Apples

By Wanda McLaughlin

I hurry along the sidewalk toward the supermarket, watching for broken concrete that once caught my shoe and made me fall.

The wind blows cold and I shiver through layers of shirts and my all-weather coat. The faded dungarees and two of the long-sleeve flannel shirts belonged to Jim. Since he’s died, I’ve washed them so many times I can almost see through them.

The clothing is soft, like Jim’s eyes when he’d look at me. It’s as if he’s still holding me when I wear them.

I stop and button the coat, truly all-weather, worn through snow, rain, sleet, and windy March days like today.

A boy on a skateboard heads toward me and I move as quickly as my arthritic knees allow. He veers off the sidewalk onto the street. Turning, I watch as he jumps the curb, lands back on the board and goes on his way. Was he my neighbor’s grandson? I can’t remember.

 I finger the crumpled bills and change in my pocket and hope it’s enough.

At the market, I choose the few items I need. Then, a couple cans of cat food for Blackie and I’m done. In the cart, among two Delicious apples, are a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, loaf of bread, and a roll of toilet tissue. Maybe ten dollars’ worth with the cat food. I count my money. Eight dollars and seventy-five cents.

No apples for me today. Back to the produce department. I place one of the apples back in the pile, making sure it doesn’t roll off. Looking around, I see no one nearby. I hesitate, then drop the other apple into my coat pocket.

Next is the pet food aisle. I choose  two cans of Fancy Feast, the brand Blackie loves. No generic for him. Should last ‘til Wednesday, two days from now, when my Social Security check is deposited. Until then, we’ll both have our treats. My mouth waters as I think of the juicy apple.

When I place my items on the checkout counter, my theft stuns me. A wave of shame sweeps over me. I remove the apple from my pocket and hand it to the cashier.

“I can’t afford this,” I say. I’m too embarrassed to look at the other customers in line.

She smiles, kindness in her eyes. She lays the apple aside and checks out my groceries.

After paying, I have thirty-seven cents left. I lift my two recyclable bags and walk outside.

A voice shouts, “Wait up.”

I turn.

A young woman pushes her full cart, waving a bag in her hand. “This is for you,” she says.

Despite my protests, she insists I take the bag, which has not one, but three apples in it.     Tears spring to my eyes as I thank her.

She smiles, then turns and pushes the cart to a white SUV.

I wipe away the tears as my steps lead me home.

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Wanda McLaughlin’s published fiction includes short stories in Modern Romance and Society of Southwest Authors Anthology. Her story “Free Fall” was recently awarded first place in the 3rd Annual Writing Competition by the Escondido, CA Public Library. Murder Most Fowl, a cozy mystery novel, was awarded Best Cozy Mystery at the Southern California Writer’s Conference in 2019.

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