“Take that one,” Evelyn orders.
“Which one?” I ask.
“The one in the case next to the woman wearing the blue scarf.”
“Why that one? It’s the most expensive one in the store and it’s one-of-a-kind. It’s too risky.”
“It isn’t if you have the right attitude,” she answers. “I mean, seriously, if you’re going to pilfer goods from a store why waste time on Cheetos and lipstick?”
“Um, because stealing Cheetos and lipstick don’t add up to grand theft charges?”
“Watch and learn. You need a bit of charlatan in you if you hope to survive in this world,” she says. I glare at her and she winks. “And we both know you’ve got some built-in-charlatan.”
Evelyn holds up and jiggles my coin purse full of all the money I’ve been stealing from her these past few months. It’s true, I won’t take therapy in her office, but I will pilfer her cash.
I roll my eyes. Damn. Busted again. The funny thing about Evelyn is that she doesn’t even get mad. She waits. Just when you think you’ve outsmarted her, she positions you like a lioness moving in on a kill, and pounces, exposes your crime when its least expected and most inconvenient.
Dr. Evelyn follows an older couple around the fine jewelry department. We’re at Dillard’s in the Sandusky Mall.
She’s now beside them. She admires a pair of diamond earrings in the glass case.
“You want to see anything honey?” The old man asks his wife. Each wears a too wide grin of condescension and excess.
“You know I do,” she answers. The lady points to a “lesser” ring. She doesn’t want to appear greedy, which tells Dr. Evelyn and me that he’s in charge. He’s being so nice to his wife though that I don’t want Dr. Evelyn to get them in trouble.
There are 32 pairs of real diamond earrings and 46 rings in that case: glittering emeralds, five rubies, 18 engagement sets and a slew of garish cocktail rings. Evelyn wants me to steal the contender of them all, my favorite—a three carat canary diamond in a platinum gold setting. I don’t think it’s worth the risk because its quality is beneath anything they’d sell at a better jewelry store. I mean, it’s got to have like a bazillion inclusions and the mark up is for suckers.
I look around. It’s Christmas season. The place is hopping with last minute idiots who have no idea how to plan. Dillard’s is the kind of place, like so many others, where middle class people go to buy higher priced cheap stuff, so they can feel rich.
The diamond ring is just under fifteen thousand dollars. It’s showcased in a royal purple velvet box of its own. Of course, I love it. It’s the best thing here.
I look around but not in a desperate ‘I’m going to steal’ something way. I lean my head back and massage my neck. I see three bulky corner cameras up in the ceiling.
Where I see cameras, there are bored loss prevention guys in back rooms, scanning everyone. They’d welcome a theft for the excitement.
People push past me wearing puffy ski jackets. The clerks try to bog shoppers down with more crap. Reminds me in a weird way of mom’s asylum. People going here, no wait—over there—pointing, shouting, complaining, smiling, wincing, checking their wallets and receipts as they hurry to the next department while Deck the Halls blares in the background. Stupid fuckers. But here I am!
We carry shopping bags.
“It’s always important to really buy some things first,” Dr. Evelyn says. “If clerks and mall cops see nicely dressed ladies with bags, they let down their guard.”
I purchase an inexpensive but pretty cocktail ring for Verity next to Fine Jewelry.
Evelyn browses. She engages the couple in small talk.
“Oh, what a beautiful sight to see! Two people so in love. How long have you been married?”
“Thirty-two wonderful years!” The man says.
Wow. I can’t even imagine having the same boyfriend for more than thirty-two seconds.
The three of them lean over and look into the case. I have ‘sticky fingers’, but a successful extraction of the most expensive ring in the store will not be like plucking lint off a coat.
Evelyn is patient. She has the face of class and could balance wine on her chiseled cheekbones. Her accent alone intrigues people in this tractor-pulling cesspool of a town. People trust Evelyn. She puts them at ease. It’s a huge mistake. She’s the greatest con woman I’ve ever known. But I like her. She “gets” me somehow.
“Are you from England?”
“Bath in the UK…have you been there?”
“Oh, no! I always wanted to go to Paris but it’s not Dick’s cup of tea!” The lady says. “He likes to play gamin’ tables in Biloxi. We have a timeshare there and a cabin in Asheville, not far from the Biltmore Estate.”
“What are you getting this lovely lady for Christmas?” Evelyn asks the man. “Thirty-two years is a long time and certainly deserving of something special.”
