She had a cactus in her back yard, but she had no friends. When the cactus bloomed silky white flowers, she would watch them from a lawn chair, all alone. She loved TV, but she had no friends. When her favorite program – Wheel of Fortune – came on, she would watch it from a lounge chair, all alone.
Margaret lived in a ground-floor flat with a postage-stamp yard. She had a job at the button factory, black loafers, and uncombed hair. One day, she asked a clerk at Albertsons where she might find biscuits. He continued to stack pickles without looking up. Margaret left to find the biscuits on her own. They were in the last aisle on the top shelf. She couldn’t reach them, so she asked a passerby for help. The bald man in khakis just walked away. She put her basket down and walked out of the store.
Then it struck her.
She walked back to her basket and put one foot on the lowest shelf. Standing on tippy toes, she managed to swat her biscuits off the high shelf and into a display of flavored teas. Margaret picked out the biscuits, put them in her basket that held a wedge of blue cheese and a can of olives, and walked out of the store. No bells rang. No security guard chased her to her car.
After she put her groceries, basket and all, into the trunk of her 2004 Honda Accord she walked over to the Target just next door. She pushed her cart through the store stopping to pick up a couple of sweaters, a new pair of flats, a few DVDs — one starring Ryan Gosling whom she loved. Passing through electronics, she picked up three pairs of headphones and some batteries — double As and a package of Ds. You never had batteries when you needed them.
She pushed the cart out of Target, again failing to pay, and unloaded her loot into the Honda.
She could also use new sheets. Margaret walked into the Linen Outlet behind a heavy-set woman wearing a short skirt. The clerk at the register said a cheery hello to the lady. No one said anything to Margaret.
Margaret walked directly to the sheet section where she found the pink ones she’d been planning to pick up once she had gotten her next paycheck. They were perfect. She had also seen a small white throw rug she could put next to her bed. She grabbed it on the way out. Might as well take two. She walked out with her new items, stuffed them into her trunk with the other goodies, and rubbed her hands like she was putting on lotion.
Margaret was hungry after her shoplifting spree so she drove to Denny’s. It took a lot of effort to get a waitress’ attention, but she was finally able to order scrambled eggs and coffee. When her meal finally came, it was lukewarm. She ate it, took a last sip of tepid coffee and walked out.
Margaret had discovered her superpower.
For weeks she “shopped.” She brought all kinds of things she didn’t need to her tiny apartment. Dog treats, a kite, several boxes of laundry detergent and a stuffed koala bear she noticed in a kids’ store. She had a dozen light bulbs, three reams of copy paper and several electric toothbrushes. She never used her wallet.
Margaret wished she had friends she could share her bounty with. She put an ad on Craigslist: Looking for a friend. Any age. She got five responses. Three of them included penis pics, which she deleted after looking at them from every angle. The other two were from a recently widowed woman in her 40s who was “bitterly” lonely she said and a man in a wheelchair who never left his house. She told each of them that she really enjoyed shopping and eating out. The man in the wheelchair didn’t respond, so her new friend was the widow, Elaine. For the first time ever, someone friended Margaret on Facebook.
Margaret and Elaine agreed to meet at a mid-town museum café for coffee. No one had ever witnessed Margaret’s special ability before and she was eager to share it.
Margaret got to the café early so she could find a conspicuous place by the door where Elaine couldn’t miss her. Elaine did miss her and it wasn’t until Margaret called out, “Elaine! Elaine!” that Elaine turned around and saw a mousy woman waving her hand with great enthusiasm. Elaine sat down and the waiter handed her a menu. When the waiter came to take their orders, he forgot to write Margaret’s down; so, when he came back with one ham and cheese sandwich, the women shared it.
They gabbed like schoolgirls. After an hour, three cups of coffee each and that shared ham sandwich, the new friends decided to go into the museum. Margaret told Elaine to go out ahead of her; she’d be there in a minute. “I want to show you how I don’t have to pay; but, you need to go out first,” said Margaret.
Elaine thought maybe she was a celebrity or an important patron. Once Elaine was out of sight, Margaret stood up and walked out the door. Finally, thought Margaret happily, someone to share my gift with. As the door shut behind her, Margaret was almost giddy with excitement, “Did you see that?”
“What?” said Elaine.
“I’m invisible,” Margaret answered. Elaine swallowed.
Suddenly, the waiter came out and shouted after them. They needed to come back in and pay their check. Margaret and Elaine were both dumbfounded, but for very different reasons.
“What’s this about?” Elaine asked.
“I’m insignificant. No one ever sees me.” Elaine waited for more. “You make me visible,” said Margaret.
Elaine was kryptonite.
After Margaret paid their check, she asked Elaine if she wanted to come over to watch Wheel of Fortune. Also, her cactus was about to bloom.
Courtney Winfree is a Los Angeles based writer who gets paid to watch TV. She produces promos for cool shows and also for not-so-cool shows. Being from Los Angeles, she spends most of her day in traffic so there’s really not a lot of time for other activities.