This is my 2 cents for Dan O'Shea's flash challenge. Enjoy and get the complete list of entries at Dan's blog.
PASS THE PLATE
by Eric Beetner
I seen my Daddy take it. All those years of pulling quarters out of my ear and making a nickel jump from one hand to the other gave me a keen eye for his trickery.
Every week I saw him squirm when the pastor announced it was time to pass the plate. If it came to me first I would pass it to him and he always took it like a pie tin just out of the oven. If it came to Momma first she would hold on to it and wait for him to make his donation. I see that now as distrust, though I didn’t know it at the time.
We was poor, sure. So was everyone else in the congregation. We all prayed hard for more money. Maybe not out loud but when eyes were shut and hands folded white-knuckle tight I know what them people were wishing for.
But that day, I seen him put his hand in and come back out with three more coins than was in his hand when it went in. He did it smooth, almost too smooth. Most people would let the coins drop from high enough so everyone around them could hear how generous they was being. Daddy put his hand down close to the pile of change and passed over it like he was rolling dough.
I’d never have seen it if it wasn’t for Miss Floretta’s new dress. Talk after services was on how inappropriate it was for church and one of Momma’s friends made a crack that she’d run out of fabric when she sewed it. Fabric over her sizable bosom. I had to keep my eyes averted or run the risk of having impure thoughts right there in the pew.
Instead I caught my Daddy stealing.
I feel like that was the day I grew up.
If he would take money from the plate at church, what else was he in to? When he stayed out late to work a double shift I pictured him leading a double life. Other women, jugs of wine, sin, sin, sin. I looked at Daddy different from that day on.
I come to know now that he was just a man down on his luck. There was no deep secret, no slick criminal under the factory coveralls. Just a man needed the help of others but too prideful to ask for it.
I stopped fully trusting Daddy that day too. I started listening less to what he had to say about life. That was my inheritance; his experience. On the tip of my tongue after every life lesson was, “Yeah, but you steal from the plate at church!”
I only saw him do it the once. I tried not to look after that but almost always found myself with an excuse to turn my head. Shoelace untied, lost my page in the hymnal, a dry cough. I watched his hands for more parlor tricks but never saw any.
Still I saw Daddy as a thief. His coloring had changed to me. I wondered if Momma knew. I wondered if she put him up to it. She was always saying about something new we needed for the house. Maybe holding that plate was her way of acting accomplice.
How would they feel if they knew I took for myself?
I started in to shoplifting after that. God didn’t come down and smite me and he never punished Daddy so why not? I stole small. Candy bars, a comic book. Nothing that would get me more than a smack on the knuckles or a lash with the belt. Guys in the papers stole more every day.
If I ever did get caught, I had what I knew in my back pocket. Safe and ready to use. It would whomp Daddy like a horseshoe to the side of the head. I can just see him lecturing me on Godliness and the eighth commandment and I bring it out for all to hear. It would stop him dead in his tracks.
But I don’t judge Daddy. I don’t throw stones.
He’s a man. He gives me what I need, a roof over my head. I hope he spent those coins on himself. I hope he got himself a beer and a shot down at Langtry’s after work. I’ll hold the plate for him, he ever wants to do it again. I won’t tell.
We all need some help now and again. Ain’t that what Jesus preaches? With all Miss Floretta’s home made dresses, who can tell? I ain’t paid attention to the pastor in months.