Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bookfield, Betrayal - Part 3

The morning dawned, and before I could open my eyes, my first thought was, “Shit, another day knocking on doors”. But then I remembered Evan. It all seemed like a dream, but I knew it wasn’t. I went through my morning routine. I showered, and dressed, pulling on my same old jeans and the New York Harbor Independence Day Bicentennial Tall Ships tee shirt, my Mom had sent to me. I put on my scratched and dirty white leather sneakers. I put my Yankee cap in my sales case. It would stay there until my hair dried in the breeze.

I hadn’t sold in the area where Evan lived yet. For some inexplicable reason, I hadn’t even been to that part of town. It seemed convenient that I could sell there all day and not use much travel time getting to his house when I was done. I checked the map I had for his neighborhood. I located the dot that represented Evan’s house from his directions. It seemed that his house was part of a smallish subdivision right on the Oconee River. According to the map there were enough houses in the general area to keep me busy for three or four days. But, being slightly paranoid, I decided to approach the area from the south that morning, instead of heading directly west as instructed by Evan. That way I would not reach his exact neighborhood at all that day. I didn’t want him to think I was hovering around the area just waiting for our date, or worse yet to be seen by him in some chance encounter. How would I explain that?

This was what I was thinking as I rode my bicycle southwest. The morning selling was uneventful. It was mid afternoon when I came upon a junk yard with a shop and house on the premises.

I was pleasantly surprised that no dogs ran out to ‘greet’ me. I walked down the dirt driveway past heaps of rusting car parts, old appliances like refrigerators, and washing machines, and just plain junk. Most of the stuff looked completely worthless as it lay helter-skelter with weeds growing tall in between the piles. The shop and house were even less impressive. The structures had clapboards that were peeling and needed painting badly. The roofs were tin. Across the front of the shop, a sign hung at an angle proclaiming, ‘Big Jim’s Used Car Parts’, in flaky red letters. No customers or Big Jim were around in the shop. I despaired that these folks would have any money for books. But, I went up to the front door of the residence anyhow. An old tired hound lay in the cool dirt under the porch. He barely lifted his head when I walked up the steps and turned his cloudy eyes towards me. “Hey ol’ boy, staying cool?” I called out in friendly greeting to the dog. His tail wagged almost imperceptibly and he returned his graying head to its dirt pillow. Only the screen door was closed and I could hear people talking inside.

I knocked on the door and stood back a pace. A frumpy woman in a worn and faded pink house dress with curlers in her hair came to the door. You could have stored nuts for the winter in the bags under her eyes. She said, “Come in.”, before I could even start my approach. So I did. The wooden floor had no shine on it whatsoever and it felt gritty under foot. Guess it had been a while since it had been swept.

“Who is it Mother?” came a voice from the brown vinyl couch that looked and smelled like it came from a gas station.

“It’s some girl selling something.”

I came to the center of the living room slowly, following ‘Mother’. I supposed it was ‘Father’, otherwise known as big Jim, on the couch across from the television set. He was very heavy and looked like he had become one with the couch. He wore a blue work shirt and brown work pants in a size that I sure couldn’t have guessed. He had a tired, lazy look around his eyes, like one I’ve seen on Zero Mostel, though I can’t say in which movie. The reason became apparent when I looked on the coffee table. Two six packs of beer were on the table next to the Family Bible. ‘Father’ was drinking his six without even removing the cans from the plastic rings holding them together. Until then, I had never believed that anybody really drank beer that way. The corner of a case of beer could be seen under the table. Mother sat down in her chair, a weathered thing with the fabric peeling off of its foam backing. She had poured her beer in a glass. I was hard pressed to compliment anything in that house.

“Some weather we’re having, isn’t it?” That was the best I could do.

“Yeah.” burped Father. “You’re not selling magazines are you, ‘cause if you are you can get right out of this house.”

“No sir. I’ve got Bible books.” I patted my case to make the point.

“Bible books, well hell’s bells, Mother, call the children in.” He was obviously drunk and feeling fine.

“Kids! Get in here!” she yelled apathetically from where she sat. Four kids, who looked young for the age I thought their parents were scrambled as if from nowhere into the living room. The eldest was maybe twelve and they looked better kept than their surroundings would have indicated. They sat quietly on the floor around me. I sat on a chair across from Father. I decided to show the Family Bible Library set, although I didn’t think they could afford it. The kids paid attention to the demonstration and sat straight up so that they could see the pictures I was pointing to. When I was almost finished with the demonstration, Father interrupted me.

