Across The Counter
Reprinted from January 1991
Mrs. Maude Thatcher deposited into R.B.’s hands a ring bearing a large red stone.
“Now this,” she explained, “belonged to my Aunt Bessie Brown who came to Texas from Philadelphia in 1876. She had three sons, two of them looked like her, and the third had bright red hair.”
She leaned secretively and whispered in R.B.’s ear, “None of the rest of the family had red hair… so it does make one wonder.” She winked at RB knowingly.
“I always thought Aunt Bessie had a wild streak. Her mother thought so too…and her mother was such a dear…my mother’s sister…There was a brother, Bill Brown, but he moved to Miami and went into the shutter business…perhaps you have heard of him?….Bill Brown?”
“Ah, no. Now about this ring…”
“Well, anyway, I have four sisters and two brothers. Everyone wanted this ring but Aunt Bessie left it to me. Now my sister Norma married an army sergeant and moved to Germany. They have three children, Mr. Williams, two boys and a little girl.” She smiled proudly.
R.B. smiled also and tried again to inquire about the ring. “This ring is…”
“Another of my sisters, Thelma tips the bottle. Her husband pretends not to notice but everyone is aware of the problem.”
“Yes, that would be a problem,” R.B. butted in. “But now, about the ring…”
“Just a moment, Mr. Williams, I’m not finished telling you about the way I came to inherit this lovely ring. There’s my older sister, Camela. Such a dear, sweet child and so frail. Anyway she could never have any children of her own; nobody knew if her husband was sterile or what, so they adopted two lovely children. They were both illegitimate of course, but Camela and her husband, Jeff, are thrilled with them. Oh, did I tell you Jeff works for the government? He has a civil service job.”
“Speaking of jobs,” interjected R.B. desperately “about this…”
“Then there’s Sandy, my baby sister. Always been a problem. Must have been the generation gap. Sandy’s been married and divorced three times. Her first husband was a sailor and a real boozer, not worth a plug nickel. Every time he came home on leave, Sandy ended up ‘in a family way.’ Poor Sandy, her second husband was in the Peace Corps and he was gone a lot too. So things didn’t work out right.
“The last one was a traveling salesman,” she said with disgust. “Everyone knows about men like that!” So now poor Sandy’s single again – by the way, Mr. Williams, do you know any nice eligible men?”
“Not off hand,” moaned R.B. “Now, about this ring…”
“Well, if you’d stop interrupting and listen. My brother, Sam, he was the eldest, you know. I always favored Sam more than my other brother. Well, anyway, Sam went away to college and got a degree. He has a good job now and he married the sweetest girl, Patty Sue Jones. Did you know Patty Sue before they married? Her family lives on Falcon Street, I believe?”
“Er, no. But about this ring…”
“Anyway it doesn’t matter if you knew them I just thought you might. They are people of means, and now Patty Sue and Sam have a darling little boy. He goes to the first grade at Bowie School. Isn’t that sweet?”
“Ah, yea, sweet. Now about the ring.”
“Now my other brother, Joe, didn’t do so good. He married a foreign girl, one from out of state, I mean! And the family didn’t accept her. She is a real spit fire and gives Joe a run for his money! Actually I don’t know why I said that because Joe doesn’t have any money to speak of…”
“Well, never mind Joe. What about this ring!” R.B. cried out, exasperated.
“This ring you handed me when you came in.”
“Oh, my, what a pretty ring, Mr. Williams. I have one almost exactly like it.”
“Ms. Maude, this is your ring. You brought it in a few minutes ago. What did you want done with it?”
“Good heavens, my ring? Well, it does look like my ring.”
“It’s your ring, “snapped R.B. “What do you want me to do to it?”
“Well I can’t seem to recall. You’ve kept me talking so much, I believe you’re trying to confuse me.”
“Oh, no I’m not trying to confuse you. Try to remember what you wanted done to the ring…please.”
She stood there a moment trying to remember. Finally she snatched up the ring and started out the door.
“I’ll just have to come back another time, Mr. Williams, I’ll thank you to not pry into my personal affairs!”