Wednesday, July 2, 2014


I was 14 and working at my family's international newspaper store, Metropolitan News Agency at 1248 Peel Street, Montreal. I sold newspapers and magazines and fine English bone china and Irish linens, and I worked in the small office, keeping the books - the ledgers - with pen and ink, and I took care of the daily earnings and did the banking. Almost every member of our family worked at Metro at times.
One day at the end of October, my father and my Uncle H. took me aside and told me that the take was coming up short and they suspected Uncle M. who was to be on shift at the cash that night was pilfering. They needed proof. They told me to mark the ten and twenty dollar bills that were to be kept in the safe overnight. They told me how to do it.
I marked the bills in two different ways to be absolutely sure  -  marking the bills and recording the serial numbers. 
The next evening was Halloween. When I came to work in the late afternoon, I went to the back of the store and up the old wooden staircase to the office to hang up my coat.
I never got to the office. As I came to the top of the stairs, my cousin M. who also worked at the store, grabbed me from behind and held my arms tight and his father, Uncle M., started punching his fists on the top of my head while my cousin restrained me.
I never knew what hit me. Uncle M. was yelling at me - about framing him, stolen money...
My father and Uncle H. did not know M. and his son had sneaked into the store when they were busy and were waiting upstairs for me.
Later I learned that Uncle M. was caught with the marked money.
Apparently my father and Uncle H. told Uncle M. that I had marked the money and that was how they caught him.
Uncle M. was fired and his son followed. Uncle M. was barred from Metropolitan News thereafter.
But I had been attacked and beaten. I was the victim of a crime. Why weren't the police called?
They never were. It was enough that Uncle M. was fired. That was enough punishment.
But I had been attacked and beaten. What had been done to me was just passed over. I don't remember anyone talking about it.
That was how I learned that you can get away with crime if the witnesses want to avoid the difficulties, challenges, embarrassment or scandal of doing justice.  
Or was the family just being kind?  Not to me.
I was just 14 years old. The attack and the betrayal broke my heart and scarred my life. I was deeply damaged. 
As a child, I depended on the good guys to protect me. I believed in the heroes in white hats, knights in shining armour riding white horses. I trusted my Pop with my life. And Uncle H. was an idealist, an intelligent man who had wanted to be a doctor.
The slap in the face:  I was asked to do something adult, responsible and honourable, but when I was attacked and beaten, my injuries - more psychological and spiritual than physical - were brushed aside and swept under the carpet. To keep the peace.
Decades later, I ran into Uncle M's younger son, A., by chance in a supermarket. He brought me over to meet his father, then a sick old man. I arranged for my mother to speak to her long estranged brother M. on the phone. There was some forgiving.
Later, Uncle M. contacted me and asked me to come to his apartment to see him. He knew I was sick and unemployed and he offered me money. I refused.
I didn't hate him then. I felt sorry for him. He himself was very ill. His wrinkled arms were purple from medical procedures.
He offered me his late wife's vacuum cleaner. I refused.
He offered me a set of two large serving dishes. So, to be kind, I accepted them. He was trying very hard to atone.
Many years later, both Uncle M. and his son M. - the handsome boy I had grown up with and had a crush on in our youth  - had both died.
I contacted Uncle M's granddaughter, cousin M.'s daughter, a married woman with children of her own, and I returned the china serving dishes to her. I never used them.
Phyllis Carter

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