Ethical Bribery

By Daniel O’Shea

      The boy didn’t require a flame, or even a fuse. David ran around the department store, taking down racks of clothes, shoe displays, and subsequently, the hem of an older woman’s dress. Nancy tried to follow closely behind him, apologizing to any witnesses or victims. The older woman was not kind to Nancy, and her son’s maniacal behavior.

      The older woman said, “What kind of boy puts her hands on a woman? You should be ashamed of what you’re raising”.

      Nancy looked directly in the woman’s eyes with a soft smile. “I am so sorry, ma’am. He had a little too much dessert, and not enough lunch”.

      “That still doesn’t make it right. Get your kid under control. For Christ’s sake!”

      “Again, I’m really very sorry. Can I have your dress fixed?”

      The woman stared back at her, judging her. She said, “No, that’s alright”. The woman squeezed past Nancy, making sure to push clothes off the rack, similar to what David had just done.

      Nancy could feel the glare searing her back as she walked forward. A quick scan of the store in front of her revealed a demonstrative calm. Nancy currently found herself in the shoe section. She sat down, and took a deep breath. She rubbed her temples in a counter-clockwise motion. David had disappeared again.

      Nancy didn’t talk much with David anymore. Well, it wasn’t that she didn’t talk with David. It was that David barely responded, always seemed to be somewhere else. She seemed more concerned recently about his happiness. A mother always does. Is David happy? Am I providing with every opportunity? Does he blame himself for the divorce? These were the sort of questions that passed through her head multiple times a day. A giant cardboard display was rocking back and forth in the men’s formal wear section.

      David was yanking ties off their hangers, giggling along the way. He could see his mom fast approaching with a frantic look on her face. He hadn’t yet been spotted. David turned and ran along the far wall of the store, crouching down the whole way, before tripping over his untied shoes. His mom still hadn’t caught up yet, so he athletically rolled under a display of women’s business suites. David was now pretending this was Vietnam, just like Grandpa had graphically described to him. The Vietcong was gaining ground, and David was the only American soldier remaining. His mother slowly strolled past his location. David could see his mother put her hands on her hips, and gaze around the remaining rows of apparel. He waited patiently for the right moment, and dove head first into the women’s bathroom. David allowed the door to close on its own, then slowly slithered to a vertical position. He was hoping his mother hadn’t spotted him, especially since he had worn his camouflage sweats to the store. It remained quiet, and David counted to ten.

      Nancy was developing a migraine. She had her weekly book club meeting in approximately one hour. Their marriage counselor had suggested going out and making more friends, or joining a club. The divorce was almost six months past, and Nancy was reading books and discussing them with her peers. That is, if she could escape this store.

      The book club would be discussing the first Catherine Harris book. This was the book that inspired the HBO series, True Blood. Nancy had needed to get David a new pair of pants, drop him off at the babysitter, and then make it to the book club. She also had to finish reading the book. The maternal radar knew son was somewhere in the women’s section. The one place a small boy could really embarrass his mother. Nancy went to the bra and lingerie section, hoping to get lucky. The department store had once again gotten quiet, like being in the eye of a hurricane. Nancy began taking slow, heavy steps, aping a lioness hunting her cub.

      Each aisle, every clothing rack, Nancy checked. She went into the dressing rooms, both men’s and the women’s. David was nowhere to be found. She began wondering if she had passed him four or five times already. Logically, David could be anywhere that she wasn’t at all times. Nancy garnered a second wind of valor, and began searching for David again.

      David slipped out of the bathroom without being noticed. The woman in the last stall was making fresh air rare. He was going to try and forget that experience all together. David was going to attempt to sneak back up behind his mother. He was taken quite a bit off guard when the Vietcong went right to the commode he had just been occupying. She came marching out, looking a bit frustrated, and equally light headed. David always knew when his mother was angry, as she began to gnaw on her bottom lip. David was so close to her, he could see the light tear forming in her right stocking.

      Nancy was growing very impatient. She had nearly chewed her lip to infection. Nancy had never been much for discipline. This was one of the main points of the divorce. The constant argument of discipline versus none whatsoever made for numerous hours of fighting, and very little sex or sleep. Nancy just knew deep down that David had a good sense of right and wrong. The dough eyes that she had fallen in love with were the only good thing that her son had inherited from his father.

      The book club meeting was at six o’clock. Nancy fished the cell phone out of her purse. Its LED display told her it was time to leave fifteen minutes ago. I guess David is going to have those same ratty pants a couple of more days. She rubbed her temples clockwise this time, then returned to the restroom. She called her girlfriend to let her know she was going to be a little late, but didn’t tell her why.”The pitfalls of pride,” she muttered to herself. Nancy rinsed cold water on her face, and then stared at the mirror’s reflection. Not too bad, considering the shenanigans, and sleepless nights. You are still beautiful. As she stepped out of the bathroom, she noticed a familiar pair of blinking sneakers, untied, under a clothing rack. Upon closer inspection, Nancy realized that her son also needed new shoes.

      David was frosty with excitement. He hadn’t been this close to the enemy since the battle had begun. He repositioned himself, so his back was to the enemy. He was reloading his weapons, quietly, preparing for another fight or flight situation. David’s hands were clammy, and he was taking small, shallow breaths. His mother had begun to circle the adjacent racks, slowly convening on him like a shark. David could hear his mother clearing her throat.

      Nancy addressed the three clothing racks right in front of her. She said, “David, come on out now. I would like to discuss the possibility of a Game Stop trip. I saw the new Mortal Kombat game just came out. I also know it’s a mature video game. Requires parental permission. It may be in your future if you come out”.

