A Candy Confession
Her mother sent her to the corner store with a signed note clutched in her seven-year-old hand. All the cashiers knew her. Knew she was a sweet, quiet, obedient little girl. With a chirpy greeting, she gave the note to the cashier, a routine procedure. While the cashier went to the main office a few yards away from the register, she waited. Mylar balloons swayed overhead, their bright, bold greetings telling people “Happy Birthday!” and “Get Well Soon.” Her eyes followed their cascade of curled ribbons down from the ceiling, to where their tangled mass rested on the rack of candy below.
She didn’t get to eat much candy. Her family couldn’t afford to waste money on such a non-necessity, when they could barely afford the essentials for their five-person clan. Visits to Great-grandma’s house provided the only candy guarantee. The scene played itself out ad infinitum during her childhood. Great-grandma pulled out the tiny change purse she kept tucked in her bra, right next to her hearing aid. A faint tinkle of coins, as Great-grandma fished around for the prized piece. After the quarter was pressed into her grateful hand, she kissed Great-grandma’s cheek, immediately rushing out, the clatter of screen door behind her. She clamored over the hill to the candy store, where her options included such delicacies as Bleeps (five cents apiece), Bazooka gum (ten cents), a Charleston Chew (fifteen cents) or, if she was feeling really extravagant, twenty-five Swedish fish (one cent apiece).
The corner store in her small town didn’t have any of these delicious, exotic candies. Their stock consisted mostly of “grown-up” candy, like Good & Plenty and Black Jack gum. It would be a couple of years before they got with it and started selling the good stuff—wax lips, Ring Pops, Blow Pops, Nerds, Runts, Bottle Caps, and the like.
The only item that interested the girl was a twenty-five cent pack of Juicy Fruit. Sometimes her older sister bought a pack with her leftover lunch money. And if she was lucky, her sister shared with her. Granted, the flavor didn’t last that long, but the short time it did was worth it. The main drawback to Juicy Fruit was its lack of bubble-bility. Hubba Bubba it was not.
She waited for the cashier to return with the pack of cigarettes her mother requested with the note. Always the same kind: Marlboros. It seemed to be taking an awful long time. She stood on her tiptoes to peek into the small window carved out of the wood paneling surrounding the office. The cashier had the cigarettes, but had started talking to the lady who worked in the office. The girl sighed and scuffed her sneaker on the polished floor. Once those store ladies got to talking, it could be a long wait.
Shoving her hand in her pocket, she extracted a wad of dollar bills. Maybe she’d have enough money left over from the cigarettes for a pack of gum. She’d never had a whole pack to herself before. Her mind relished the thought of a piece for each day of her hour-long school bus ride. Although math wasn’t her best subject in school, she was able to figure out that, with tax included (she’d bought the cigarettes enough to know the exact tax), she would have enough for the gum. However, how would she explain the missing money to her mother? After all, her mom knew to the penny how much the cigarettes cost. Maybe she could tell her the price went up? But if her mother came to the store later that day and saw that the price was the same, she’d be in big trouble.
She stole a few furtive glances around the store. No one was there, and the cashier still gabbed in the office. The girl reached out, took a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, and tucked it into her pocket.
A few moments later, the cashier returned. “Sorry ’bout that honey—Florence was tellin’ me about some rotten customer who called to complain that his vegetables spoiled after he had them in his fridge for a week. A week! I mean, a week is too long to expect the veggies to stay fresh.” The girl didn’t know what the cashier was talking about, but she nodded. Anything to hurry this transaction and get her out of there.
“Well, here are your momma’s cigarettes. Do you have the money?” The girl handed her the wad of cash. “All right, here’s your change, lil’ miss. You make sure to give all that to your momma, all right? Wouldn’t want her to think you’re stealin’ from her, wouldya?” The cashier winked, and the girl mumbled, “Thanks,” as she scurried off.
Cigarettes clutched in one hand, the girl reached her other hand into her pocket, running her fingers along the outside of the smooth gum package. Although she wanted to save the gum for the bus, it was only Saturday, and she didn’t think she could wait until Monday morning to indulge in her treasure. Stopping in the middle of the path between the store and her house, she opened the package and took out one thin stick of gum. She folded the piece into her mouth, just like they did in the Juicy Fruit commercial.
She’d forgotten how tasty Juicy Fruit was, so sweet and tangy.