“Yes, dear, what will you get me after putting up with you for thirty-two years?”
“Now it wouldn’ be a surprise if I let a cat outta its bag, would it?”
Both women laugh. All the females can tell he hasn’t bought shit for his wife yet.
“Oh, it could be a big surprise if you spend a lot of money on something she’ll only pretend to like because she loves you,” Evelyn says.
“Let’s have some fun!” Evelyn says. She throws one end of her beige cashmere scarf over her shoulder like royalty.
“Aye, young lass,” Evelyn says to the clerk in less than Queen’s English but entertaining enough we all chuckle. “We’d like aspoat o’ fancy ring ye got there, if ye can trifle it up?”
The clerk pulls out the diamond.
“Wow.” the woman whispers. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s solidified carbon,” the man says. “I don’ know why you women get all mushy over “sparklies.” It don’t make no sense.”
“Jewelry excites us the same way a prize steer, a new car, or a custom hunting rifle might excite you,” Evelyn says.
“With all due respect ma’am, I can eat a steer, race a car, or shoot a gun! Not much you can do with a diamond ‘cept show it off and brag…or lose it!”
“Oh, I suppose you’re right,” Evelyn says. “But our excitement might have a lot to do with showing the world how much our man loves us and can provide.”
I stand there in silence holding our bags. The song, “One Night in Bangkok” repeats through my head.
“Here,” Evelyn says. “Propose to her all over again! Put this on her finger. By the way, how many children do you have?”
The man turns red in the face. He becomes a bit shy at the thought of re-proposing to his wife in the middle of Dillard’s Department Store and I can tell he doesn’t like being bossed by a woman.
“We have three kids. All grown now—two boys and a girl,” the woman says. “They all went on to college too.”
“Wow. Impressive! You should be very proud sending your kids to college while also managing a farm,” Evelyn says.
“Well now,” the man says. “It ain’t just any farm! We’re the biggest farmin’ family in Monroeville!”
“Wait!” Evelyn says. “Are you Mr. and Mrs. Blouck?”
The couple nods in unison. They have dental aided toothy smiles.
So, these are “The Blouck’s”. I’ve heard of them. Who hasn’t? They rent land out to other farmers. Some farmhands told our farmhand Reggie that the Blouck’s take their sweet time paying hired help or fire them without paying. Jerks.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” Evelyn says. “Back to the ring. It’s the finest one in the store. Let’s have her try it on…as we all know, not too many people around here could afford this.”
“You got that right,” he says. Mr. Blouck slips the ring on his wife’s Miss Piggy finger. She gushes.
“It looks so regal,” Evelyn says.
The band fits Mrs. Blouck perfectly but the diamond seems above her. Barf.
“May I try it on too?” Evelyn asks.
The clerk smiles too much. She’s no doubt thinking about her bonus. The dishonesty of it all almost makes me hurt. Almost.
Mrs. Blouck reluctantly hands the ring to Evelyn. She slips it on her slender finger. It’s too big.
“Is this ring on sale like the others?” Evelyn asks the clerk.
“I’m afraid not.”
“It’s too big for yer finger,” says Mr. Blouck. “If ya gotta ask if there’s a sale price, ya likely can’t affort it.”
Evelyn holds out her hand to admire the ring. It sparkles as if she’s captured the entire galaxy on her finger.
“Well, I could have it sized down,” she says. “I think it’s the most beautiful ring in the entire store and no one will have one like it. What do you think?”
Evelyn thrusts her ringed finger inches from Mr. Blouck’s face. Mrs. Houck tries to banish her disappointment out of politeness and bites her bottom lip.
“That ring is awful expensive. Why—you wasn’t considerin’ buying it without first consultin’ your husband?” He asks.
“My husband? What does he have to do with any of this? I don’t need my husband’s permission to buy a piece of jewelry.”
“Yer husband trusts your judgmen on such importan’ finance matters?” He asks.
“Yes. Do you trust her with financial matters?” Evelyn uses her ringed finger to point at Mrs. Blouck.
“Oh, no!” Mrs. Blouck says. “Papa takes care of all that important stuff. I manage the house and the allowance he gives me. I’d never buy something like this without his approval.”
“Yet he buys tractors, guns, and likely takes an annual hunting trip with his buddies wherever he wants, but decides every time where the two of you will take a vacation,” Evelyn says. “He probably had the final say on all of your children’s names too, isn’t that right?”
