IT’S IN THE CARDS by Bruce Harris

First grade. Karen Lear sits behind Michael Zimmerman. She spots the Beatles bubblegum trading cards protruding from Michael’s jacket pocket. She tries focusing on the blackboard, but her eyes continually shift back to the cards. Paul McCartney is visible on top. Everyone has a favorite; Paul is Karen’s and all the students know it. It’s as if Michael Zimmerman is purposefully baiting her. She reaches down, gently pulls the cards out of his coat pocket and hides the stack in her lunch box.

It is theft, petty theft to be sure, but as far as Karen Lear is concerned, she commits murder. In her mind there is no other explanation. Less than a week later, Karen’s father drops dead from a sudden heart attack. Karen can’t help but feel responsible, that there is a cause and effect. She’d been raised better than to take something that didn’t belong to her. The guilt mounts. She puts the cards in a brown bag and buries them in the bottom of the trashcan. Next morning, the garbage truck arrives and the cards are gone. Karen never tells a soul about the incident. She has a terrific relationship with her mother, a strong woman who raises Karen singlehandedly. There are no secrets between mother and daughter, except the one. Karen can’t bring herself to admit she stole the cards. In school, Michael Zimmerman asks around if anyone has found his lost Beatles cards. He says he purchased a few packs but he can’t find them anywhere.

“Karen, you sit behind me. Did you see anything?” he asks.

Karen Lear shakes her head. She doesn’t like the way Michael continues staring at her.

Following high school Karen and Michael go their separate ways. She eventually graduates college in upstate New York. He goes to a New England school. Karen attends the high school’s tenth, twentieth, and thirtieth reunions. To her delight, Michael is a no-show each time. It takes decades, numerous therapists and therapy sessions for Karen to forget about the incident, although her love for the Beatles never wanes.

For whatever reason, the crowd for the fortieth reunion of the class of ’75 is larger than its three predecessors. Karen walks around, makes small talk with her old classmates, some have aged well, others not so much.

“Karen? Is that you?” He squints at her nametag, and then points to his own. “It’s me, Michael Zimmerman. Remember me? How have you been? You look terrific!”

She nearly drops her drink. He looks good. The dark bushy sideburns and long hair have given way to a shaved head. “Michael.” She manages a weak smile. “Of course I remember you. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

He nods. “I know. I hate these things. Usually avoid them like the plague. But, we’re not getting any younger and I thought it might be fun seeing everyone just this once. Hey, remember when you used to sit behind me in the first grade?”

Karen swallows. “I did?” she croaks.

“Sure. In Mrs. Hollister’s class.”

She wants, rather needs to change the conversation. “Um, I heard you went to college near Massachusetts. Um, are you retired?”

“Nope. Still a working stiff,” Michael responds.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“A what?” Karen hears herself ask despite hearing his answer clearly. She tries to recover. “What kind of writer?”

“Paperback writer.”

Karen is taken aback. He knows, she thinks. He knows I was the one who took his cards. Is he playing with me? She doesn’t know how to respond.

“Ha! That’s kinda funny,” Zimmerman continues. “The Beatles song. That’s me!” He hesitates, then, “You won’t remember this, but one day in Mrs. Hollister’s class I had some Beatles cards. I lost them, or someone took them, I don’t know, doesn’t matter. The thing is I’d stolen those cards, three packs I think it was, from Bernie’s Candy Store. My father found out and made me return the cards to Bernie and admit what I had done. Mortified, I was going to do it after school but never got the chance. The cards were gone. I lied to my father and told him I returned them. I felt like crap for years after that. It really screwed me up. I…sorry, I haven’t shut up. You still a big Paul McCartney fan? Paul was your favorite, right?”


Bruce Harris writes mysteries and westerns.

Copyright © 2019 Bruce Harris. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.