Linoleum and Larceny
KJ Hannah Greenberg
Teens tend to think about homework, about best friends, about phone bills, and maybe even about forthcoming holidays. They’re not habituated to concern themselves with life and death matters, especially if such issues come from the end of a weapon. When I was fifteen, however, I found myself thinking about the totality of my deeds. When I was fifteen, my family was held at gun point.
The day had been ordinary; the snow had been shoveled into messy piles along most major roadways, the gunk was coming down from the sky in both liquid and solid form, and I was otherwise occupied with calling several friends, in sequence, on the wall phone. My slightly younger sister waited, patiently for her age, for a turn at the phone. To our dismay, we had to end our social plans to accompany our parents on a trip to pick out flooring. My mother did not want to live another week with the peeling, discolored material that decked our kitchen floor. Besides, the local shop was having a sale on that stuff.
Grabbing hats, mittens, and warm coats, we followed my parents into our car. My father, who would later be wheelchair bound, was somehow able to get into the driver’s seat with the aid of a cane and my mother’s strong arms.
In the back seat, my sister and I discussed possible trades we could make with each other, and with a select group of friends, for matching skirts, shirts and headbands. We talked about the upcoming grading period. We thought about acne. We were not interested in the driving conditions since both of us were yet too young for learners’ permits.
Though we tried to coax and cajole our parents into commuting to a more interesting destination than a hardware store, such as a clothing boutique, a pizzeria, or even the library, our parents were intent on achieving their goal; we would not return home until affordable, attractive linoleum was ordered for our kitchen.
My sister and I were less than excited when we arrived at the store. Asking permission first, we separated from our parents and wandered through the appliance section. It was interesting to look at refrigerators and at dryers. Microwaves were a new invention and as such were amazing to us. Even stovetops and ovens held our interest for a few minutes.
Thereafter, we lingered in the paint department and talked to each other about the pros and cons, as listed on the signs in the aisles, of latex versus oil-based pigments. We fantasized about the colors we would paint our rooms if we would be granted the say so to make those choices.
As we moved from department to department, we shared dreams of having our own homes and our own families. For a few, brief moments we even touched on what it would be like to be married. From our vantage point, the future was a vast stretch of unknown experiences. We were in no rush to try on those opportunities. We figured that we had plenty of time.
Meanwhile, in the flooring department, a salesman had unfolded a chair for my father. My father could walk aided, but could not stand for long periods.
My sister and I quickly moved through the hardware section of the store. I wanted to look at the nuts and bolts, but she wasn’t interested in lingering over such things. She told me she’d go to the place where my parents were weighing the relative merits of polished and polish-free finishes and would give them her thoughts on color.
I looked at hammers and at flashlights. I filled my eyes with the many sizes that screwdrivers came in and wondered aloud about the array of possibilities that existed for bolts. Tiring of such mental machinations, I decided to join my family in the flooring section. That choice turned out to be one of the most frightening decisions of my life.
Those many decades ago, not only did the Internet exist only in the imaginations of mathematicians (who knew from computer scientists), but it was also the case that cell phones were the province of science fiction novels or of spies. When I realized that my family and their salesperson were being held at gunpoint, there was little I could do to call for help, except to pray.
By that section’s cash register, in cliché pieces of women’s stockings (the better to mask their facial features), two thugs were pointing their weapons at my loved ones. My father looked ill. My mother and my sister looked pale. The salesman’s color was indescribable.
I wish I could tell you that I acted heroically, but the truth of the matter was that I was very afraid. I thought, in less than an instant, or so it seemed, about the boys I would never date to marry, about our pet dog who would remain uncared for, and, most of all, about how my father was physically incapable of doing any bidding that might enter the gunmen’s minds.
I wish I could tell you that I ran to my family to share their predicament. I did not. I figured, having read so many stories about survivors that someone had to live to maintain our lineage. I hid in the paint department.
Too many long minutes later, I heard sirens. From my view by the ladders and drop cloths, I could see two uniformed police officers enter the store. Quickly, they made their way across aisles, past the rows I could visually track. A little while later, they exited the building, but left more quietly and more slowly than they had entered.
I inched from paint brushes and turpentine to frying pans and waffle makers. I moved from coffee pots to light fixtures, almost tripping on a floor lamp. I tiptoed from outdoor lighting to cleaning supplies and from detergent to an aisle, the pet food section, where I could see the floor covering section.
, all of my family was still there and was completely intact. My father was sipping coffee and looking horrible. My mother and sister were still clutching each other. The salesman was on the phone.
In the end, my parents received an unbelievable discount on linoleum, which my sister and I regarded as hideous, the police caught the robbers at a bakery up the street (stopping for rolls is not a good idea when you are carrying stolen money), and my family was reunited. The sad thing is that my parents and sister had been worried that the burglars had kidnapped me on their way out of the store.
Although, to wit, I was able to bargain for greater phone privileges and for a fifteen minute extension on my bedtime, that negotiation had come at a high cost. I would rather not have had my family and I go through such a frightening situation in order to get those teenage goodies.