Charlotte's children wiggled what seemed to amount to a thousand sand dollars from the bottom of the Atlantic with their toes. Digging them up by the dozens, her brood raced up the beach to drop them in the bucket by Charlotte's chair. Oddly, a rarely-acknowledged guilty conscience nagged at Charlotte that maybe she shouldn't take all those ocean animals home.
She waved it off. Charlotte wanted those sand dollars, she needed those sand dollars, she had big boiling and bleaching plans for those sand dollars, so she turned a deaf ear to her interfering conscience as easily as she would turn over to tan her backside, wrapped the greenish-grey discs in newspaper, and hid them away.
A guilty conscience, though, knows more than one way to skin a catfish. "The board over there," Charlotte's beloved pointed to a sign posting beach regulations, "says it's a crime to remove sand dollars from their environment."
Charlotte clutched the wad of disguised contraband, despite the steely glares from her husband and law abiding offspring, the oldest of whom went to read the sign for himself.
"Mama, it really does say that," he sternly confirmed, looking expectantly at Charlotte, who feigned innocence as best she could with an annoying guilty conscience using underhanded tactics.
"Okay, fine," huffed Charlotte, unable to argue her kids into believing that the decree didn't apply to her, "throw them back. But they're probably already dead," she grumbled, counting on convincing her brood to let her keep her booty.
Again, her oldest son read through the regulations written boldly against a white background. "Mama, what's in your cup," he questioned, still scanning down the list.
"Nothing," she defensively answered.
"Well, it says," he informed her, head craned upward, hands on hips, "number 5, that you have to pay $1000 if you take it on the beach."
"Take what on the beach?"
"Your cup," he insistently stated. "It's a container and it's open."
"And everybody knows there's nothing but trouble in a red Solo cup," her spouse chimed in.
Charlotte shifted into high-and-mighty mother mode. She knew that if she gave a child, or a guilty conscience, that pesky sea cow of a heifer, so much as an inch, it'd have her acting gooder'n snuff and bringing tears to glass eyes by daybreak. And Charlotte wanted no part of spitting blind. "I said get away from that sign," she commanded.
But dang, if a lowdown guilty conscience doesn't want to win worse than 10 seagulls after a single Cheeto. Which is why, shortly, Charlotte discovered a pair of stowaway sunglasses beneath the paper stuffing in a purse she bought for her eight-year-old daughter's birthday. Adding to Charlotte's great misfortune, her two boys witnessed her confusion about the shades, a $10 price tag dangling from the rims.
"Mama, you didn't pay for those, did you," the vigilant rule police observed. "We need to return them."
Charlotte, more slippery than a raw oyster, cut the tag off of the sunglasses, gave them to her daughter, and promised her sons she would call the store ... soon ... and charge them to her credit card. Her uninvited party guest, Miss Guilty Conscience, however, like a meddling mother-in-law on a Friday night, noted the lack of conviction in Charlotte's voice and poked a piece of driftwood in Charlotte's eye when the 10-year-old reminded, "And don't forget to call Hilton Head, too. You owe them 1,000 sand dollars for taking that cup on the beach."
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and to visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)