It was very sunny today and the doctor had told Marie to start wearing sunscreen. They had to take off a new skin tag recently, but at her older age she didn’t care. What was a few wrinkles to making her face all shiny and ruining her makeup. The lipstick had some spf or whatever they called it.
On her way to the supermart she recalled that she had no cash. All she wanted was their milk and they had a ten dollar minimum to use credit card. It was a small store-too small to really qualify as a supermarket-a holdover from the old days before big box stores stated taking over. Until recently she had a credit card but let’s just say her spending went too far. Now she had the credit bureau on her back and at her age shouldn’t have to deal with that.
Anyway, she was trying to stay positive today. The bank was nicely air conditioned when she entered and was tempted to just go in and have a seat with no intention of doing any business except to cool off. The ATM was working fine and she withdrew her twenty dollars and printed her receipt. When she arrived home is when she actually looked at it. But the receipt made her feel like her sight was failing. No sunscreen would help her if she was seeing double vision. Maybe this was how the end begins, double vision and before you know it in the nursing home where no one comes to visit.
“This must be a mistake,” said Marie.
She had just come in and emptied her pockets onto the kitchen table. She was drinking a glass of lemonade when she almost coughed it up. Her husband Arnie was coming out of the bathroom. It was inconveniently located right off the kitchen so the flush echoed as if in the same room.
“This toilet is slow again,” said Arnie. “It must be those damn pipes again…”
“Speaking of pipes, just pipe down and close the bathroom door-it stinks. Okay, this will blow your mind.”
Arnie threw his hands up in exaggerated offense. He hated when she talked with suspense. “Just tell me and stop making me guess things all the time.”
Marie smiled nervously and Arnie knew something big was up. She was not the type to smile nervously and rarely did she do it.
“The receipt,” said Marie. “It says we have a million in the account. We only had ten thousand before.”
Marie couldn’t sleep that night, talking as Arnie was drifting off to sleep, each time waking him up. She had a habit of doing this but now had gone further and nudged him awake by poking his shoulder.
“It reminds me of when I was a girl and sneaking in candy Halloween time. I didn’t know where to hide it or what to do with it. But I knew candy was frowned on by Mama.”
Arnie sighed deeply. “What’s your point Marie? What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”
“What does that even mean-I’m talking important things here.”
By this time Arnie knew he wouldn’t get any sleep. “It's an old phrase, I didn’t make it up.”
“Well,” said Marie. “It’s not a phrase used nowadays, get with the times.”
Marie got up and started getting busy.
“Now why are you bustling around women…”
But Marie knew what she was doing.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. We have to return the money,” she said. “It’s too easy. Good things don’t come so easy, so free like it dropped out of the sky.”
“No, listen to me,” said Artie. A panic was rising up in his voice. “Every so often even the average guy gets a break. We have been given something that can’t be looked away. Look, I’m not interested in being a nice person-I’ve learned it doesn’t pay to be too nice. I want to live comfortable in my old age.”
Marie was digging through draws and stopped, her stocky frame covering up her shadow.
“You sit on your butt for years and now want the easy way out. I’m telling you it’s not clean money and I wasn’t brought up that way.”
She couldn’t find the number that she needed. It was in an old address book. She went back to bed without a word. Arnie looked like he was already asleep but then he spoke.
“Don’t do anything stupid Marie. Think about what that money could do for us.”
He began snoring shortly after and that was fine with her.
Her cousin Janice always knew what to do and probably one of the few people she could trust. Marie called her on her landline since she had lost the cell phone number. She let her know what was up and was met with dumbfounded silence.
This was followed be an “Oh. My. God.” Janice had recently been widowed from the car salesman and was now living it up in her older age with the lawyer named Sidney. It was always good to have a lawyer in the family.
“Well, you can’t keep it,” she said. “It’s tainted money, not a gift credit from Amazon.”
“Easy for you to talk,” said Marie. “I’m not married to the wealthy lawyer, that would be you. Arnie is pushing me to keep it but I’m not sure.”
For the first time in a long time, Marie stayed on the phone without saying a word. Most of her calls were chatty and over talkative. But now there was something at stake that put weight to words.
“Marie, you know what’s right. As tempting as it seems, I wouldn’t trust that money. This world is too scary to take chances on things like that. I’ll ask Sidney for his advice, hold on.”
Before Marie could object, her cousin was off telling Sidney about her new found fortune. Of course he advised to report it to the bank and avoid any problems.
That is what she intended to do that morning since it was on the way to her hair appointment. When she stopped into the bank they informed her that the money had been withdrawn that very morning, not long before she arrived.
Marie went through three phases: surprise, confusion, and relief. It wasn’t hers to begin with and now it was at least remedied. What would she do with all that money anyway. That was the first thing she said as she walked in.
“I’m so relieved…you wouldn’t believe what happened.”
Arnie was in the armchair reading the newspaper closely as if people still read newspapers for the latest news. When he didn’t look at her Marie shook her head and continued.
“The bank said the money was taken out. So now there’s no concern because it was an error of course.”
He continued to look at the newspaper and turned the page. Marie stared at him. He always found new ways to tick her off.
“Well, you can at least give me the courtesy of looking at me if only to see how nice I look. And no one reads papers anymore. They use the computer thingy so get with the times.”
She walked past him to the kitchen, trying not to give him any more attention.
“Marie,” he said.
She knew that tone, it was cautious like breaking bad news to someone. Either that or he wasn’t feeling well.
“What?” she called over her shoulder. “Nice of you to finally answer.”
“Charlie is on his way over.”
