thief

When they drove down the rural country road on the way to town for dental appointments, Sam noticed a plastic white bag on a tree branch. He pulled to the side of the road, and Mary Sue said, “What’s wrong? We run out of gas?”

“No, I’ve seen that bag the last three times I’ve come this way, and I don’t believe the wind just blew it over there and it got caught on that limb.”

“You’re going to make us late to the dentist. Who cares about a bag?”

Sam got out, made his way through the weeds to the old leafless Maple. He pulled at the bag and it came loose. There was nothing in the bag, except a piece of paper with scribbling, numbers, and measurements. “Interesting,” he said. He looked around. He’d often heard criminals mark criminal spots—a freshly dug grave or a suitcase from a drug deal sitting by a tree, but he didn’t see anything that looked askew. He put the scrap paper in his pocket and wadded up the bag. Nothing bothered him more than trash in nature or something out of place.

“Well, now you don’t have to worry about a bag in a tree when you drive past,” Mary Sue said.

“That’s right.” He wondered if he should buy a lottery ticket with the numbers on the paper. Maybe it was a sign from God. He figured he’d stop by the Suwannee Swifty convenience store when they left the dentist and get a ticket. When they got to Dr. Miller’s office, Sam straightened the magazines on the table and turned the chairs, so they would be aligned. After the assistant scaled his teeth, polished them as best she good, Dr. Miller came in, put on his loupes, mounted to his glasses, and made “M” sounds several times.

Sam asked him, his mouth open, if he was a Buddhist, but it sounded more like “r-u-a-ootis.”

Dr. Miller said, “I’m sorry, Sam. What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

“Well,” Dr. Miller said. “Looks like you won the lottery today. You’ve got three cavities. If you’d waited six more months, you’d have a mess in there. One of them looks bad. I’m not sure if I should fill it or pull it, but if I pull it, it could lead to other problems, so I’ll try to save it. You want the gas or a shot?”

“Gas,” Sam said.

Sam slept through the filling procedures, and Mary Sue told him she didn’t have any cavities and would drive home. Sam signaled for her to stop at the Suwannee Swifty. Inside, he told the cashier the numbers, she typed them into the lottery machine, and it spit out a ticket. The electric saw the owner used in the back of the store caused Sam not to hear the cashier. When the noise stopped, he said, “What’d you say?”

She repeated, “I said good luck. The owner is putting in some new shelving back there, so it’s noisy. This is the second time he’s tried. He lost all his measurements when a gust of wind came through when he had the door propped open.”

“Thank you,” Sam said. “If I win it, I’ll buy you a car.”

She laughed and told him she appreciated that.

Mary Sue wondered what took Sam so long. She figured they’d moved the Mountain

Dew and he couldn’t find it. Sam needed a caffeine jolt to bring him back around from the after-effects of the gas, but when he came out of the store and didn’t have one, she asked him.

“Just wanted to get a lottery ticket,” he said. “Don’t want to come back to town later for just a lottery ticket.”

“Wasting our retirement on lottery tickets?”

“It’s just a dollar. Less than the tip you give at the beauty shop.”

“Fair enough, Sam.”

Sam knew when she said, “fair enough”, he’d best just drop it. He’d pushed her before, and they’d gone days without speaking. On the way home, there was another bag on the opposite side of the same Maple tree, and Sam just shook his head. He didn’t win the lottery that weekend. Turned out the cashier had given him a ticket for Cash Three instead of Lotto when he checked the ticket. Sam didn’t check the winning Lotto numbers to see if he would’ve won if the cashier had given him the right tickets, and he guessed he’d left the scrap of paper with scribbling, numbers, and measurements on the counter.

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Niles Reddick
Niles Reddick grew up in Hahira, Georgia. He is the author of the Pulitzer nominated novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in over a hundred literary magazines all over the world including Drunk Monkeys, Spelk, The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Slice of Life, Transpositions, Faircloth Review, just to name a few. His new collection of stories, The Last Word, is forthcoming in 2018. Currently, he is a professor and vice provost at the University of Memphis, Lambuth. He and his wife Michelle live in Jackson, Tennessee, with their children Audrey and Nicholas. His website is www.nilesreddick.com.

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