The Purse: Flash Fiction by cam
An elderly woman with a black purse swinging from her forearm, walks from the parking lot into the grocery store, apparently shopping alone. I follow about thirty feet back, nervous and excited that I have so quickly found the kind of person my plan requires. Not in my wildest dreams have I ever thought of doing something like this.
She chooses a grocery cart and walks past the alcohol department where vodkas, whiskies and wines are stacked behind floor displays. She doesn’t even glance at the bottles. Maybe she doesn’t drink, or possibly she can’t afford to. If it’s the latter, she may not be carrying much cash in her purse.
Not in my wildest dreams have I ever thought of doing something like this.
I drift among the spirits as though I’m shopping rather than stalking. I grab a fifth of bourbon and move in her direction. She’s examining the tomatoes and has left her purse in the child’s seat of the cart. Now she’s even farther away, browsing lettuce varieties in the refrigerated section. Five feet to go. She turns. I turn. That was too close.
In the meat and deli department, she picks out ham and cheese, possibly to go with the tomatoes and lettuce. After a quick side trip for mayo, she’s perusing bread in the bakery section. I guess I know what she’s planning for lunch.
Now we’re entering the dairy section, and she’s studying a container of butter. That’s when I first notice her hunched shoulders and humped spine. I’m next to the eggs, just a couple of feet away, sweating like a butcher, my hand shaking as I reach out. She turns back, and I grab a carton of eggs. Did she look at me? Does she know?
My nerves need a break, so I head down the cereal aisle and loop around the end cap. We’re face to face. She smiles. I try. If I had been more alert, I could have done it as she walked past.
Through the fogged over glass of a freezer door, I see her image and have another opportunity. I move in, open the cooler door next to her and reach for the old woman’s black leather purse.
My basket of indiscriminate items sits abandoned on the floor of the freezer aisle, and the woman pushes her cart past without noticing. From the driver’s seat of my car, I have a clear view of the checkout line, so I sit with the engine idling to watch.
The clerk scans the mayo, bread, ham and other things as the woman stretches her hand out to pick up her purse. A white envelope protrudes from the top. She opens it.
A one hundred dollar bill dangles from between her pinched index finger and thumb. In the other hand she holds a note written by my own hand. She looks around, eyes wide open, mouth agape, possibly a tear on her cheek. The other customers in line and the checkout clerk laugh and clap their hands.
Another random act of kindness is in the books.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- the official name of the food stamp program -- helps low-income seniors buy the food they need.