The Chinese Lady

Several times during a week, Reuben Fieldstone stopped in at the same little convenience store. The sign over the display window read: Star Shoppe. It was pretentious for the dark little storefront, squeezed between and beneath the commercial office buildings that enveloped it. It was directly on Reuben’s route from home to office and back.

It was on the rush hour route, so he left for his office either after the morning rush slowed, and returned home before or after the evening rush. His days were pretty much his own, because his business was doing well. His studio was making garden characters, such as gnomes, toads, and mushrooms out of clay. The staff and manager are experienced and productive, and he was comfortable to leave them on their own. He just went to the office each day out of habit, and just to make sure all was well.

A tiny, adorable, young Chinese woman ran the Star Shoppe. She was always behind the counter at the cash register with her arm around a very young infant that rested on her hip. She rang in the purchases and made change with her free hand. Often, Reuben would see her husband at the back of the store, near the entrance to their living quarters. He looked to be too old for this petite young woman. He wore a permanent scowl and chain-smoked all the time. The woman was pleasant, but in her eyes, there were signs of burden.

On his usual, boring drive to his boring office, Reuben Fieldstone stopped by the Star Shoppe for some mints. At the cash register were the lovely woman and her baby. The husband, muttering and apparently drunk, scowled unseeing from his bridge chair at the back of the store.

The woman was suffering anxiety, and whispered, “My God will save me. I will continue, and I know my God will save me.” Immediately, Reuben scanned her small arms for bruises, and was relieved to see that there was none. “Do you want help?” he whispered. She looked up into his eyes but said nothing. When she handed him his change, her fingertips lingered a moment on Reuben’s. She looked at the floor and back at her husband, but did not look at Reuben again. He left the store and was filled with pity.

Two days later, Reuben was in the store to buy a magazine and chewing gum. While he paid, he whispered to the woman, “Do you want help to get away?” She looked up into his eyes and made a barely visible nod of her head. “I will help you,” Reuben said. “Can you be outside with your baby at midnight?”

“Tonight? How…?”

“Just bring what you need for the baby. You won’t need anything else,” Reuben said. “I will be at the curb, ready to go, at midnight tonight. If you can’t make it, we’ll do it tomorrow night or the next. You shouldn’t have to suffer punishment from a drunk.”

Reuben Fieldstone was excited. He felt like he was in a spy adventure. He was aware that he could have a lot of trouble from the husband and the law, and he’d deal with it when he had to. He spent the evening arranging his spare bedroom for his guest. He had been using it as a den, but it took little to make it a bedroom. He shelved all the books and magazines, and opened the sofa bed. He put fresh linen and blankets on it.

A few minutes before midnight, Reuben got into his car and drove to his clandestine rendezvous. He felt anxiety and eagerness as he contemplated what he might do next, after he gets her to safety. As he approaced the Star Shoppe, he could see that the woman was not there. He circled the block, and when he came around, she was there with the baby and a plastic bag. He stopped in front of her and went around to open the back door. Without a word, she got into the car with the bag and the baby. Reuben noticed that she looked very small in the rear seat of the large car.

He drove straight into his garage to avoid scrutiny. Again, neither of them spoke as he helped her out of the car with the baby, and took the bag from her. He led her through the door into the house. The woman caught her breath when she saw the kitchen, gleaming with white enamel and polished steel. The baby began to cry. Reuben led the way upstairs, showed her to her room, and left the bag on the bed.

He retreated down the stairs, wondering what the hell he had done, and what the hell is he going to do next?

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