Mrs. Blouck’s mouth is agape, which tells me Evelyn got everything right.
“I’m a decent Christian woman,” Mrs. Blouck says. “The good Lord says right in the Bible that a woman is subject to her husband and not to let your adorning be external, like with gold jewelry and stuff…”
Her husband nods approvingly. He looks smug.
“Doesn’t the Bible also say Rebekah was bestowed with a nose ring and gold bracelets by a man as a sign of favor unto the Lord?” Evelyn asks. “And didn’t Saul’s conquests provide adornment for the women of Israel? I believe Solomon also praises his love’s beauty for her adornments and Esther committed to twelve months of beauty treatments with perfume and cosmetics only to win the favor of King Xerxes, who places a crown of jewels on her head? It seems that a woman of the Lord would at least be worth a fine ring to her husband.”
She takes it off and hands it to the clerk.
“Please ring this up.”
“For a woman who knows her Bible, you buyin’ that there ring seems a little selfish to me, right before Christmas and all,” Mr. Blouck says. His wife watches the clerk grab the box. “I mean, you just said in all them examples that a guy got the goods for the gal, right?”
“Hold on,” Evelyn says to the clerk. “You’re right, Mr. Blouck.” She lightly touches his forearm and leans into him. “How selfish of me. And to be truthful, it might put a pinch on our finances. I got ahead of myself trying to impress you. Forgive me.”
Evelyn waves her barren finger at the clerk.
Mrs. Blouck and the clerk look disappointed. The clerk begins to slip the ring back into the glass case.
“Wait a minute,” Mr. Blouck says. “Let me take another gander at that there thing.” He places the ring back on his wife’s finger. “Do you like it honey?” She nods and looks up at him.
“I’ll take it,” he says.
Evelyn feigns disappointment. This pleases Mr. Houck.
“Congratulations,” she says.
“Oh, thank you!” Mrs. Blouck gushes as she flings her fingers around in front of Evelyn before semi-hugging her husband.
I’m not getting the ring. I feel a pang o’ ‘pissed off’ in me stomach.
Mr. Blouck hands his black credit card to the clerk. The ring sinks into the cave of its purple velvet lined box, upon his orders. “Mall probably ain’t a good place to walk around with a ring like this on your finger,” he says.
“My goodness, you’re right again,” Evelyn says. “I’ll bet the shoplifters are out in full force today!”
They laugh. The couple waves at me.
I despise rich people who think they’re good Christians. I swear to God there is nothing worse than someone who uses “the Lord” as a springboard for pretention. I walk away with Evelyn.
“Well that didn’t go as planned,” I say.
Evelyn sighs. “No, it didn’t…but that’s okay–win some, lose some. Come on, let’s shop.”
I’m relieved. However, if we’d done it my way, I’d have convinced Mrs. Blouck to wear the ring, jumped her in the parking lot and bitten off her finger.
Christmas Day, 1984.
I smell Barbara’s feast from the Grand Room while the tear of wrapping paper engulfs my ears.
Saratu cries. She runs to the big bathroom with full mirrors to try on her new Sari. I ordered the best silk, velvet and beads we could find. Since I don’t sew, Barbara and Priyanka actually made it for me to give to her.
Jade’s new gun is pink. She wears it on her hip with a holster and got it from the Sgt. Major.
I bought Bennie a Walkman with a cassette tape player and recorded “Safety Dance” off the radio. Evelyn and Sterling also let me buy him a new Nintendo system loaded with Donkey Kong and Jumpman. I think that kid needs to do a little more playing. But he isn’t here now. I’ll cart it off to his lab later.
Dr. Sterling plays Santa, pitching gifts to us from under the tree.
“Verity and Sam!” He tosses us two small packages.
Ha! She’s about to open the big sparkly fake ring I bought her. Cool! She stares at her ring. “I love it.” She hugs me so hard we both fall over laughing. “Open yours!”
I slowly lift the lid. Wouldn’t it be funny if we picked out the same ring for each other? The smile runs away from my face.
“What? You don’t like it?” Verity asks.
My eyes get so blurry I can’t focus.
“I do like it,” I say. “Very much.”
Evelyn sips tea in her flowery chair as she watches us.
“That’s the prettiest fake ring I’ve ever seen,” Verity says. “Evelyn found it for me. I couldn’t wait to give it to you!”
“How? Where?” I choke up.
Evelyn smiles, puts down her teacup and winks. She lifts her index finger to her lips. “Shhh.”