one day when i was eight years old i went to the grocery store with my dad and sister (the same store from which i was nearly kidnapped as a toddler). my sister and i were old enough to wander around the store unsupervised, and i found myself alone in the produce area. i always liked the produce area — all those bizarre vegetables and fruits stacked up so uniformly, most of them unfamiliar to me. my parents bought grapes and carrots and apples and oranges, but they never bought any of the really weird stuff, and they almost never bought cherries. cherries were my favorite, so i’d always try to get my mom to buy some. unless they were on sale, she’d say, “no, we’re getting grapes,” and i’d proceed to sulk about cherries until we got to the candy aisle.
but on this day my mom wasn’t there, and my dad was off somewhere else in the store, probably trying to find the easiest thing he could possibly make for dinner. i don’t know where my sister was. so i was standing alone in the produce area, noticing how pretty all the different bell peppers were, and then i saw the cherries. there they were in a big shiny heap, gorgeous and completely unsupervised. i walked over and looked at them. then i looked around at the other people. then i took a cherry and put it in my pocket.
nothing happened. no alarms went off, nobody said “HEY, PUT THAT BACK!” nobody even looked at me. i don’t know why i’d expected all hell to break loose, but i was surprised it didn’t. i was even more surprised i’d done it in the first place, and that it had been so easy. i could feel the cherry in my pocket as i left the produce area and went to find my sister.
she was in the toy aisle. “megan, come on, i have to show you something,” i said. she followed me into the women’s restroom. i looked under all the bathroom stalls to make sure we were alone, and then i took the cherry from my pocket and held it out in my hand. “i stole a cherry.”
“what?” she said, looking as shocked as is possible for a seven-year-old.
“i stole it,” i said, expecting her to be impressed. “it was really easy.”
“i’m telling dad!” she said.
“no, no, don’t!” i said, grabbing her arm. “i’ll put it back!”
“i’m still telling!” she said, pulling her arm away and running out of the restroom. i stayed in there for a few minutes after she left, not sure what to do. i was going to be in trouble for sure. was it too late to ditch the cherry in the garbage can and deny the whole thing? probably.
when i finally came out of the restroom, my dad was waiting for me, my sister standing next to him. “did you steal a cherry?” he asked, staring down at me.
“yes,” i said.
he made me put it back, and after going through the checkout line, the three of us left the store without a word. when we got home he sat me down at the kitchen table and we talked about the incident. the only thing i remember about the conversation is that i felt really, really embarrassed the whole time, and after it was over i begged him not to tell my mother. he agreed, and she never said anything to me about it, but i know he must have told her. it was a pretty serious conversation, but i don’t think i was punished for the stealing. he could probably tell how badly i felt about the whole thing. in retrospect i know he was less worried about the value of what i’d stolen than he was about my potential career as a fruit thief.
i don’t think either one of us thought about the fact that, since i’d put the cherry back in the produce bin, some poor unsuspecting person was probably going to eat a cherry that’d spent time in some kid’s linty pocket.