This was their son who was always too busy to visit. This was the son who couldn’t even visit for Mother’s Day. She was just not in the mood for this backhanded talk today. She walked back into the living room with an impatient look. Her expressive face always showed her feelings and was hard to ignore.
“What did you say? Come on, spit it out Arnie and stop beating around the bush.”
He folded the paper and lay it down on the coffee table before him.
“I said Charlie is coming over. The bank said the money was withdrawn because it was. There is no mix up on that for you to be confused.”
This day was already more than she could handle and it wasn’t afternoon yet.
“So Charlie took the money and you led him to it. This was your doing then. You’re such a fool! Now we have a situation to deal with.”
“You got to understand Marie, we already have a situation. This is taking control of it.”
“I understand perfectly well. It’s money and we all like it, but this was not your decision to make behind my back…I need to sit down.”
Marie felt herself going to a new stage of grief which was close to exhaustion. A knock at the door and Marie shifted in the dining room chair she had sunk into.
“Let him stand there like the fool he is,” said Marie.
Arnie shifted uncomfortably and heaved himself out of the chair. The knock sounded at the door again and a voice could be heard saying “Come on already.”
By the time Artie got to the door, Charlie was looking exasperated. “Someone almost saw me waiting in the hall. It’s best not to be identified when you just took money from a bank.”
The last part he dropped to a whisper so Marie couldn’t hear it well from her seat in the dining area. She wasn’t even going to stand for him. The idea that her own son could do this to her.
“How could you do this to me?” she blurted out. “How could the both of you be so stupid to think this was a good idea.”
She pulled herself up by holding onto the table unlike her usual self and walked towards the kitchen. “Go plan another robbery, I’ll be in my room resting my head.”
A few seconds later the door to her room could indeed be heard closing loudly.
Ten minutes later the door opened and Marie walked out in a very casual manner. The only thing that gave it away was the flush in her face from raising her pressure.
“Okay, I’m too old for this. Since you’re both so clever and have things figured out, now what do we do?”
Her husband and son looked at her without blinking for a moment.
“Are you two awake? I can’t keep repeating myself.”
“Marie,” said Arnie. “We can’t stay here now.”
“He’s right,” said Charlie. “We must quickly pack and leave. And the sooner the better.”
They were piled into the jeep that Charlie had come in. Marie and Arnie had given up owning a car on concern for Arnie’s bum knee and Marie never learning to drive. They were predictably heading for the state line and Marie was a bundle of nerves.
“This is insane,” she said. “I’m so exasperated already. Don’t you watch the news? We’ll never make it.”
Arnie said, “Relax Marie. Charlie has things under control.”
“Under control my ass. A son who never visits and gets involved with shady people. A husband who sits on his butt and never contributes. But you’re going to tell me how things are under control and thanks to me making sure we have a home and being responsible.”
She was working herself into a hysteria and Charlie glanced back through the rear view mirror. He wasn’t talking but the look in his eyes was all shifty.
“I’m trying to drive here Ma. If you don’t stop I’m going too get into an accident and then what good would that do any of us.”
They drove on past tired looking surroundings of small, bland houses set back behind barriers and railings. They passed empty land and countless turn offs. Marie was this close to jumping out of her skin and she could feel a bundle of nerves inside her. She managed to give herself a pep talk and soon got her act together.
“Since you’re treating me like a child with no common sense I’ll ask are we there yet?”
Charlie flicked a switch on his dashboard and a radio came on.
“Let’s hear the ballgame,” said Arnie.
“Dad, it’s not an AM radio. This is a police scanner.”
A loud laugh sounded from the backseat.
“Arnie, you fool. You think Charlie would tune into the oldies station at a time like this. And now we’re actually taking a family trip after years of scrimping and saving only to never go.”
Arnie was looking at her and then chuckled which caught on and became a laugh so that they were both laughing now. Their son glanced nervously between the two of them in the mirror. Then he broke into a wide grin.
“Better late then never,” he said.
They drove for another long stretch of highway and managed to hit little traffic, until now. They went from smooth sailing to anchored in a short span of time. Charlie checked his watch impatiently and they sat in quiet.
He honked his horn to which his father said, “Will you lay off the horn? No on is moving-you’re just contributing to the noise.”
“We can’t just sit here,” said Charlie. He turned on the police scanner and listened intently. There were police blockades ahead slowing things down but no telling why they were there.
“Police up ahead,” said Charlie. “It could just be an accident, but we can’t be sure.
“I thought everything was under control,” said Marie who had been silent for a while now.
“We look like a normal family,” said Arnie. “Let’s play it cool and just act normal. They don’t know who they’re looking for anyway.”
“You mean they’re not sure,” said Charlie. “But there must be some description out there…okay, what’s our story?”
This time he looked back over his shoulder at Marie. It took her a second to realize he was asking her.
“I should know?” she said. “All of a sudden my opinion matters. Tell them we’re going to see my cousin Janice and her husband Sidney the lawyer.”
Charlie said “Where do they live?”
“They don’t live here,” said Arnie. “We would have to turn off the highway and double back.”
“Did I mention he’s a lawyer?” said Marie.
“Hey you never know," said Arnie. "He may come to his senses. We can even hide out there until things cool off.”
The traffic began to move and Charlie signaled into the next lane. He turned off the highway at the next opportunity.
“We’re not going to hide,” said Charlie. “But we have to keep moving.”
Marie gave an audible sigh. “I haven’t met Sidney the lawyer yet-it’s been a while since we visited Janice. I guess there’s a first for everything. "