She opened her handbag and tipped the contents onto the floor. A shower of make up accessories, a pack of cigarettes, receipts and tissues hit the floor with a dull rattle. Her eyes bulged in their sockets and her lips were pulled back over her teeth. Despite the tailored suit and the immaculate hair, she had gone from composed to feral with a lupine ease.
Theresa rolled her eyes when she thought that the woman was not looking. She had been at the store for four years and had her SIA license, which she would remind me of, on a regular basis.
There’s a rhythm to shoplifting, a poor man’s ballet, a symphony played on broken bottles and cigarette ends. It’s called SCONE and she had sung along with me since she had come in. Selecting the lipstick, concealing it on her person and trying to hide the thrilled smile as she did it. She did not see me at the end of the aisle, taking a deep and profound interest in the presentation of the special offer toothbrushes nor did she bother the checkouts as she sailed past. Her head was high as she left the store, the ecstasy of stealing running through her veins.
She had not taken it at all well. The moment that I asked her to come back into the store, she had begun a torrent of abuse that she only ended when she ran out of breath. Hence the handbag.
‘Madam, you’re making this more difficult than it needs to be.’
My tone was even, which caused her to look down at the contents of her handbag. Her lips went back over her teeth and she asked in a small, broken voice if she could grab the tissues that were part of the pile.
‘I’m having some problems.’
She offered this, and to a certain degree, until the police were called, we had some discretion left to us. We dealt with first cases by offering them a taste of what would happen. The impressionable would be suitably frightened enough not to do it again but the professionals would stay silent, greeted by their first name when the police arrived. A woman crying is one of the most uncomfortable things you can experience, but it was easier to deal with than rage.
Theresa unfolded her arms. The woman gave the lipstick back without incident and her relief was palpable, waking from a nightmare to find that it was not real.
When I saw her again, it was on the evening news, yellow crime scene tape strung outside a house that I could never afford, a police car in the foreground and an earnest reporter with a helmet of brown hair telling us about the tragedy that had unfolded. She was smiling as they led her out of the van, months later, and even when they sentenced her, she had a beatific smile on her face. Kids and husband, they said. Used a kitchen knife until the blade snapped. It did not say on whom, but the tea in my mouth tasted like blood.
The timeline suggested that she had gone straight home that afternoon, redundancy with it’s fresh sting, a husband who had never recovered from his own fall from the pedestal of employment and loud, troubled children with an anagram alphabet of mental conditions. She grabbed the first weapon available and decided that if she had gotten away with one thing, why not another?
I should have let her take the bloody lipstick.