We expected the meal to be dull. Lilly, my girlfriend, invited our elderly neighbor Marla from down the hall to come to our Thanksgiving. She did the same last year, but since then, Marla received a sad diagnosis. Her chances of seeing another Thanksgiving were becoming slim.
Lilly cooked up a glorious meal with customary trimmings. The smell of turkey and that specific scent from boiling sliced up potatoes floated around our small kitchenette and living room. Her most prized part of the meal sat in the fridge - two pies.
They were store-bought, but that did nothing to tarnish Lilly’s excitement. She had walked up the frozen food aisle like a colonel inspecting the troops; checking through each frosted door and shuffling the boxes between crunchy bits of ice. Her eyes would survey the box with a focus most reserve for buying high-priced TVs or cars. She made her choice – pumpkin for her and French Silk for me.
“You like French Silk, Robert?”
“Love it,” I said.
They would make their grand appearance at the end of our meal.
Marla was supposed to come at 12:30 p.m. after Lilly and I finished our Thanksgiving meal. We finished our food and prepared the pies at 12:21 p.m. We waited politely, the pies untouched, until Marla finally decided to show herself at 1:13 p.m. We got her seated and asked her if she’d like a piece of the pumpkin pie or the French silk.
“A little bit of both,” she said.
Lilly obliged. I got my piece and immediately went into small talk. Marla told the same stories no matter when we see her, so we have them all down pretty well.
We all had a bit more pie.
Then the moment came. Lilly got out the aluminum foil and started covering up the entire pumpkin pie to pack it away until we decided to sneak bites throughout the night.
“Oh no, you don’t have to give me the whole pie. That’s too much,” Marla said.
“Uh, Marla, I wasn’t going to give you the whole pie.”
“Oh, oh…” Marla’s scrambling at this point, realizing she was being presumptive. Instead of surrendering, she doubles-down.
“Robert had offered… uh, earlier…”
Marla’s now looking right at me – clearly trying to think of what to say.
“He’d mentioned maybe I’d take two pieces home.”
I’m dumbstruck. Ideas flooded my mind as I tried to filter through my options.
“Actually, Marla, I didn’t say a damn word!”
A simple belt: “LIAR!”
Ask, “You want some pie,” as I stand and slam the silver-haired thief’s wrinkled face down into the French Silk.
I chose none of them. I froze.
“Oh, okay...” Lilly said confused.
Lilly was, after all, the type who would trust the harmless-looking, seventy-something woman lying directly to her face. By, “the type,” I mean anyone. Anyone would trust someone who looked like Marla. Yet there the criminal sat, with her curly white hair and pastel colored clothes, blithely eating my pie.
I was still frozen as Marla started to tell one of her old stories about how she stood in line with someone who looked like Jimmy Stewart from the back. She may have even remembered she’d told us the story, but considered a retelling some sort of sick victory lap.
My moment was passing.
Do I correct her? Do I pretend she’s unaware and politely say she misheard me earlier and can’t have any pie?
“It’s our pie!”
You’re always told to do the right thing and stand-up to evil, but can a, old dying woman who lies about being offered pie constitute as evil? I thought yes. But then where do I draw the line? I let dessert go. Next she wants leftovers from the entree and starts taking things at random from our apartment.
“That’s my laptop!”
My whole moral compass was in shatters.
I legitimately did not know if Marla robbed a bank and I was the only person who could recognize her, if I would tell the police. Remember, she’s a dying old woman relying on the kindness of neighbors for a bit of company on the holidays. Before I could rebound, her story about the back of Jimmy Stewart’s head was finished. I mustered a, “Oh wow, you were so close. I love It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“Wait a second!” I thought. “Of course – of course I would tell the police she robbed a bank!” Even if it was less than the 250,000 the FDIC would insure. That’s obvious. I decided the moment was now. I needed to stop Marla before she got out of control.
At this point, she was already standing up to leave. Luckily, standing takes older people awhile. Lilly and I helped her stand. She grabbed the plate with the two pieces of pie. This was it.
“Oh, Marla, let me put some whipped cream on those pieces for you,” Lilly said, grabbing back the plate and walking toward the refrigerator.
“That’s so nice. Thank you,” Marla said standing by the door – ready to make her break.
“Marla,” I stood, fatherly, ready to scold.
“Oh no!” Lilly knocked the plate off the counter onto our dusty wood floor. “I’m sorry, Marla. Let me make you another plate.”
“That’s all right. I shouldn’t have too much sugar anyhow,” Marla said. “Thanks again, this was so much fun.”
“Yes, it was,” I said. “Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Need help cleaning that up?” I asked as I shut and locked the door.
“No,” Lilly said. “I did it on purpose. I wasn’t about to let that bitch steal our pie.”