“You kids want them books?” They all nodded their little heads in unison. “Okay, girlie, how much are those books? I’ll take a set.” I was just beginning to wonder how I would get a deposit when Father pulled a wad of cash from his pocket to emphasize that he was serious. This was the biggest wad of cash I had ever seen. It was as big around as the beer cans in front of him and the outside bill was a twenty. This probably represented all the money he had. He repeated, “Just how much are they, I’ll pay it all in cash right now.”

Before I could think, my mouth was saying, “Those books are two-hundred dollars, sir.” I had opted to double the price as advised at the last sales meeting. It seemed so unnatural, and I feared that Jim would guess that I was making up the price. But he took the rubber band off of his roll of money and started counting out the twenties. He stopped at ten and handed me the cash. “Great, I’ll deliver your books during the last week of August.”

He seemed a little disappointed that I didn’t have any books with me to give them, but after another sip of beer he seemed okay with it. I couldn’t wait to get out of that house. “Well thank you very much, I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks. Take care!” With that I was out the door with their two-hundred dollars. I could just pocket the hundred extra I charged Jim. It was my cash now, and I didn’t even need to report it to Parchment. I grabbed my bike and rode hastily off their property. For all the world I felt like a thief. What I had done was perfectly legal, but I felt like a criminal. I rode on to the next houses, pushing my doubts to the side. I could be hard enough to take those people’s money. It was just business. That money would go for buying my college books, instead of his beer. In the back of my mind I wondered if they knew anybody else I had sold that set to this summer. If they spoke to anyone else between now and the end of the summer, they could find out that I had charged them twice as much. I might have to face that when I delivered their books.

There was a tiny subdivision of brand new houses that came up next on the road. I walked up the stoop of the first house and noticed that my legs were shaking. I couldn’t stop them from shaking. I forced myself to pay attention to the business at hand and deny my feelings. I knocked on the door and stood back a couple of paces. The woman of the house came and opened the door. I began my approach.

“Hi there Mrs. Jones. My name is Sue Fairview and I’ve been calling on all the church folks in the neighborhood...” During this I continued to shake and now I was also starting to sweat. “May I come in?”

“Did you know that you are shaking and white as a sheet?” There was a look of concern in Mrs. Jones’ eyes. “You better come in, sit down, have a glass of water, and tell me about it.” I followed her into her nice neat and brightly lit little house. She put me in a kitchen chair at a cleanly scrubbed Formica table and brought me a tall glass of ice water. I drank the whole glass. As I looked at her round cheeks and perky brown eyes under arched eye brows I noticed that I had been holding my breath, and I took some deep breaths before I began to speak.

“I made a big sale at the last house. You know, Jim’s junk yard.” She nodded that she knew it. “He asked me how much the books were and pulled out a wad of cash big enough to choke a horse. When I saw that wad of money, I doubled the price, and he gave it all to me in cash. I stole from them.” Tears rolled down my cheeks as I confessed all to this total stranger. I had no way of even knowing that she wouldn’t force me to go back there and return the money, or worse yet, call the police on me.

“Honey, it’s all right. What you did is okay. You are out here selling books, and in this land you can charge whatever you want, and whatever big Jim is stupid enough to pay. Let the buyer beware.”

“But it’s more than I charged everybody else this summer.” I sobbed.

“So, just don’t do it again if you don’t feel right about it that’s all. Chalk this one up to experience. You’ve learned something about yourself; you are an honest, caring person.”

She was so kind and supportive. She was also right. I could live with it if I decided that I wouldn’t do it again. I made a silent vow that I would buy the family a Bible Dictionary out of the extra money I charged them, and just tell them that they won it as my one-hundredth sale. That made me feel a little better about it too. As I looked at Mrs. Jones across the table, I found myself feeling that trying to sell her a book would be too great an imposition after what she had done for me. She would have indicated by now if she was interested. I collected myself after a while of listening to her reassurance.

“I feel that there is no way of thanking you enough for being there when I was in need, Mrs. Jones.”

“That’s alright Honey. It was my pleasure.”

When I was ready, she showed me to the door. The sun was still high in the sky, even though it was past mid afternoon. The sun still warmed my shoulders, and made the black seat of my bike hot. I was alright to continue selling that day, and I no longer felt tortured by what I had done. How had this woman absolved me? I looked back up at her house, but the door was already shut. I finished covering that little subdivision that afternoon, although I did not make any more sales.


em said...

my mind is busy trying to figure out who will betray you in this story, as the possibilities are endless! take care, sis!


Sue said...

But, you know who did it!

em said...

but i won't tell!

David said...

Hmmm, yet again.