Saturday Morning Short: The Bargain

June 30, 2012
A fictional story with a bit of political salt and pepper!

The Bargain

Jessica Ann was nobody’s minion. She had a mind of her own and proved it by sitting on the capitol steps protesting Wall Street. Though the weekly check she received in payment went vaguely against her principles, after all she had to eat. More accurately, she was responsible for her own cell phone bill and car insurance.

The 20-year-old felt especially empowered. She’d been interviewed for the News! She would have to leave early from class to get to Grandma’s to see the broadcast. Her memory of the event wrapped her like a fleecy blanket. The reporter asked what brought them there, and Jessica had spoken boldly against capitalism, the oppressive one percent who controlled all the wealth, and all forms of bigotry. And the Teapartiers! She’d found a few choice words for them!  This was AMERICA! All should have equal rights and opportunity. She smiled to herself when she thought how deftly she avoided answering the questions about funding. The smart aleck reporter had even asked who paid her tuition. She had used her best glare down stare and told him it was none of his business.

Her professor congratulated her on her sudden fame but he did it with an eyebrow raised and that smirky little half smile that made him seem like he didn’t really mean what he said. But he didn’t object when she slipped out of class fifteen minutes early.

Grandma’s maid answered the door and she told Jessica that her grandmother was already upstairs in the theater room with the news on. She bounded up and burst into the media room. Grandma was standing up watching the very news channel that had interviewed her.

“This is the channel I’m going to be on!” Jessica panted.

“I know. I saw the teaser an hour ago,” Grandma said. She neither looked at nor greeted her granddaughter otherwise.

It was probably the tank shirt she’d been wearing. Grandma still thought girls should cover their breasts and that shirt didn’t do much of that.

The news showed her in the teaser again and then cut away to an ad. Grandma groaned.

“I know you hate that shirt.” Jessica said.

“What shirt? Whatever you were wearing is not a shirt. My underclothes conceal more than that. But it strikes me rather odd that you spent $95 dollars just last week to get your hair cut and highlighted  and then you braid it up like a backwoods hayseed. What’s the point of that?”

Jessica grinned. “It fits the image of the oppressed. That’s who I’m representing.”

“If you’re undertaking an acting career, you should go to Hollywood. At least they pay their extras.”

“A lot you know. The university pays us too. It’s enough that I quit my job.”

Grandma did survey her directly then. Jessica felt her eyes on her as the full story ran on the 90 inch screen. She was staring at her instead of watching the interview. Jessica used the remote that was built into the theater seat to replay it twice. But Grandma had gone out. The girl hit ‘save’ on the DVR and floated down the long, curved stairs.

Grandma and the downstairs maid were in the tea room. To Jessica’s astonishment, they were packing the elaborate silver tea set that had been in the family for longer than Jessica could remember.

“What are you doing?”

“I made a decision.” Grandma said. “I’ve always intended for this old tea set to go to you. Do you remember when we used to have tea parties when you were a little girl?”

“Yes Grandma, I remember.”

“Well, we can’t very well have tea parties any more, when you have such strong words against such things.” Her mouth returned to a grim line as she packed the silver set.

“I decided to give you the tea set now. For you to do with as you see fit. Perhaps what you find in having it will help you to understand yourself and your own principles.”

“I don’t want it,” Jessica said. “I went to the thrift store recently with a friend and there are two or three sets like it. Everybody is seeing the hypocrisy of the Tea Party and symbolically giving away their tea sets.”

“I doubt very much that there were sets like this one in the Thrift store,” Grandma said sternly. “And so you understand, the contents of this box represent the final total of the inheritance you will receive from me. It’s a valuable set and after paying your college tuition and room and board for four years, this will be your total share.”

Jessica allowed the groundskeeper to load the heavy box into the trunk of her Honda CRV. What was she supposed to do with a tea set?  Grandma could be a spiteful old woman. She was probably mad because she’d quit her job. The job was a stipulation for getting the college paid for.

“In for a dime, in for a dollar,” Jessica said aloud. Why did Grandma have to be so frowning on the day of her television debut?

She dropped the box off at the thrift store donation center on her way back to the dorm.

It was a week later that she happened to see the same news reporter that had interviewed her, interviewing a woman named Sally Jennings. Jessica listened because it was the same reporter.

“I went to the thrift store to try to find an outfit to wear to my interview. I wanted the job so bad, we just couldn’t make ends meet with my husband out of work. I saw a bunch of tea sets on the high shelf, but this one looked different.  They got it down for me and it didn’t have the “sterling” or ‘925’ on it, but a lion.  But it was so heavy and it just felt like sterling. So I spent the last fifty dollars I had and bought the set. Then I found out that the lion is better than the other.”

The reporter questioned her further and she held up Jessica’s old family tea pot.

Jessica gasped. This is a valuable set. It was like Grandma to understate things. Jessica tuned her ears for detail.
“I put it up on Ebay,” the woman said. “The bidding is over a hundred grand so far, and the appraised value is more than that. Antique English sterling is pretty rare.”

More questions. The woman didn’t get the job because she wasn’t properly dressed. They were going to pay off their mortgage first when the money came from the silver.  No, the thrift store had no record of who had donated it.  No she wouldn’t return it if someone claimed they’d donated it on accident. Yes she would have returned it if it was stolen but she’d checked with the police and it wasn’t reported. Now it was too late.

Jessica’s phone buzzed. Grandma had sent a text. “I think I recognize my old tea set?”

Jessica didn’t reply. Another text came in.  “Protest cancelled 4 rest of the month due to high temp 4-cast. Pick up check at usual time.”

Jessica skipped her two o clock class. She locked herself into her private dorm room and buried her face in her pillow as she punched the Teddy bear grandma had given her when she was ten. “Not fair! Not fair! Not fair!” She wailed. 

The bear stared impassively back, unmoved, unsurprised and disinterested.  

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