      Silence once again enveloped the women’s clothing racks. David’s sneakers remained perfectly still, except for the pair of red blinking lights. He didn’t like the sound of surrender. His grandfather never would have given up. Besides, he was still waiting on the new Tekken game, as well as the new Madden, and NBA Live. David knew this was yet another empty promise. One always had to be aware of the white flag when approaching the Vietcong. David could see right thru the enemy’s diversionary tactics. He remained perfectly still.

      A minute or so later, Nancy could feel her blood pressure rising. On to round two, Nancy thought. “Okay David, you don’t want a new video game? That’s fine. I can arrange no television, or video games this entire weekend, including the babysitter’s tonight. Which we’re gonna be late for now, thank you very much. So, what’s it gonna be, David? Hmmm?”

      David remained steadfast. He knew perfectly well that his mother couldn’t cash in on that threat; especially since the divorce. In times prior, David still ended up in front of the television on the weekends. He hated his mom’s book club, and he hated the babysitter. David wanted to keep her distracted long enough that they could just go home. All David wanted to do was go home and watch Sponge Bob. This would take some finesse on his part. He began to wonder what option three was going to be.

      David found out soon enough. There sounded like a commotion everywhere in the store. The loud speaker was making reverberations in every corner of the store. His mother’s voice became stern, and echoed all over the store, and it was directed at one, hidden American soldier.

      Nancy said, “Alright mister. Third and final option. Leave me alone, I’ll give it back. I’m threatening my son. Yeah right, you couldn’t catch that boy with help from the SWAT team. David, if you don’t come out right now, all weekend plans with grandpa will be suspended until further notice. And by further notice, I mean not till Christmas”.

      The cashier yanked the phone away from Nancy. Nancy didn’t hear his complaints. She scanned the rows of clothing by the bathroom. She noticed a small, camouflaged child running through the aisles. David came running around the register, then landed below Nancy’s purse. David said, “Here I am Mommy”.

      Nancy said, “Alright David, time to go”.

      “What about my pants?”

      “Your pants are gonna have to wait now honey. We ran out of time”.

      “Are you dropping me off at Michelle’s house?”

      Nancy stared deeply into David’s eyes. She said, ‘Do you have a problem with Michelle? Should I just skip book club, and take you home so you can watch Sponge Bob in peace?”

      “That would be awesome mom. You’re the best!”

      Nancy quickly responded, “Nice try David. So what’s your problem with Michelle? You don’t like her anymore?”

      “No, no, mommy, I like Michelle fine. It’s just that well, she gotta new boyfriend. They play blanket monster the whole time, and don’t talk to me, or play with me”.

      “David Lee, stop that right now! I know whatch’re doing right now, knock it off. Michelle doesn’t have a boyfriend. I would know. I have a Facebook sweetie. I would know if Michelle had a boyfriend, or if she broke up with one, or whatever’s going on with her at all times”.

      Nancy and David’s conversation was interrupted by the National Anthem. She began fishing through her purse, while holding David’s chest. David had a bad habit of assaulting vehicles in the parking lot. This was the one occasion where she did not need that to happen. She finally got to her phone and answered it.

      “Hey Andy, how are you, sir?”

      “Not too bad. Is my grandson around?”

      “Yes, hold on one second. And make sure he tells you what he just did”.

      “I will, Nancy”.

      David took the phone from his mother. His face had lit up as soon as he realized who was on the phone.

      “Hey Grandpa! How’s it going?”

      “So what’s this I hear? You givin Momma trouble? You know she’s doing the best she can. Am I gonna have to teach you a lesson, Davy?”

      “No Granpa”. David giggled with excitement. He really loved his grandfather, particularly bed time. Bed time was war story time. The stories had Grandma in them, along with blood, guts, and decapitated ears and heads.

      Nancy listened to the conversation while she helped David into the front seat of her car. She heard him describe his shenanigans in the department store. David was entirely truthful down to every detail, even the ones she didn’t know about.

      As Nancy got into the driver side of the car, David asked, “Mommy, do you have anything you need to tell Grandpa?”

      “No, sweetie, tell him I’ll call him later”.

      “Okay, Mom. Okay Grandpa, um-hmm, um-hmm, I will. Okay. I love you too Grandpa”. 

David handed Nancy her cell phone. She put it back into her purse, and started the car. David became antsy as soon as they left the parking lot. He tapped his foot repeatedly during every car ride. David was still very concerned about the last offer in the clothing store. His grandfather was the only real positive male influence from his dad’s side of the family. He muttered, “So, um, Mom, can I still go to Granpa’s this weekend?”

      Nancy smiled, but only briefly. She said, “We’ll see sweetie”. Nancy maintained her poker face in the hopes that it might actually work this time. As they approached Michelle’s house, she glanced over at David. He smiled directly back at her. The little shit already knows he got his way. Nancy smiled kindly back at him.

      “Yes, of course, sweetie. You’re going back to Grandpa’s this Sunday”. Nancy pulled into Michelle’s driveway. She told David, “I’ll be back in about two and a half, three hours. Try not to be too mean to Michelle’s new boyfriend”.

      David gave his mother a kiss, and got out of the car slowly. He smiled at his mom, and she waved as she pulled away. Michelle came out and gave him the usual salutations.

      Nancy left David at the babysitter’s, and made her way to the book club. She left the radio off for the fifteen minute ride. Instead of letting her girlfriend’s know she was close, she drove with the windows up and the Garmin off.

      He’s always going to get his way. He’s a good kid though. I just wish he would come out of his shell a little more. I mean, I really am lucky. He could really care less about television, or  video games even. It’s his grandfather that’s important to him. Family first. Maybe this kid will turn out alright. He does have a good sense of right and wrong.