Monica does the math in her head while she looks at the feminine hygiene products. Even if she buys the generic brands, she still won’t have enough money this week to cover rice, beans, coffee, tampons, and insulin. It’s Monday, and she won’t get paid until Friday. She could overdraw her account… Her heart pounds as she contemplates the overdraft fee. She closes her eyes and tries to think carefully. The insulin is a non-negotiable. She has lived with diabetes since she was twelve. She weighs the options. Mentally runs through the possibilities.
Few people bother to leave tips for the cleaning staff at the motel where she works, so she can’t count on more than a few dollars coming that way, but maybe she could wait to buy food until she has some tip money. Might get lucky. She could sneak some coffee singlets out of the housekeeping carts. Or she could buy some food and steal toilet paper from the bathrooms at work and stuff her underwear. Hope to God she doesn’t bleed through.
She could go home and call her father. Beg for forgiveness and money. But even if he believed that she was sorry for dropping out of college after one semester and shacking up with Brianna for a year and a half he might not be willing to help out and wire her any money. He is all about bootstraps and sleeping in the bed you made. And she’s not sorry for who she is. Even if she does regret quitting school sometimes.
She could steal the insulin. That would leave her with enough money to buy some tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. Ibuprofen too.
If she got caught taking anything – even just a roll of toilet paper – from the motel, her sleazy manager Dan would either fire her or hold it over her head. She needs the job more than ever since she and Brie split. Monica takes a deep breath. Holds it in for a second before she releases it. Her lungs slowly deflating as she decides. She puts the generic tampons in the basket. At the pharmacy counter she asks if she can pay at the regular checkout. She points to her basket and says she has more shopping to do.
The bored pharmacist shrugs, “Sure.” Cracks her gum and saunters away from the counter and back through the door that no doubt leads to shelves of antibiotics and painkillers.
In the coffee aisle, she fills a bag with light roast beans. Takes it to the grinding machine. Pours them in. The grounds begin sliding down the metal shoot and into the bag. She takes the vial of insulin. Her fingers tremble a bit, but she drops it in with the coffee.
She still has the paper pharmacy bag to deal with. When she walks through the dairy and produce sections, she helps herself to the samples on offer. Discards all her trash in the bins.
This is the first time she’s stolen anything since the tenth grade when she snuck some of her dad’s cigarettes and a bottle of cheap gin out of the house. She feels bad but mentally bargains with herself. She’ll never do it again. If she can stay well and not miss any more shifts, she’ll get a raise soon. $.42 more an hour. That’ll help.
At checkout she writes a check. She’ll have $8.13 until Friday. Maybe a little more if some of the guests leave tips.
Ray Ball, PhD, is a history professor and writer who lives in Alaska. She is the author of two history books, and her creative work has recently appeared in Coffin Bell, Ellipsis Zine, Moria, and UCity Review. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee. Ray serves as an associate editor of the literary journal Alaska Women Speak. You can find her in the classroom, the archives, or on Twitter @ProfessorBall.