Your protagonist is a professional person (a doctor, lawyer, psychologist…) Write their serious defence of their actions after stealing the charity tin outside the Spar, while the collector was distracted. Let your character try to explain how this came about to a disapproving spouse who has come to bail them out. Write a small story, in 250 words or less, which includes the spouse’s reaction. Write it in 1st person from either perspective.
Winning Entry by Jill Gough
“You know your career is over.” I wanted her to concentrate on driving but she glared at me.
Two million tins. Two million tins filled to the brim with unwanted coppers. It was all I could think about. It was only one tin but I needed that tin next to the credit card machine . I took hold of the tin. The chain broke. I ran. Shouting. The guard wrestled me to the ground.
“How could you do this to us?” She might crash the car if she didn’t start paying attention.
“Why aren’t you saying anything Dave?” She clicked her tongue. “You’re worse than the kids.”
“Look Luce, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Was it for the money? There can’t be that much in those tins? Is there?”
There’s a lot of money in two million tins. “No. We don’t need more money.” But the kids who’s faces were on the outside did. I knew that yesterday when I ripped it off the counter and ran.
“Well, why then?”
“I won a big case yesterday – “
“You stole it to celebrate?”
“Let me finish Luce. The guy I was defending. He runs a syndicate. The Cotlands babies don’t see the tins or a cent that goes into them.” Lucy stopped in the driveway. “Because I’m good at my job they never will. I didn’t steal the tin from the babies.”
What I stole from them was two million tins. I reduced it by one when I ran.
And here are some of the other entries that came close. Stefan Kruger’s and Raleen Bagg’s were great. We loved the reveal in both of them. Saadiya Bhamjee’s story mixed pathos with a kind of hard-nosed realism that we liked a lot. Mandy Collins as always wrote something so credible you’re not sure it’s not a dramatized recreation of something that really happened. Teresa Munchick’s story was much too long for consideration, but eminently worth reading.
A young constable ushers him out from the charge office. He grins at me with childish innocence.
“You wanted to be caught?”
“I suppose, but I tried my best to get away – my legs are not that thrifty anymore” he chuckles. And with that I understand; it’s like a bomb exploding.
“This wasn’t the first time either, was it?”
“Ah, dearest, finally – you get me!”
“So, how many times?”
“Well depends how you look at it: this was the first time I stole a collecting can, but last month I shoplifted some herbal tea. Before that I grabbed a handbag once and sprinted off – no one was chasing me but I thought running was only appropriate.”
The constable, who has been pretending not to listen, motions us to the door. I watch Henry as he floats down the steps with the grey strands of his hair reflecting the sun.
“Of course it gets far more disgusting than that” he states indifferently. “Do you know how much money we’ve embezzled for you to be wearing that ring for example? You must have known, but did you know that the minister and chief of police knew as well? All this time and they did nothing! I’m sorry darling but I just couldn’t live another day in a world without consequence – that can be controlled by someone like me – and nor should you. I love you too much.”
“But…oh what’s the use…I love you too Henry, love you too.”
An hour ago I was Mister Suburbia strolling out the store with half a kilo of rare roast beef and a rye bread for Saturday lunch.
The police station reeks of fear and rancid sweat. Lauren wrinkles her nose and glares at me.
‘You just picked it up, Mark?’
She slaps her lips together. Her mouth is a tight white line.
‘You just bent down and picked it up?’
‘I was walking to the car. All I had in my hand was the packet from Spar. I saw the tin. I picked it up. What would you have done?’
The back of my neck prickles. I move my eyes down to the scuffed linoleum floor and count the scratches.
Lauren snaps open her bag and pulls out a batch of papers.
‘Do you know what these are, Mark?’
She shoves them in my face.
‘Your golf bag is a really stupid place to hide bills.’
‘Honestly, Lauren, do you really think I would I would steal a collection tin? It was for the S.P.C.A, for chrissake! You know how I feel about animals…’
‘I also know how you feel about Gold Reef City.’
My lawyer walks in.
‘This isn’t looking good, Mark. There’s a witness.’
