The High Cost of Coupons
By Jess Stork Glicoes
Many people think perfect motherhood is impossible. Piper Winterbean believed they just weren’t trying hard enough.
A mother of three, she crafted stunning organic, gluten-free bento box lunches for her two school-age children, daily. As an active member of the PTA, she single-handedly organized a successful peloton-themed fundraiser that saved organized sports in the district.
Piper accepted nothing less than perfection.
When her husband’s company transferred them halfway across the country, she accepted this challenge in much the same manner that she approached other challenges in family life: with a neatly organized spreadsheet and lots of packing tape.
Nothing was broken or misplaced in the move.
Piper knew she would continue life in her new suburb in much the same manner as her old. Forty-eight hours after moving, she attended her first PTA meeting.
“Have you gotten the grocery ads for the week?” asked Tricia, a mother of a fourth grader with a sucker permanently tangled in his hair.
Piper put on her polite smile. “I can’t say I’ve kept track of coupons in the past.”
Tricia nodded eagerly. “The regular ones aren’t worth your time of course. But the Super Saver Booklet that you can get in the mail—I reduced my bill by ten percent using that.”
Piper looked at Tricia’s mismatched socks and thought surely she could do better than that.
“There’s a website where you can request one,” said Tricia. She wrote the address on the meeting agenda and ripped it off. Her greasy fingers smudged the writing. “Every little bit helps, doesn’t it?”
Piper nodded graciously, careful not to touch the greasy print as she accepted the scrap. They both turned back to a serious discussion about what type of headgear should be allowed in toddler rugby.
The booklet arrived two days later in the mail.
At first, Piper just clipped for staples like toilet paper and bread. They needed those anyway. But the more she looked at the booklet, the more possibilities she saw.
By the end of the month, she had the bill down a hundred dollars, just by using coupons.
Piper hadn’t been this excited since she scored a deal on gourmet sushi catering for the neighborhood block party. She bought a rhinestone-studded fanny pack for the coupons, clipped together by section. She practiced extracting stacks of coupons in the mirror. A month in, she could find the latest two-for-one butter coupon in three seconds flat... without looking.
One cold November morning, she managed to corner a college student at the grocery in lane 6 with her newest achievement.
The cashier seemed confused when she hit total after scanning all thirty-seven of Piper’s coupons.
“But—how can your total be zero?”
Piper brushed a speck of dirt from her coupon fanny pack and smiled. “Double coupons,” she said. She loaded her cloth compostable bags into the cart and breezed back to the van.
Late that night, Piper was sprawled on the couch snipping coupons. Her children were all at prearranged sleepovers, armed with homemade vegan cookies. Her husband was dutifully working late. She was free to relish in her task, the coupons spread around her like a halo on the coffee table.
There was a knock at the front door.
Piper bolted upright. Had one of her children forgotten something? Impossible. She had thought of everything.
She’d made lists.
When she opened the door, the porch was deserted. A thick fog covered the street. Something skittered in the darkness. Piper stepped onto the porch and shoved her hands on her hips. She had no fear. She was a capable mother of three and she could handle dangerous situations. Like when the clown had shown up drunk to her youngest son’s birthday party.
She scanned the yard and porch and finally noticed a cream envelope lying on her welcome mat. Her name was written in calligraphy. Piper slipped the razor end of her scissors underneath the envelope flap.
Inside, a thick ivory card was embossed with the words, “your presence is requested.” On the back, was an address, a date and time. Piper suspected a prank, possibly by neighborhood teenagers. Still, she was intrigued.
So, on the allotted night, she kissed her husband and slipped out the door.
The address was a laundromat.
It was dark inside. Business hours were clearly over. But, the back door was ajar.
The hairs on her neck prickled, but she shook it off. Much in the same manner she had shaken off a promising career as a marketing executive when she became pregnant.
Light was coming from the back office.
“Piper Winterbean,” said a voice. “Enter.”
“Look, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but I’d like you to know that I played volleyball for four years in high school and I took state-approved self-defense courses with my daughter.” Her voice echoed back to her oddly from the silent rows of dryers.
She pushed the office door open.
Inside were four robed figures. Their hoods fell in shadows across their faces. Candles were arranged on the desk next to packets of powdered detergent.
