Saturday, July 20, 2013

Three-Minute Fiction's Finders Keepers: Cookies (the story)

Three-Minute Fiction Contest 2013.  
 "Cookies" by Roberta Morris

Bertha took the first empty seat she saw.  It was next to a Park Avenue grande dame type whose Saks shopping bag occupied the seat on the other side.  With a sniff, the lady stood up, grabbed her bag and moved down the car.  A delicious aroma made Bertha glance down.  Behind where the shopping bag had been was a small box from a place called Martha's Pastries.  Bertha found the smell intoxicating:  party cookies. "Homeless I may be," she thought to herself, "but I was well brought up."  She breathed in one more time, and then, half rising and pointing toward the box, said to the woman's departing back, "You left something."

The man across from her shook his head and mouthed "Don't bother."  Bertha disagreed.  "Homeless I may be," she thought, "and I will accept contributions, but I never steal."  The lady would probably realize her mistake, walk back and give Bertha a sheepish smile.  Maybe she'd even let her keep the box.  It wasn't that big.

The subway lurched along.  Bertha contemplated the situation. "'On further reflection,'" as her boss thirty years ago had always written when he'd overlooked the obvious, "a Muffy's Mother like that won't come back while I'm sitting here."  Sure enough, as Bertha looked down the car, the arrogant face turned away.

"I could make it easy for her and sit somewhere else,"  Bertha acknowledged to herself.  Then she noticed a small envelope taped to the top of the box.  At that moment, the train pulled into 68th Street and the lady exited, stiff-backed and with a studied non-glance at Bertha. 

Bertha immediately pulled off the envelope.  Inside was a Macy's gift card for $100 and a note: "Winifred Higglethorpe!! Enjoy your birthday!!! Affectionately, Cousin Cynthia."  Bertha knew she would never keep that money.  What was in the box, though, was perishable.  And she might never find Winifred.

Bertha stuck the envelope back on the box and carried it off the train.  She headed for her favorite branch library. "I pray I'll die before the end of libraries," she grinned. "If I'm lucky I'll even die before the end of books printed on paper."  The librarian smiled at her -- they both loved Mrs. Gaskell -- and Bertha signed up for time at a computer.

When her turn came, she searched for Winifred Higglethorpe.   "Homeless I may be," thought Bertha, "But my computer skills are terrific."  Winifred Higglethorpe was a perfect name for the Google age.  "Not like Ellen Miller," she laughed.  Ellen had been Bertha's name until she was 37 and a construction worker had called out to her, "It's Big Bertha!"  She was more a Bertha than she'd ever been an Ellen.

The only Winifred Higglethorpe anywhere in the ether lived in the East 80s off Second Avenue.   Not a bad walk.  As Bertha reached her destination, Cousin Cynthia was getting out of a cab.  Bertha walked up to her and offered the box. "You left this on the subway."  The woman backed away and ran toward the building.  "At least take the gift card," yelled Bertha, "I only shop at Prada."  The Saks shopper turned, grabbed the card, and left Bertha with the box.  There were four Linzer cookies, four chocolate-dipped seashells, and four squares of pastry topped with stripes of marzipan and jam.  "Homeless I may be," thought Bertha, "but I do appreciate quality."

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