The Best Policy
A sock was sticking out of the bottom dresser drawer — a sure sign Edward had been rummaging. She listened. The place was completely quiet.
That could be the spot where he’d stuck the little gold cardboard box. The box came with parts for the microscope he got last Christmas. The microscope sat on the desk with slides scattered on the blotter. Edward wasn’t very tidy. Sometimes he’d let Marianne view the tiny images through the lens. But only if she’d managed to find something special to look at. The squiggles dancing on the glass transfixed her. She’d plucked a hair from the top of her head to study the root.
He was a hoarder, saving every scrap of paper and broken toy he’d ever received. But the box was special. Marianne looked left and right before crossing the threshold and pulling the drawer open. She stuck her right hand in the jumble and pushed through the socks. Some were knotted together the special way her mother folded them and then pulled one over the other. Others were loose — singles whose mates would never turn up that Edward couldn’t bear to part with.
Her hand touched something hard and square. Socks flew onto the ground in her hurry to dig out the box. Holding it, she studied the outside. Edward’s messy scrawl spelled out “Thou shalt not steal” and “Honesty is the best policy” in bold letters. She smiled. He was silly to think that would deter anybody — especially her. She held her breath and slipped the top off. The bills sprang up, taunting her to take them. She would need to replace them exactly the way they came out. Edward would spot any difference.
Last night he had sat in the middle of the living room counting the money methodically while she stretched out on the floor watching television. She pretended not to notice while Edward kept looking at her from the corner of his sneaky brown eyes. “One, two, three…” his voice got louder with each number, ending smugly when he reached twenty-five. “I’ve got twenty-five dollars in my box,” he proclaimed, and then folded up the money. Marianne rested her chin on her hands, seemingly focused on the black and white images flickering in front of her, the amount sending a tingle up her back. All she needed was a dollar. “Did you hear me?” Edward asked.
She hesitated before she said anything, pretending to be bored. “Huh?” He didn’t bother to repeat himself, and got up to hide the box. His shoe laces were untied. Once he was gone, she flopped on the itchy blue chair in the corner and her knee began to bounce. It was unfortunate that she couldn’t hold onto money. Her twenty-five cent allowance was gone almost as soon as it landed in the palm of her hand. “You should try to save a little each week,” her mother advised if she asked for extra to buy something special. “Your brother is able to save.”
She slipped a single from the center. It was too bad his room couldn’t be as organized. The bills were in order by denomination and facing in the same direction. There were mostly dollar bills in the box, so it wouldn’t be as obvious as if she’d taken a five. She was tempted to put them out of order, a dead giveaway someone had been in the box.
“Where are you going?” her mother asked. She had her hand on the kitchen door, the dollar stuck in her jacket pocket.
“To see if Patty’s home.”
Her mother went back to stirring something on the stove. “Don’t be late.” Then Marianne was running down the sidewalk, her heart pounding.
Kane’s Variety Store was on the next block. It was her favorite place. Better than the library. It was the first place she went with her allowance. She did all her shopping there. Normally, she’d go in with a nickel or a dime and spend an hour looking around trying to decide what to buy. Once, when she’d been in the store for an hour, the owner, Danny, came over. “Sometimes it’s harder when you don’t have a lot of money to spend,” he said when she explained her dilemma. He never complained about her dawdling.
Today was different; she knew exactly what she wanted. An Easter egg with a scene inside. She’d wanted it the moment she saw it. It was exactly like the one Lynn Byrne had at school but wouldn’t let her touch, let alone look inside. She showed it to all the other girls, but when Marianne asked if she could see it, Lynn told her “No. You might break it.”
She was breathless when she reached the store. It closed at 5:00 and it was already 4:30. “Hello, Marianne,” Danny said. He was at the counter ringing up the register for some boy with a model airplane kit.
“Hi,” she called on her way to the Easter section. She could talk to him when she brought the egg to the counter. It sat amid fluffy yellow chicks and white bunnies. Too bad she didn’t have more money.
While Danny rang up her purchase he chatted, asking if she was looking forward to the upcoming break. She kept her eye on the door. Edward didn’t come here much, but he might have been saving up for something she didn‘t know about.
Outside, she clutched the bag close to her chest. She’d have to put it under her jacket. “That was quick,” her mother said.“I didn’t see her,” Marianne replied and darted off to her room. Edward wasn’t home yet. She closed her door and gently removed the egg from the sack. It was perfect. Bits of glitter stuck to her fingers. She held it up and stared inside, where a family of tiny rabbits was gathered picking up little eggs. This was better than Lynn’s. Then she heard Edward running toward his room. The door slammed. The ritual would begin and once he discovered he was one dollar short, they’d hear about it. She put the egg back inside the bag, tucked it away in the farthest corner of her closet, and waited.
Copyright 2008, Janet Yung
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