Piper mentally ran through the contents of her purse. She thought she had pepper spray in there…somewhere.
The central figure in a faded grey robe chuckled. “We’ve noticed your talents.”
Piper looked around at the darkened office, the candles and the robes. Was this a swingers club? “I appreciate the flattery, but I’ve got a grocery list to plan—”
“This isn’t flattery,” said the grey robe. “This is a secret society. An ancient masterful order…”
A hand appeared from the folds of the robe. In the palm was a pair of silver clipping sheers.
“We are The Society of Advanced Coupon Clippers.”
The scissors were a thing of beauty. Perfect edges, comfortably angled handles. Piper’s hands itched to grasp them in her slender fingertips. With those excellent points—she could skirt the edge of the dotted line, avoid those clipped corners she hated so much. She could practically hear the cool sounds echoing off the blade, “snip, snip, snip.”
“You crave them, don’t you? You’re clearly a gifted clipper. That’s why we’ve decided to extend membership to you. We bend sales to our will and meet to share in the triumph of our conquests. All that remains is for you to take the oath.”
Piper would have promised anything to get her digits through those finger holes.
“Do you swear to use your powers only for the good of your family and not for personal triumph or glory?”
Piper nodded and the palm held the scissors out to her.
She snatched the proffered scissors and tested the edge with her pointer finger. Razor sharp. The weight of the blade was magnificent. Perfectly balanced.
“Bear in mind, this is not a light oath. There are consequences for your actions.”
Piper had stopped listening. She was fanaticizing about all the perfectly clean edges.
“Of course,” she said, absently.
Membership to the secret society had perks. Access to gold level store membership cards. At meetings, she learned about different apps to organize digital coupons, though she still preferred paper. Something about the satin feel of the weekly ads beneath her fingertips. Deals for platinum credit cards arrived in the mail with money back rewards.
All of the added intricacies took time, so Piper implemented a few shortcuts. She decided to give up organic foods. She realized that processed foods offered more of a challenge when it came to coupons anyway. She donated her gluten-free cookbooks to the library, leaving the stack of books late at night next to the “No Donations Accepted at the Moment” sign.
One night her husband came and stood next to the couch as Piper snipped two for one deals on toilet bowl brushes after a dinner of jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks.
“Sweetheart.” He paused, shifting from one foot to the next. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Inwardly, Piper rolled her eyes. She did not have time for conversation.
“It’s just—you don’t seem yourself.”
Piper had no idea what he was talking about. She shifted the piles on the coffee table. She wondered if maybe she should start working on the dining room table for more room. They could eat on TV trays instead.
He hesitated. “I’m just concerned… that you want to skip Thanksgiving this year.”
“I have too much preparation to do for Black Friday.”
“But your parents are coming to visit. From across the country.”
Piper didn’t say anything.
He took a deep breath. “Okay, maybe, you should take a break from this coupon thing for a bit.”
Piper brandished her silver scissors in front of her. The tip glistened in the lamplight. “Don’t. Ever. Say that.”
He blinked, astonishment flashing across his face. Then it was gone and his face fell flat. “Fine.” He went off to the bedroom.
Piper didn’t follow.
Piper threw herself into her task with more zeal. She cut all the distractions that had plagued her in the past. Laundry piled up in corners and behind the couch. The kitchen counters overflowed with dishes and crumbs. In a moment of clarity, Piper quit the PTA because it interfered with a weekly sale on dishwashing soap.
Later that week, a summons arrived from the Secret Society wrapped in the weekly grocery flyer.
Piper donned her own charcoal-colored hood pulled from the trunk of her minivan. It sat next to an emergency pair of travel scissors. Just in case there were instore flyers.
A circle of robed figures waited for her in the back office.
“Piper Winterbean, it has come to our attention that you quit the PTA.”
Piper made a disgusted noise in her throat. She was missing valuable shopping time for this.
Her hand shook slightly at her side. She hadn’t snipped a coupon in a full hour and she itched for the cool steel and that… snip, snip, snip.
“Piper,” the grey hood held up a flat palm. “Do not lose yourself in the glowing allure of double savings. Remember your purpose. Remember your oath.”
