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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

85_ym_klepto_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2021

KLEPTO

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

“I took it,” she always said, “for you!”

“Thanks, Ma!” Beet-red, I peered around, hoping nobody saw.

Steak knives from restaurants, ashtrays from hotels. And I didn’t even smoke!  She never got caught, but still . . .

“Everyone does it!” Ma said defiantly. “The prices they charge!”

Wrong, Ma, I thought. Not me.

Back in the 70s, my teen years were hell. Bad enough I was fat. And the mean kids knew Pop drank. “Vicky’s mom’s a thief!” they’d say, next.

That . . . tiki glass! From the Polynesian buffet. “Nice role model!” I said. A totem pole, it looked like, with leering faces. “Ma, what’s wrong with you?”

How proud she’d looked. Giggling, opening the tiny paper umbrella. When she held it over her head, I smacked her hand.

“’Miserable Bastard,’” she said. Meaning Pop, vs. the cocktail. No wonder he drank. Married to that klepto bitch.

“You,” my shrink said, “need to distance yourself. When she calls, don’t answer the phone.”

That was the 80s, before caller IDs. No cell phones with personalized ring tones. If so, “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” would’ve been hers.

Still, somehow, I knew it was her. But I always picked up.

“Victoria?” she said. Never “Vicky.” “Got something for you.”

Got, meaning stole….

“She can’t . . . help it,” Pop said. “It’s that . . . change she’s going through.”

Hot flashes, mood swings, maybe. But grabbing anything not nailed down?

“Or,” Pop said, “maybe it was ‘zat heart attack.”

He paused, so that would sink in.

In Atlantic City, it’d happened, in the late 70s. When that first casino opened. The one with the swirly brown-and-orange rug.

Before “The Klepto,” she was the Slot Machine Queen. In her jeweled turban, she looked like that fortune-telling guy.

“Hey Zoltan,” some jerk yelled. “Where’s yer beard?”

The fever was raging. Eyes wild, she lost quarter after quarter. Cherries, lemons, Lucky 7s lined up, but never for the big payoff.

“Ma,” I kept saying, “Let’s go!”

“When I hit,” she said, “We’ll take a cruise! Leave ‘Miserable Bastard’ in his own puke!”

I snuck off to a bar.

          When I came back, she was out cold, on that swirly rug. Like maggots, people hovered over her. “Ma!” I yelled, shoving them away.

She lay there, turban askew, mouse-gray hair showing, her face the same color. Without seeing, she stared, a quarter still clenched in her fist.

But the EMTs made it there, in time.

“Nah,” I told Pop. “It wasn’t the heart attack.”

She’s just a dirty thief.

But the last time she called, I was caught off-guard. It wasn’t “her” ring.

Home sick from work, I stared anxiously at the phone, scared it was my boss. Had he heard how trashed I’d been, last night? Had a coworker ratted me out?

With a shaky hand, I picked up.

“Vic-, Vic-toria?” Ma was crying.

“Where are you?”

“K-Mart.” Her favorite place since I’d moved out. “The-the manager’s office.”

My head ached all over again.

“This lady cop,” she whispered loudly, “wants to arrest me!”

“Be right there,” I said.

In the K-Mart office, the bitchy manager and lady cop looked hungry for blood.

In a plastic interrogation chair sat Ma, all cried out. Her gray hair pointed in all directions. In her lap was her shabbiest turban.

“What happened?” I said.

In my mind, the cop snatched off the turban, searched it for dope, or a diamond necklace.

“We’ve been following her for weeks,” the manager said. “Always returning things…with no receipt.”

“Who saves receipts?” Ma said. “I only buy things I plan to keep. Like that lipstick.”

The cop held it up.

“I bought that . . . for you,” Ma told me.

Even hung over, my lips were bright red. The cop uncapped the lipstick to reveal the palest pink, ever.

“What am I, a corpse?”

“Certainly not,” Ma said. With the turban, she wiped her sweaty forehead. “That’s why I’m returning it.”

“With no receipt,” said the manager. “As usual.”

“It’s ‘the change’,” I said. “You know, that women go through . . . women older than us . . .” The cop smiled.

“No . . . change,” Ma said. But suddenly she did seem to change. She didn’t sound like herself. Her face looked as gray as her hair.

Only one other time had she looked that way.

Slot Machine Queen, I thought.

When she slumped over, I gasped. But the manager and cop smirked at each other. “Call 9-1-1!” I yelled. Before I reached the manager’s phone, the cop grabbed me.

The manager turned Ma’s purse upside down, but nothing fell out. She kept shaking it, like she didn’t believe it.

“Ma!” I cried, already sorry for stuff I’d said to her. For being an ungrateful, selfish brat my whole life. My guilt was just starting.

That corpse-pink lipstick she’d “bought” for me . . .

Matched the dress Pop picked out for the wake.





Cindy is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife & talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out 5-6 days a week, so needs no excuse to drink or do whatever the hell she wants. She’s been published in the usual places, such as Shotgun Honey, Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Megazine, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Mysterical-E, Dark Dossier, and Rock and a Hard Place. She is the editor/art director of the ezine, Yellow Mama. She’s a Gemini, a Christian, and an animal rights advocate.


Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/






In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021