Ravi Mangla

On my way to a literary salon, which I was coerced into attending by a codependent poet friend, I stopped at a store called The Liquor Locker to pick up a bottle of wine. I spent several minutes considering what one drank at a literary salon (Beaujolais? Riesling?) before settling on a red from a local vineyard of modest repute. At the register the cashier scrutinized my appearance. I didn’t think much of it. It was entirely possible he eyed everyone in this fashion. (I knew I’d err on the side of suspicion if I worked at a place called The Liquor Locker.) He stopped punching keys and set the bottle down in a gesture of defiance.

“Thought you could put one past Old Brock, didn’t you?” he said. “We don’t serve your kind here.”



“I may be a lot of things, sir, but a thief I am not.”

He pointed to a surveillance photo behind the counter. I leaned closer. A man in a corduroy jacket and sweater was hunched over with a bottle of wine tucked under his arm.

“I’ve never stolen anything in my life,” I said.

“So you’re saying that man in the picture isn’t you?”

The shoplifter in the photo certainly looked like me, and he was dressed in a jacket similar to the one I was wearing, but not only had I never stepped foot in this liquor store before (it was quite a distance from my condo), I’d never stolen anything in my life: not a stapler from a neighboring cubicle, not even a sampling of candy from the bulk bins in the grocery store.

“I have half a mind to dial the cops,” he said.

“What if I paid for what I stole?”

He considered the offer for a moment, scratched the back of his neck.

“I suppose that would be the shrewder business decision,” he reasoned.

“What did I take anyway?”

“Same bottle as the one right here,” he said, gripping the red by the neck.

I paid for a second bottle, plus a dubious amount of interest. He slipped the wine into a slim paper bag.

“You chardonnay collar criminals disgust me. Stealing for the sick thrill of it. Take up a real hobby, why don’t you,” he said, and dropped a crumpled receipt into the bag.

Leaving the store, walking to my car in the cold of night, I no longer had any desire to attend a literary salon, or a salon of any kind for that matter. All I wanted to do was lie on the couch with a glass of wine and watch TV. But I had given my poet friend my word, and it was important to me that my word was worth something.

Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, American Short Fiction, Tin House Online, and Wigleaf. He keeps a blog here.