Karen made sure the door jangled noisily when she entered the corner bodega. It was important that Luís noticed her as she walked though the door, before she ducked past the bags of Takis and Plátanos Maduros. The bags crinkled loudly as she pushed past into the aisle, and Luís shouted good morning, Karenita, hows your hip?
She ignored his question. Karen had a plan. She hobbled down the aisle, past the hip-high freezer of ice-cream and frozen Snickers bars, past the cans of kidney beans and corn, past the bags of flour, white and wheat. Nodding to the workers who sat on milk crates in the back, she went straight to the beer refrigerator. She chose the fanciest looking beers (a label with intricate floral designs and a startlingly sexy skeleton in the center) and, looking both ways, she opened her jacket. It took all of the strength of her 70 year-old arm muscles to hold the beers just right, hidden but only superficially. She hobbled back out the way she came, and made sure to flaunt the bulge of the six-pack as she avoided Luís’s look and jangled on out the door.
At home, Karen left the beers to warm on the counter and lowered herself tiredly into her spotty easy chair, the one Harold used to sit in every night, watching the news. Harold was long gone, and it was time for the chair to go, too.
Luís knows where I live. Now I just have to wait for the po-po to show up and I’ll be back on easy street.
She waited. Eventually she dozed off in the yellow afternoon light of her dirty window, the dry remains of her once abundant houseplants serving as a kind of shade. She woke to the phone ringing.
Yes? She answered
Hi, Karen, this is Luís, from the corner. I hope I’m not disrespectful in noticing that you took some beer with you as you left the store today. I wanted to tell you that if you need anything, food, some money, Rosa and I are more than happy to help.
Karen sighed. Thank you Luís.
She would need to come up with a new plan. For it wasn’t food or money that she needed. No, Harold’s pension took care of those basic necessities. True, she couldn’t know when the landlord would decide to kick her out in search of younger tenets willing to pay a higher rent. Security would be nice, at her age. But even more than that, she longed for the purpose that comes with routine. She had spent the last years passing the time, drifting through every day, every week, sometimes without speaking a word to anyone but her poor dead husband. Last week she figured it out. There was a place where everyone was welcome, where every day was regimented and where companionship was the only pastime. Clothing and food was supplied, and if you played your cards right, you’d never have to leave.
Karen laughed to herself. How silly she had been, thinking that Luís would call the cops for a measly six-pack! She’s have to up the stakes. Because when she went to prison, she wanted to stay there for good.