriff to extrapolate.

“You’re drivin’ down ma alley, see? An’…”

You’re alley?”  Andy interrupted.

“Yas, My alley.”  He pointed to his six-star badge.

“Is there a problem?”

“Thing is…lotta people come ta town ta see the flowers, ya know?”

“Yeah, like for the tulips.”

“Tulips.” Said the Sheriff taking off his hat and setting it on the hood of Andy’s car.

There was only one street light in the alley making it difficult for Andy to tell what sort of expression the Sheriff wore, but he could smell the alcohol on the large man’s breath.

Red and blue lights bounced off the brick buildings.  As another police car pulled into the alley and parked behind Andy.  He was trapped.

“I need ya ta get outta the car.” said the Sherriff.

Two officers approached Andy’s car.

“Wait right there!” Said the cop who just pulled up, his hand on his holster.

Andy had his door halfway open, with one foot on the ground.  The Sherriff put on his cowboy hat.

“Earl, what’s goin on here?  We can’t have this kinda thing goin on all the time.  Not no more!”  Said the second policeman.

“That’s what I been tellin the boy!” Said the Sheriff as another cop emerged from the passenger seat of the squad car.

With three uniformed men standing alongside Andy’s car, he was froze somewhere between sitting and standing.

The Sheriff asked Andy to get out of the car.  He stood up and shut the door.  The shorter officer motioned for Andy to follow him toward his squad car. “Earl, this is not acceptable!”  The tall cop was pointing toward Andy’s car.

Shit they saw the flowers.

“Jus’ lemme do my job!” The Sheriff said.

What the fuck is going on?  Andy stood with his hands in his pockets.

“You know we’re gonna have ta take this into the station?” said the tall cop.

The shorter cop started towards Andy’s car.  Shit.  What’s the fine for taking a few flowers on Mother’s Day?

“You go back ta patrollin’ your area and I’ll go back ta mine.” Said the Sherriff.

“Not this time, Earl.”

The tall cop grabbed the Sheriff by the wrists and the shorter cop slapped on the cuffs.  Andy stood by and looked around.  Do I Run?

The two cops guided the Sheriff past Andy and into the squad car.

“He’s not the Sheriff.” Said the shorter cop, “this week he was the Sheriff, last week he was Santa Clause.”

Andy went back to his car and waited for the cruiser to back away.  The interior lights came on as Andy started the engine.

Five tulips rested beautifully on the floor of the passenger side.  Andy leaned over and placed them in the seahorse shaped vase.  It was a present any mom would be happy to receive in the final hours of Mother’s Day.

Aaron D. Wiegert hopes to live with the courage and integrity that his late friend, Andi, showed to him in the (+/-) 16 years that she inhabited our little planet.

© 2012 Aaron D. Wiegert ont-%�l:X\�� color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; “>The two cops guided the Sheriff past Andy and into the squad car.

“He’s not the Sheriff.” Said the shorter cop, “this week he was the Sheriff, last week he was Santa Clause.”

Andy went back to his car and waited for the cruiser to back away.  The interior lights came on as Andy started the engine.

Five tulips rested beautifully on the floor of the passenger side.  Andy leaned over and placed them in the seahorse shaped vase.  It was a present any mom would be happy to receive in the final hours of Mother’s Day.