M.G. Doane delights us with a interesting story of her childhood.
“Jake, look, here’s one!” Andy held his find up, proudly. The small round disk was dirt covered and the copper turned a sickly green, but you could still make out the brownie. “Alright! There’s pennies all over this lot.” I glanced about the scene of O’Leary’s drug store parking lot. “If we get five more, we can get a soda to share and candy bars.” Harry smiled wide. The gap of his missing two front teeth prominently displayed, in a show of enamored love of chocolate and root beer floats.
“We can… if we buy here, but old man Leary, well… You know he hates it.”
“But, Jake, we can’t get floats nowhere, but here.” Andy placed his hands firmly on his hips.
“Fine, we get them here. Andy, help your little brother. Last time he picked up pop tops thinking they were pennies.”
I glanced at Harry, who was searching, head down, going over every inch of the parking lot.
“Alright, yesterday he near got run over by a pickup truck, keeping his head down like that.” Andy grumbled,
running after his six-year-old brother.
At eight Andy looked like a grown up compared to Harry. I always figured Andy was ten or eleven at least, until I met him in second-grade.
I was seven, but the other boys talked like I was older than them. I found myself in charge of making all the decisions. Big stuff, even, like if Andy and Harry should keep back the pennies they found in the drug store parking lot, and put them in Andy’s sock for baseball cards, or use them up right away buying candy.
I knew the answer to that. O’Leary’s drug store was always filled with loose pennies. Shoppers didn’t care all that much about brownies. They let them fall carelessly and they must have done it all the time, it was a gold mind. We could get penny candy and gum, even a soda on a good day. As long as we had the nerve to face Mr. O’Leary.
I found two more pennies and met the boys by the door where they waited for me.
“Found four more right here by the entrance.” Harry smiled, handing me a fist full of coins, as well, as the dirt and gravel on them.
I blew across them and cleaned them off on my jeans. “Alright, that will get us a soda.”
“Come on, let’s go.” Andy rushed through the double doors.
A bell rang, as we entered the store and were greeted by Mrs. O’Leary, who gave a simple nod. “Hello boys,” she said, then continued her work, stacking cans of Brylcream, by the fashion magazines, and taking an occasional glance down, at the pale, slack-jawed face of a woman on the front cover.
Andy grabbed a couple Mars bars for him and his brother. While Harry went straight to the soda fountain. No one was behind the counter as Harry climbed into the stool to wait.
I never thought much of Harry’s reaction to Mr. O’Leary, the boy generally seemed oblivious to the man’s sour expressions. I was terrified of the man and was glad he was not there. Harry would order a large, though, and we had to drink it there at the counter, under O’Leary’s gaze.
I got a Hershey bar and joined Harry, Andy followed my lead.
Mr. O’Leary came out from the room behind the counter. He took notice of us immediately, scowling, deep crevices formed across his bulbous bald head. His two piercing eyes, were nearly black. Traces of sweat marked his temples, dripping down to his stained, white uniform, with his store logo, displayed in red across the front.
“A large root beer float,” Harry announced, his face glowing in anticipation.
“Large float?” the man nearly shouted. “You ragamuffins come in here, making my counter filthy. Look at your hands! What have you been doing? Making mud pies?”
Harry’s smile faded fast.
Andy started to get up and leave.
“Fine, I’ll get it.” The shopkeeper turned to the soda machine, and got out a large glass cup, preparing the float.
“Should have put the money back for baseball cards,” Andy whispered
Harry frowned. We laid our candy on the counter.
“Alright,” Mr. O’ Leary placed the cup before the three of us, getting out three straws, and waved a hand over the bars. “That will be twenty cents, for the soda, and fourteen for the candy.”
I handed him the money, smiling. It should have been forty cents. I could do math in my head better than O’Leary.
I handed Andy the ill-gotten pennies.
“For the baseball card fund,” I whispered as he pocketed it.
“Brownies?” Mr. O’Leary scowled. “Why don’t you boys ask your parents for nickels, like decent kids?”
Harry was well into the soda, saying nothing. Andy and I joined him. The flavors of root beer and ice cream melted in my mouth, it was worth putting up with O’Leary.
We drank our fill before Harry hopped down, followed by Andy and me.
We exited the store, to the pleasant sound of the bell, and a ‘thank you, have a nice day.’ from Mrs. O’Leary.
We walked out into the parking lot. The place had only two rows, for cars. It was all worn-down blacktop and gravel.
“The candy!” Harry shouted. “We left our bars at the Soda counter.”
“Will O’Leary give them back?” Andy whispered.
“I’ll get them,” I said, running back.
I came back through the double doors. There was no one at the front. I made way swiftly toward the soda fountain. Our candy still set in a pile, where we left it. Wondering if they would think I stole it, if I just took the candy, I hesitated.
The door behind the soda counter was ajar, and I was met by the sound of Mrs. O’Leary’s voice. “You need to be less severe.”
There was a peal of laughter from Mr. O’Leary. “You know I hate brownies,” he said.
“Well,” she laughed, “you’ll go broke this way.”
I heard footsteps coming, grabbed the candy and ran out the double doors.
I couldn’t see either Andy or Harry, but heard the bell ring behind me.
Mr. O’Leary stepped out the double doors, with fisted hands, walking to the parking lot he threw something. There was a clanging sound. He turned and gave me a nod as he passed, then went back inside the shop. I was curious and began in the direction he had thrown.
A woman with two small girls walked by. I stopped to let them pass.
“Mama look,” one shouted. “Pennies! We could get an ice cream!”
“Mama, could we?” the other asked.
“Alright.” Their mother sighed. “But you know Mr. O’ Leary doesn’t like brownies.”
Born in Southern Indiana MGD is a contributor at Deliberate Magazine. A novelist, and short story author. She is addicted to coffee and pug dogs.
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