- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Ships from: Long Branch, NJ
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Ships from: Blairstown, NJ
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Gladys Durstweiller was standing in front of Teeter's Collectibles on Elmwood Avenue putting on her gloves when, without any warning, a scrawny woman in red glasses burst out of the store and accused her of shoplifting. It was so horrible, Gladys could hardly believe it was happening. She wouldn't have gone in the store except that she wanted to avoid a drunk who looked as if he might be going to talk to her. Inside, she'd asked about bus schedules and then looked at a collection of glass-and-silver perfume bottles on top of an old dresser just to be polite. Now this!
"Excuse me?" she said. As if she hadn't understood a word. "I think there's been some mistake." She appealed to the man who'd followed the scrawny woman out onto the street. He had a bow tie and wavy gray hair.
"I don't think so, miss," he said. "Let's not make a fuss." He squinted at the rooftops across the street as if he was getting signals from somebody up there.
"I'm afraid I don't have the faintest idea what you are talking about. Now, if you don't mind . . ."
"Mavis?" said the man to the scrawny woman. "Better call the police."
Gladys decided to run, but something was wrong with her legs. When she took a step, her foot seemed to go right through the pavement, and she sagged against the man's chest.
"Oh God, I didn't mean to," Gladys heard herself cry. "It was an accident!"
"Get her inside," said the man.
"No, no, no!" Gladys cried, and tried to fall in a heap on the ground. The man caught her under her arms. She could feel her blouse pull out of her waistband. A shoe came off, her jacket slid up over her head. She could smell her own smell, wild and terrified. Betweenthem, the man and woman dragged her into the shop. She heard the door slam.
"Please," she cried. "Please don't hurt me!"
"Shut up!" said the man, pushing her down in a chair. "No one's going to hurt you." He stepped back and adjusted his tie. His hair was mussed. She could see a smear of what must have been her own lipstick on his shirtfront. It would probably never come out. The man fished the perfume bottle--it was little and squat with a silver filigree around the neck--out of her pocket and showed it to her.
"This is a very serious matter," he said, and she burst into tears. She knew it was serious. She hadn't before. It hadn't seemed real. Not the perfume bottle. Not the store. Not the man with his wavy hair and the woman in the red glasses. They had all seemed parts of a dream.
"I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry I don't know what's the matter with me. I never stole anything before; I don't know what I was thinking," she cried.
"It was a stupid, stupid thing to do. You should know better. You want me to call the police? Is that what you want?" The man waved the perfume bottle about as if he might smash it down on her head.
"No, no. Please, please don't. Ohgodohgodohgod . . ."
"How old are you? Do you live at home? I'm going to call your father."
"Oh God, no, don't do that. He'll kill me. He really will. He beats on me all the time . . ." She listened in horror to the stories she was telling. Another father, not her own, took shape before her eyes. Small, dirty, smelling of drink. "He joined AA but that didn't make things any better. I don't understand. It was supposed to make him good, wasn't it?"
"No. Only sober," said the man. He seemed amused now, and Gladys felt her spirits rise. She told them awful things. That she'd been abused in Sunday school by the teacher, and that she'd had two abortions. All lies. The woman in the red glasses gave her a cup of tea and a box of Kleenex. When they let her go, the man asked her if she was going to steal again.
"Oh, no. I never will. I promise."
"You've been lucky this time. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I know it. I really do."
"All right, then . . ."
At the door Gladys felt all the muscles in her spine go absolutely rigid. She didn't want to go home, she realized.
"Can I come back?" she asked. "I mean sometime?"
"No. Never ever," said the man, and pushed her out into the sunshine.
When she got home, she cried her eyes out. Her mom and dad were at work, so she had the house to herself. It smelled of floor wax and Pine-Sol. The whole first floor was done in linoleum that showed every footprint. Her mother could tell at a glance if there'd been a burglar before she actually stepped inside.
Gladys didn't even check to see if they'd been burgled. She threw her jacket and bag on the couch, ran upstairs, and flung herself on her bed. She cried for the following reasons: She was ashamed of stealing, ashamed of having gotten caught, and of having lied about having a terrible home life. She was crying, too, because she was a little bit in love with the man who ran the antique store, and now she could never see him again.
What did it matter anyway? She was a married woman, Mrs. Joe Bob Durstweiller, and that was something else she was crying about. She was a nineteen-year-old married woman. She'd met Joe Bob at the Rainbow Rink where she'd gone to learn how to roller-skate. He'd insisted on giving her all sorts of advice, and she had appreciated his being there at her side the first couple of times around the oval wooden floor. He had held her hand tightly in his. His free hand had rested lightly in the small of her back. The fingers sitting there on the little shelf where her spine started to curve out had made her so tense that she'd soon had a backache. Still, those couple of trips around the rink had given him a hold on her that she hadn't been able to shake. Before she knew it, she was married and Joe Bob was going around telling everyone he was the one who taught her how to roller-skate. It wasn't even true! She'd really taught herself just like everybody else. She didn't want to be married, either, as she found out almost at once. She and Joe Bob had been separated six months. It had turned out that he was crazy. He was a sex maniac. Those were exactly the words her mother had used after Gladys had told her about the goings-on in that little tract house Joe Bob had taken her to out in Clarence.
From the Trade Paperback edition.