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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

a simple act (candy)

We have packed her bags, double-checked the extra notebooks and schoolbooks, the charging cables and the last minute addition of a favorite doll. There are clean socks and tights, white school shirts folded as neatly as I can manage. 
"Can we play Uno?" She asks, her voice weak.

We flip cards, nod heads in a series of wordless communications. 
She makes hers in a messy fan, like a bird losing feathers. Her legs are crossed and one foot bobs in the cool air. 
She wins, and then wins again with a laugh and a smack of the final card on the pile.
A minute later her chin gives way and she is crying. I pull her onto my lap, whisper little jokes in her ears. I go back to a list I have been making.
"Chinese sausages, more maple syrup, and what else?" I ask her.
"I don't know." She mumbles.
Then her face lights up.
"A Charleston Chew!" She announces, jumping up to her feet. "A chocolate one."
I scribble it on the list, my words turning into messy flourishes.



The plane is full of old people spilling ketchup on themselves, wandering the aisles in tiny cautious steps. Glasses slide down to the ends of their noses. Canes bump against armrests.
I close my eyes.

It was in a Woolworth's on Main Street. We would wander in, rummaging through the Star Wars action figures, the plastic model car kits and the rubber-band driven airplanes. A woman in stretch polyester would hover behind us, her round face and body squashed into clothing too tight, too old. The Woolworth's smock hung loose and crooked on her, her name tag almost sideways.

In the back were the fishtanks, the mice, the tiny birds flitting around cages. We would circle back around, past the towels and the comforters, maybe running behind the row of chairs at the lunch counter. People were tucking into tuna melts with some chips on the side and a florescent wedge of pickle. Lemon cokes and cherry cokes slid towards hands, bubbles dancing on the edges.

Past the front register now almost at a run. My brother is right behind me, looking back once and again. Outside, our legs churn towards the first alleyway and I pull the candy bar that has been tucked up my sleeve. It is melting a little. My brother tears into the wrapper, and breaks the Charleston Chew in half, forcing the pieces into his mouth until it is gone, hiding the wrapper in a stray empty box. 

A thin wave of terror and embarrassment washes across the back of my neck. I hate these ladies, waddling store police with nothing else to do. This is the first time we steal one, and we do not make a habit of it. Normally we pay for them but today it just unfolded this way, as if we had not decided to do it, that it had already happened by the time we realized we were doing it.
We tell no one, no bragging, no pride in our accomplishment. We do not even discuss it with each other. We know it was wrong. Not as wrong as many other things, but still a bad act. We had money in our pocket, maybe enough to buy one to share but we do not have more than that. We grew up poor, on food stamps for a number of years, dad killing what he could in the forest to put meat on the table. Deer, squirrels, wild birds, even snapping turtles. We did not need that candy bar, and there was no rich kid in school eating one every day. 

It was a simple act of taking without apology. 


I call from the middle of the night, jetlagged and cotton-mouthed. E is already back from school in Moscow. Her voice leaps as soon as she picks up, telling me about a poem she is memorizing for Russian class, that they will still study on Saturday for another week, that there is some snow on the ground.
"Any more ideas of what you want me to get you?" I ask.
"Just a lot of Charleston chews." She says. "A whole box."




Comments

liv said…
There is always a universality about your posts. Something we can all identify with and say, "yes, I remember doing that too"

Many bits of this one tapped memories of the same things in me and it was sweet to remember them.

But a big tug at my heart when I recall too, that Charleston Chew was the favorite of another little girl, my Elizabeth, my E.

Hope it was a good trip. Always such a strange feeling to know you were over here.

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