“Get down on your knees,” I yell in my best gangster voice. I aim the gun straight at the customers, willing my hands to stop trembling. “Do it,” I say, louder this time. I can hear the slight quiver in my voice, but it doesn’t matter. A nervous robber is just as scary as a calm one. I make the cashier open the register. The little ring sounds too happy for the deep fear in the room. “Move it,” I holler, because they always say that in movies.
The cashier puts stacks of tens and twenties into a paper bag. She can’t be more than seventeen years old, but her scared green eyes make her look about fourteen. She wears her long blonde hair in a ponytail, just like my daughter Mindy. I move my hand to the right pocket of my black pants and touch the folded-up magazine page with the picture of a pale blue, sparkle-covered prom dress. Its sweetheart neckline and mermaid silhouette are perfect for Mindy. The day I gave birth to my daughter, I pictured her wearing a dress like this and looking like a princess. With the money I earn here, Mindy will go to prom in her pale blue dream dress.
I order the cashier onto the floor after she has emptied the register. Then I shove the bag in front of the five people huddled below me. “Put your cash and valuables in here.” I point the gun at the tall man on my left. I can see the sweat starting to dampen his t-shirt. He digs his wallet out of his blue jeans and tosses it in the bag, his hands shaking the entire time. The man’s blond hair and light complexion remind me of my father when he was younger. My father worked at the factory until his fingers were blistered and bleeding, and he still had to worry about how he would pay the bills. That’s why I never went to prom. We couldn’t afford it.
I turn to the rich, successful lady next. At least, I assume she is rich and successful. Her black business suit and sparkling silver watch make it seem that way. She pulls a wallet out of her ugly, gigantic purse and drops it in the bag. “The watch, too,” I order, pointing my trembling index finger at the lady’s wrist. I should feel sorry for the woman, but I am sure replacing her fancy watch and wallet will not even make a dent in her petty cash.
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Last in line is a couple buying diapers and a pacifier. They toss their money in the bag, and I feel a little queasy. My husband and I used to have to spend our last bit of cash to make sure there was enough formula and diapers for our baby. The last thing I want to do is steal from a baby, but I can’t let Mindy miss her prom. A few months ago, she saw the picture of the dress. “It’s gorgeous,” she told me. Then she asked, “I wish we could afford to buy this for prom.”
“We can,” I said.
I look down at the sack that means a fairy tale night for my princess, then I glance at the couple as they sit holding each other, worry wrinkling their faces. I wish they hadn’t been in the store. I can rank my daughter’s special night above the cashier, the rich lady, and the man who reminds me of my father. But even a once-in-a-lifetime dress pales in comparison to a baby’s needs. Now I start to sweat, wishing I never came in here. I fight my conscience for a few moments, then a compassionate impulse grabs me. I pull out the wallet they had just dropped in the bag. I wipe the imitation leather on the bottom of my black shirt, hoping to erase any fingerprints I might leave, and I toss it in front of the father. He gives me a slight nod of thanks as I back out of the store with both hands holding the gun in front of me. I sprint to my car and drive faster than I ever have before.