“Happy Accident” by Crow Jonah Norlander

I honestly don’t know how my son wound up inside the redeemables deposit. I guess he climbed in while I wasn’t looking. He weighs about as much as a bag full of glass bottles, but I still would have noticed him synched up in that flimsy green plastic.

We ran out of the barcoded stickers that label the bags and scan to unlock the hatch, so I had no choice but to leave him inside the yeasty shipping crate. I crossed the parking lot, went into the grocery store, and printed out a new reel of tags from the kiosk.

When I got back, he’d torn through some of the flimsy plastic and had thrown recyclable material everywhere. He’d latched onto a Heineken can, tonguing whatever dribble was left in the rim, and his hands were sticky beyond belief, though that’s par for the course with my little condiment lover.

I scolded him a bit, just because we’re still working on boundaries, and then convinced him to tidy up as best he could. The virginal reel of white squares on its wax paper backing fluttered in my breast pocket just beneath my chin. It gave me the idea. While he was in there, he could make the most of it. Like fishes and loaves, our bounty miraculously multiplied.

“Just put these over the ones already on there. Cover ’em right up,” I instructed. His love for stickers came in handy. Usually a scarce good, I encouraged him to be liberal with them. Lining them up just right was good practice for his fine motor skills.

When I invited him to climb out, he protested. He was having too much fun, but I was getting paranoid so I retrieved him, maybe too hastily, because his tears attracted some looks, though nothing people weren’t used to ignoring.

A couple days later I went to check our balance. All those nickels really added up quick. It was tempting to withdraw it all, there were lots of places it could’ve wound up, but I found the self-restraint to leave it there to redeem against grocery bills. We ate good that week, worry free.

Then I got a call. My account had been flagged. They had my boy on camera. No mention of me, for some reason, but they’d tied the suspicious deposit to our usual Hannaford and figured it out from there. I considered denying it, but no plausible alternative explanation presented itself to me in time.

I agreed to repay them, or rather, I had no choice but to wave goodbye to what remained of the credit on my account. They revoked my program membership, and took down my son’s name to proactively ban him from their system. Fraud is such a harsh word, it sounds so deliberate and nefarious.

My bottle deposit days of convenience are over; we’re back to Redemption on Forest where the proprietor levies an unofficial tax, pilfering odd containers on the grounds that they’ll  clog his machines. It’s low-tech, but the human element keeps it interesting. Probably more efficient than the corporate surveillance at the other place, but my son keeps finding ways to wind up places he shouldn’t be. We always make the most of things.

Crow Jonah Norlander lives in Maine with his wife, child, and two retired racing greyhounds.

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