This piece came from one of the excellent workshops I took with author Grace Palmer.
The Price of Cookies
The boy wandered the aisles of the shop and the clerk watched him. She didn’t watch closely; her feet hurt after seven hours on shift, and she didn’t want to go to the trouble of leaving the counter. But she watched him as he moved into view and out of view and she saw the moment when he slipped the cookies—oatmeal raisin—into his pocket.
The boy’s hollow cheeks, the dark circles under his eyes and the hand-me-down clothes that hung from his slender frame gave him a waifish appearance and the clerk wanted to give him the cookies, pay for them herself, offer an apple maybe or a granola bar to go along with them. He looked kind of like her Bobby before he enlisted, all knees and elbows. A kid like that needed more to eat than cookies.
But the security cameras might have seen cookie theft and it wasn’t worth the clerk’s job to let a kid, even a hungry-looking kid like that, walk away with a buck ninety-nine worth of stolen merchandise.
The boy, Kelvin, approached the counter and veered to the left, waving a hand at the clerk with what he hoped was an air of “Just looking. Didn’t find what I wanted” but the clerk called him back and instead of running, Kelvin emptied his pockets onto the counter, unearthing a wallet containing a driver’s license and a love letter from someone who’d died years before, several rubber bands, a pocketknife, a cool rock he’d found in the park earlier, and the package of cookies at the heart of the clerk’s distress.
They both shifted uncomfortably, debating perhaps. Kelvin debating whether there was still time to grab his things and run. The clerk debating whether it was worth the shit pay she made at this job to deal with trying to have a hungry teenager arrested.
The stared at each other for a few moments. Neither knew the other was hanging on just this side of starting to cry.
The clerk sighed, shoved everything back across the counter and said, “Don’t come back here.”
Kelvin left, knowing he’d have to find a new store, further away, leaving his mother alone longer than he wanted. And he walked back through the park, back to the hospital. He tried to eat one of the cookies, but he could barely choke it down his throat.