We drove across the Lazaretto Creek Bridge and on over Bull River, running from summer's Sirenlike voice hypnotically lulling us into staying, without regard to other obligations or regret for ignoring them. But crabs in the cooler in the back of my car in August trumped heading west until island temptation subsided. We had to stop for ice. A future filled with crab cakes depended on it.
I turned right into Parker's Convenience Store. My children, unfazed by the possibility of the stench of sea-rot wafting from behind the back seat and sticking its fingers up our noses, asked the first thing that all children do when their parents pull into a minimart: Can we get a drink? Can we get a snack? We're thirsty. We're hungry. This place has fountain drinks for 79 cents.
"Fine," I said, going to get ice to put on the sweltering crabs.
When I caught up with the kids at the drink machine, where they practiced the science of mixology, I noticed that their cups had $1.19 printed on the sides. "You didn't get the 79-cent drinks," I fussed. "Why aren't you getting the 79-cent drinks?"
"We are, Mama," they defended themselves, suspiciously oblivious to their deed, as usual.
Large signs over both drink fountains advertised 79 cents. I inspected the entire area for a clue to where the touted 79-cent fountain drinks could be. The cup dispenser was not labeled with prices and the vessels were strategically arranged from largest, located within easy reach, to smallest, located a tip-toe and a stretch higher. "It's a trick!" I exclaimed to my startled offspring, confused about my confusion. "They advertise an inexpensive drink, then lure you into grabbing the cup for the $1.19 drink. Once you realize what you've done," I snapped my fingers, "it's too late."
I told them to put their $1.19 cups on the self-service counter and snatched four of the 79-cent cups from the display. But waste-not-want-not guilt pierced my side and I took the cups back from my bewildered peeps, changing my mind and telling them to keep the drinks they'd made already. A word with the cashier was in order.
"Her blood sugar must be low," one of the urchins whispered to the others.
Hoping I would remember to deal with him later, I marched to the checkout station, gathering my reluctant brood with the evidence. "I really don't like that setup," I told the cashier, firmly. "It's designed to trick people into buying the more expensive drink. I have a real problem with that. It's plain wrong. Whoever designed it that way should be ashamed. Such purposeful misleading of children . . ."
The vacant-faced girl heard blah, blah, blah and responded, "That will be $13.56."
I forked over a twenty, refusing to give up on my customer service complaint, and demanded, "Y'all have to do something about this."
She handed me my change plus an empty smile.
Back in the car, hurtling west on I-16, half-heartedly outrunning summer and half-way through Effingham County, I threw up my hands and shouted, "The ice! I forgot the ice!"
A sass-mouthed teenager took a loud slurp from his very large fountain drink and answered from the back seat, "But you sure told that cashier." He mimicked me, reciting, "I do not like this. No, not one bit. Tricking little kids into buying expensive fountain drinks, it's terrible. Someone should be ashamed."
I longed for the dizzying verse of the island Sirens to drown him out and for the wretched reek of curdled crabs to stick its fingers up that cashier's nose. I can't have my crab cakes and eat them, too.
Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.