‘A woman walked past the table where the tin was. She stopped to loosen her dog’s collar and saw you.’
I drop my head into my hands.
I thought it was a guide dog.
Turning around, I caught a glimpse of her handcuffs being removed. She held her wrists and looked at me. Her eyes as petrified as Macbeth before the ghost of Banquo.
“I can’t believe this!” I exclaimed.
“I’m so sorry.” she trembled.
She opened her arms, inviting the warmth of a hug.
Slowly, she withdrew her arms and wrapped them around herself, clenching the sleeves of her Jenni Button jacket. She still represented the stature of a successful, well-renowned lawyer. Then she raised one hand to cover her mouth and shut her eyes, barring herself into a deeper infamy.
Scanning the room around me, I noticed the flickering of a faulty florescent globe. Someone must have sensed my disconnection and briefness at the cabinet speech this morning. Someone had to sense my distress.It will soon leak.
“Please, you need to unders…” she began.
“Not now, not here.” I interrupted, placing the signed document on the police officer’s desk.
“Please let me explain, please.” She begged.
Tears trickled down her frazzled cheeks.
“When I placed the R100 note into the charity tin, I realized it was all we had left.” She sobbed. “The bank has frozen everything. For god’s sake, I just couldn’t ask her to return it to me with all those people around.”
As her tears roll down, I feel myself withdrawing more into her self-pity. Reaching for my handkerchief I spot a photographer at the window.
“We need to clean this up before the press arrives.”
“I know, I promised I wouldn’t do it again,” I say, holding my hands up in front of me.
She folds her arms under her pendulous breasts, offering them unwitting support. She’s not amused. Even the harsh shadows the bars throw across her face don’t hide her disapproval.
“So you’re not just a thief, you’re a liar too. Another promise broken,” she snaps. “I can’t think of a single good reason to bail you out. I should let you rot in here.”
“Let me explain, please.”
She shifts her weight onto one hip. “Uh-huh? What reason could you possibly have for knocking an old lady out of her wheelchair?”
“Well, she’s one of my patients.”
“Oh, of course! It all makes perfect sense to me now.”
“No, wait. Let me finish. She owes me money. A lot of money.”
“For God’s sake, Anthony. You knocked an old woman over and stole her charity collection tin. Even if I could excuse that, just how much money did you think you would get out her charity collection tin? Ten rand? Twenty rand? And for this I have to bail you out?”
This is not going well. I’m not expressing myself clearly, I can see. Words have never been my strength and they’re really failing me now.
“I just thought it would be a good start. Besides, I’d forgotten my wallet in my car.”
She opens her mouth as if to speak, then shuts it again abruptly, throwing her hands wordlessly up into the air. It’s a long time since I’ve seen her speechless. She walks a few steps away from me, then spins around rapidly.
“It didn’t occur to you to go back to the car and fetch it? Knocking over an old, crippled woman was a better option?” There’s a livid blush beginning to stain her neck and jaw. This is never a good sign.
“That was an accident!” I protest. “I didn’t push her, just grabbed the tin. And she wouldn’t let go. She wouldn’t bloody let go! And she’s very strong. I yanked it away from her, and she just wouldn’t let go. So she fell out of the wheelchair onto the pavement. And that’s when the security guard grabbed me. It’s not like the last time, I promise.”
“Bloody right, it isn’t,” she says, walking over to the door. “Last time I was prepared to bail you out.”
I still don’t really know why he did it. Stephen and I had been married for nearly 25 years, I thought I knew everything about him.
We could predict what the other would say in certain situations, finish each others sentences and all the rest of that clichéd stuff that people tend to say about their ex partner, when a marriage or long time relationship has come to an end, whether by natural causes (well a death) or whether the demise of a relationship caused by the thoughts, words or deeds of not adhering to the marital vows. The context and meaning would of course be entirely different for both circumstances. Anyway I digress. Suffice to say mine was not by natural causes.