“Use savings only for the good of our families,” intoned the other figures in unison. “Not for person glory or gain.”
They reminded Piper of a Greek chorus she’d heard in a play once with her daughter. She’d read in a news article that knowledge of classical Greek literature had a high effect on test scores.
Her words were sharp and clipped. “Is that all?”
“If you keep drawing attention to yourself—your actions will have consequences.”
Piper threw up a hand—still shaking. “I get it. You’re scared. That I eclipsed your silly society. Maybe, I’ve outgrown you.” She finished with a triumphant smile. Piper had always wanted to say this to several people in high school. Somehow, she felt she’d finally gotten the opportunity.
She staggered out of the laundromat, grabbing her emergency scissors from the trunk. Running her fingers over the smooth edge helped her calm down a bit.
The next week, Piper threw herself into clipping with renewed vigor. She would show those idiots in the secret society. She visited five grocery stores, forgetting to pick up her kids from school. She skipped dinner to drive to a new store on the other side of town, acquiring a jumbo pack of Q-tips.
When she got home, her husband informed her that a reporter had stopped by to do a story on, “her coupon thing.” He hesitated, the piece of scrap paper in his hands with the woman’s phone number.
Piper wrenched it out of his hands.
She arranged to meet the reporter at the store, the cameraman following her around as she shopped. She slid through the aisles, checking deals out of the corner of her eye and chatting with the reporter.
“And how did you get this good at using coupons?”
Piper laughed. “Well, I’ve always been competitive at heart. Just chasing that perfect deal, I guess.”
“That must take a lot of time and effort. Is it hard on your family?”
Piper stopped with a can of cooking spray clenched in her fist. She turned a bright smile at the cameraman. “They manage just fine on their own.”
At the cash register, Piper pulled out her special money-back platinum credit card. There was a beep as the cashier ran it through. He cleared his throat as the screen flashed red.
“Try it again,” said Piper cheerfully.
The cash register beeped again.
“Do you—have a different card?” asked the cashier.
Piper rolled her eyes. Honestly, these cashiers. Enrolled in college and couldn’t even run a simple credit card without messing it up. She slid another card onto the conveyor belt.
She pulled card after card, until she’d used every credit card in her wallet.
An uneasy feeling was growing in the pit of her stomach.
The reporter’s smile faltered. “Do you have any cash?”
Piper didn’t. She’d stopped going to the ATM, labeling it just another waste of time.
Finally, the cameraman produced a couple of crumpled bills. The reporter’s smile was icy as she thanked Piper for the interview. Piper didn’t care. She needed to get home.
Her hand shook on the steering wheel.
On her welcome mat at home, she found an ivory envelope. Inside the card said simply: All privileges of membership are hereby revoked.
Piper shoved open the door. The mail was on the table, but there were no weekly ads. Her stomach lurched. She raced around the house, pulling open drawers and cabinets, looking for her silver scissors.
They were gone.
And so were every other pair of scissors in the house.
She couldn’t even find the emergency pair in her minivan.
Both her hands spasmed. She needed to clip. Now. She needed that clear dotted line. That neat box that made everything clear and organized and perfect in her life.
Tearing apart the newspaper, she finally found a coupon for tires at the back in the sports ads. When her husband arrived home from work, he found her hunched over the kitchen counter, her finger pressed against the dotted line like a ruler. In her other hand, a butcher knife sliced slowly down the line, just catching the edge of her finger. And around her, a stream of red blossomed against the newspaper print.
Snip, snip, snip.
paul murphy says
Twilight zone. I enjoyed it.
This story had me at: “Many people think perfect motherhood is impossible. Piper Winterbean believed they just weren’t trying hard enough.”
Regine Lombardo says
Just like one of those scary Hitchcock movies. Tension gripping me while racing through the pages to find the happy ending. Snip snip snip.
Laura Icardi says
This is so good! Humor, hyperbole, and haunting shadows… well done. Loved it!
Dave Englander says
Outstanding dark humor! As you watch Piper descend into madness, you keep rooting for her to wise up, but secretly, you want to see what happens when she inevitably fails!
Richard Lombardo says
Loved it. Writer Jess seems as talented as Piper! 🙂 Clipping coupons will never be the same!