I work at the store after school on some days. I only earn a quarter or two, but it’s worth something to me to feel important. I know at nine I shouldn’t worry about feeling important, but I do. Working. I put the quarter or two that I earn into my bank account at the bank across the street. I’m saving for a way out of this town.
I stock the coolers at the store and can carry two 8-packs of glass bottles under one arm and one 8-pack in the other. Each day when I walk by the cooler, I check to make sure that everything is stocked up and when someone buys something, I run and replace it right away. It’s my job.
I am tempted everyday by one thing in the store, Perrier. The smooth green glistening bottle taunts me each time I walk past the cooler door. I slide open the door, the black rubber on the bottom squeaks and I have to push in while I’m pulling to the right or the door gets stuck. If the Perrier bottle is not facing forward, I turn it so the perfect lettering is facing to the front. Why we sell Perrier in the store, I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone buy it. Perrier is RICH and beautiful to me, not poor and run down like our town. I have never tasted it, but I bet it tastes clean, like the smell of laundry after hanging on the clothes line.
I can’t stop thinking about Perrier and instead of saving for it, which would take months of work at the store, I decide that I can steal it faster than I can save for it.
I know it is wrong to steal, but my brother Patrick does it and he doesn’t seem to ever get in trouble for it. I will only do it once, I promise myself. Only once.
I keep watch for anyone coming down the aisle by the cooler. I’m nervous and I think this is why bad things happen when people steal. They get too nervous and mess up, but I can’t stop my nerves from making me shift around – left foot, right foot – my heart racing.
There are customers up front talking to old Mr. Hambone, who drinks Seagram’s Seven from a paper cup all day long. If I hurry I can run out while they are distracting him.
I slide open the door, pull down one bottle and put it up under my shirt and hold my arm against my side as hard as I can to keep it under cover. I run out of the store, down Avon street, legs and arms pumping, breathing short and quick, sprinting down the sidewalk as fast as I can. I run all the way to the library, around the back where there is a fenced in electrical cage. I sit down in the grass and hold the cool bottle against my face. Sweat dripping, heart racing. I know someone is going to catch me. I want to taste the sweet taste of Perrier, but I am scared. My nerves are jumpy, jumpy and the bottle now feels hot and bad. My belly has the I’ve done something terrible feeling.
I stand up and throw the bottle over the fence, which is locked, with barbed wire along the top.
I stare through the fence, longing for Perrier. Sad.
It was quite a few years before I could afford Perrier and when I finally tried it, I fell in love again – not just with the packaging, but with Perrier. The cool crisp mineral taste. I was hooked.
I thought Perrier would make me feel rich – but realized it wouldn’t if I didn’t get it in a way that felt good to me. Why I learned that lesson and some people keep stealing, I’ll never know, but I’m grateful to have learned it early.
I still don’t know why I had it in my head that Perrier was so good, I laugh at my nine-year-old self, but realize she’s still here with me today. Loving Perrier. And it is – GOOD.