Thinking back, I had seen subtle changes in Stephen. He had become rather secretive and somewhat withdrawn. He spent long hours in his office with the door closed. I suspected that he could be looking at porn, a friend of mine had confided in me that her husband had become addicted to porn, accompanied by an unnatural amount of time masturbating, which I thought frankly was too much information.
He would come to bed later and later. I began to have a nagging suspicion that he might be having an affair with one of his patients. I would push the idea roughly from my mind. I would be left with an emptiness in my stomach, a queasy feeling that I couldn’t rid myself of, I had tried filling the void, first with food, then with ever increasing amounts of alcohol. I had even taking Xanor on occasion. I first took the 1mg, but I felt kind of bombed and out of touch. I had started taking sleeping pills as I would just lie awake, my mind a jumble of thoughts, some completely illogical. Sometimes I would drift in that half asleep state, only to be awake with a jolt, scared and not knowing why.
I went back to pottery, thinking that maybe I was anticipating an empty nest syndrome. Jemima was matriculating that year and had applied to several Ivy league colleges. I didn’t really know what I was going to do without her. I thought maybe if I started doing something creative it would fill some of the void.
I was at my pottery class that day, I had managed to make a vase, albeit a rather rudimentary one. I was starting to carve into it, this African inspired design, that I thought would work nicely in our lounge.
My phone rang, it was an unidentified number. I hate answering those calls, it is usually an insurance salesman or someone doing a survey.
“Good afternoon, is this Mrs Bennet?” Something about the official tone of the greeting, seemed ominous, and I got a slight chill that tingled down my back.
“Yes” I said, somewhat cautiously.
“Would you please come to the Parkview police station as soon as possible, it is concerning your husband”
My stomach dropped to the floor. “Is he alright, please god tell me he is okay, has something happened, is he injured?” I said breathlessly. “He is alright, but I suggest you get here as soon as possible he said in an officious voice.
Thoughts tumbled through my head, was it in accident, could he have been caught for drunken driving, I knew he was meeting a colleague for lunch, I knew how much pressure he was under. His work load was ridiculous, he had started to turn away patients, and although he was barred from giving me names and details, I knew that he was dealing with some heart wrenching cases, and one patient in particular had been involved in a heinous attack, that would leave her scarred for life. It wasn’t so much just a lunch, but a bit of a debriefing, a mutual support, and I knew that sometimes they indulged to release the tension, so it was not an unrealistic thought, I know they have roadblocks near the Hyde Park Hotel all the time. Oh my god, the Hyde Park Hotel, how could I have been so naïve. Idiot idiot idiot.
I arrived and was met by an “Inspector someone”, Inspector indeed, he could barely speak English, and his thick accent made his speech incoherent even if when he was speaking English.
“I am here to see Stephen Bennet” I said in the most confident voice I could muster. My stomach was nearly through the floor.
He led me through to the cells. Stephen was a disheveled mess. His tie was a twisted mess, one couldn’t call it a knot. His shirt was half hanging out of his pants, this morning it was white, now it was dirty, a greasy stain on the shirt pocket. I pride myself on keeping “my whites white” all my friends always commented on it, I had found the perfect mix of Preen and a dilution of Jik. Well that wasn’t really on my mind, but I think it did add to my anxiety in an odd dissociative way.
“Stephen, what happened?”
He looked at me, his eyes were hooded and kind of dead, then he starting laughing maniacally, his whole face transformed, his eyes bulged out, his smile seemed like a snarl.
The “inspector” said, “He stole the Thabisong Charity Box from the collection table outside the Spar”
“Stephen” I said, shocked and horrified at the same time, what was going on? What happened, why did you do it?”
He looked at me, a cold aggressive look that pierced the soul of me. “Because I can” was all he said.
He was never the same again. Some of the psychiatrists say, it was a post traumatic stress breakdown, others say he suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, and was in an almost schizophrenic state.
He is still hospitalized. I had no choice. They said he would never be the same, and that in order to have a life I should divorce him. Sometimes I am wracked with guilt and feel I have abandoned him.
I cry myself to sleep most nights, and even in the twilight between wake and sleep, I wake with a jolt. Stephen why did you do it?