Red Desk
Ken Harshbarger

at fifty years old, Rita is a widow, but she has three children that are grown and doing great. at fifty years old, Rita still works full time at a job she likes. at fifty, Rita cannot afford to get arrested for shoplifting. if she does, she will surely go to jail.
I'm taking pictures of her fresh stitches.
she's reading an encyclopedia, a section about witches. she had to have surgery, got too big for her britches -- a procedure so common it's become hand-assisted.

when the Sunday paper comes, she leaves it on the table and goes about dusting the furniture. she carves an antelope out of a bar of Ivory soap. as the day wears on, she can hear the newspaper clearer and clearer, and she knows the slick, bright-colored advertisements are worming their way out. she carves carefully, ignoring the white soap shavings that fall onto the red desk-top like maggots on ripe meat. after a while, she blows on the carving and turns it in her hand, admiring it without self-pleasure. she puts the white antelope on top of the chifferobe among a sprawling herd of horned curios.
'take the d off a devil and you got evil,' she said.
she goes into the kitchen and finds the ads in disarray. she imagines smashing her fist on the newspaper and the ads squirting out the sides. SALE!! BUY ONE GET ONE FREE!! SPRING 50% OFF CLOSEOUT!! they whisper sinister phrases.
'take the fat out of fathers and you got hers,' I said.
Rita gathers the ads, smashes their bright colors together and stuffs them back inside the newspaper. when she turns to leave, they ooze back out -- a rainbow of uppercase letters and slashed retail prices.
'I've already shaved off twelve pounds,' she said. she smiled and jiggled and slapped closed the book, she jokes: 'take the fun out of food and I don't want to live.'
This happens every Sunday. her children come on Saturday and keep her busy. but on Sunday, when the house is empty and Rita all alone, the advertisements speak. and not about deals either. no. they make her hungry for things. they tell her where to go, what to steal. what to put in her mouth.
we've been through this before, and I don't have the time. 'don't be dramatic,' I say, 'it's gonna be fine. I've got a meeting to go to, but I'll be back at nine.'
Rita can hear their commands throughout the house. even upstairs in her bedroom with the door closed and her head beneath the pillow, she hears them. and today she does not fight them. she empties her purse and puts on her shopping clothes. they are lucky ones. ones she's never worn to jail.