It was his ninetieth year of buying groceries. Well, he hadn’t purchased groceries for all of those years, but he was ninety and had been buying groceries for a long time. He’d been around long enough to see the world change. He’d seen more than the smart-ass cashier could imagine. He’d get his ten dollars. Nobody cheated Daniel Light out of money.
He scrunched up his face and walked away.
The manager said after him, “Mr. Light, if the drawer comes up ten dollars over I’ll contact you.”
Daniel mumbled to the door, “Like that’s gonna happen. If she can’t count change, how’s she gonna come out exactly ten over, stupid.”
He knew that they looked at him and saw a confused old man, but Daniel knew to the penny how much money he had in his pocket, his pocket book, his checking account, his savings account, and under the carpeting in his living room.
He might have been hard of hearing, but he could still tell if an engine was missing when it pulled up in his driveway.
Little Miss Five Earrings thought that tattoo on her neck was some kind of revolutionary self expression. Daniel and his Navy buddies had self expressed in more ports than miss can’t-count-change could point out on a map in the social studies class she was likely failing.
Then there was the manager’s condescending tone. His facial expression said, I can placate this old fart and be back in my office in time to do the crossword puzzle before lunch.
The words were, “Sir, I can assure you that Jan is not trying to cheat you out of your ten dollars.”
The meaning was, Listen, Gramps, Janice here, though no genius, can look at a cash register and read the amount due the customer. You’re so old you don’t know what’s going on. Also, I’m sure that ten dollars is a lot to you, but it’s chicken shit to a big store like this so why would we try to cheat you? Now go away.
Daniel wished that the door to the entrance didn’t slide automatically so he could slam it. He’d get his ten dollars. He’d be patient, but he’d get even.
For six months-counted on his calendar-Daniel drove the additional four miles to Fineburg’s Grocery. Really it was only three additional miles because he always bought his meat at Gateway Grocery, which was nearly a mile past his old store. Gateway’s meat had been consistently cheaper for years.
Then June 17th he entered his old grocery with a plan. It was a plan based on losses and damages and punitive damages and careful calculations. First Daniel went to the bakery goods department. He waited until he was alone and smashed his fist into a small angel food cake priced at $4.96.
He walked to the meat department and selected a package of ground beef overpriced at $8.89. He placed the beef in his cart and walked to the pet food aisle. There he waited for a young lady to carefully select cat food and a pet toy. When she left, he knelt and struggled to move four large bags of dog food onto the floor like he was going to put them in his cart. He put the package of ground beef on the back of the shelf and replaced the dog food.
Daniel had long ago determined that the odor that would be caused by the spoiled meat would likely outweigh the loss of the sale value of the meat. It was the sort of thing that could drive customers away, but he also had to consider that people who owned pets (the ones who actually walked down this aisle) were less likely to be offended by strong smells.
Daniel had sat at his kitchen table and added and subtracted. He’d assigned figures to his own pain and suffering. He’d calculated the interest on his loss. Now he had to figure in the actual costs of the items that he had damaged or moved and subtract that from the “Owed to Daniel” column. In the end he discovered that he was in the red. He owed the store thirty-four cents.
On the way out he dropped thirty-four cents into a jar marked, “Help the Johnson family pay for Mikey’s surgery.” There was a picture that purported to show little Mikey before his illness. Daniel figured the money would merely go into the coffers of the store.
He was satisfied as he walked to his car. Preparation and patience were rewarded. Then he heard a small voice behind him.
Had he been caught?
It was the wench who had started this whole mess. She appeared to be on her way into work.
“Sir, I don’t know if you remember me.”
It was the cashier that day a while back.
“The ten dollars? Did you ever find the ten dollars? My drawer came out right.”
The anger began to mount in Daniel. He seldom let anyone see this anger.
She continued, “I thought about it after you left. I know that you were upset, and I know that a lot of you are on fixed incomes. I kept watching to see if you’d come back in some time. I’ve got some extra money that I could spare if you could use it. It’s not a lot, but I could spare ten dollars.” She looked in her purse.
Daniel turned and walked away–cheated again.