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Front Page - Friday, May 20, 2016

Are We There, Yet?

Jay Edwards

Continued from last week’s column, as my brothers and I wandered the aisles of Ben Franklin’s in Park Hill, during the late 60’s.

At the rear of the store was the pet section, where caged birds and hamsters probably prayed they wouldn’t be bought. There was also a huge aquarium, which was mostly for goldfish. That was my destination. I was determined to catch the big goldfish with my bare hands. I had come close a few times before being caught by the store manager and told never to do that again because the germs from my hands could poison the fish. Yeah right.

After making sure no one was watching, I reached into the big tank, the water coming up to my short sleeve. All the fish were swimming for their lives but I only wanted one of them, the big goldfish, who I now had cornered behind the bubbling castle. I closed in and he froze. This was it, finally. But instead of grabbing him, someone grabbed me, snatching the collar of my shirt, lifting my worn out, once white Converse nearly off the dirty linoleum. I tip toed as the store manager scooted me quickly to the front, telling me as we went that he had told me repeatedly to keep my grubby little hands out of the fish tank. 

“Because my germs will kill the fish?” I asked, hoping he might think that since I had at least listened to him that I deserved another chance. But he just grunted and said, “And take your brothers with you!” I saw them, the little brothers whose lives I’d been entrusted with while our mother adorned her feet a few stores over. Bill looked concerned but Dean was staring right in my eyes, with a look that said, “Boy are you gonna get it.”

“Out boys,” the manager said.

“But I didn’t get to buy any candy,” Bill said, about to cry.

“I’ll get you some at the drug store,” I told him, which calmed him down.

Then I turned my attention to Dean, who still grinned as he popped Lemonheads into his mouth.

“Well,” I challenged him, knowing he wouldn’t be bluffed or intimidated, but I had to try. He was pretty fearless and had attempted on more than one occasion to murder me with a tennis racket.

“Just wait til Mom hears about this,” he said.

I leapt toward him but he was quick and got behind our car. I was still faster but the angles of our station wagon were making it tough. We ran round and round the car. On one pass I saw Bill, who had picked up Dean’s dropped Lemonheads and was eating them as fast as he could. It was the law of the jungle in Park Hill. 

I was gaining and as we rounded the back of the wagon again I swung my right arm hard at him, trying to grab any part. But I missed and my hand came down on the corner of the car and I felt a sting and something like a pull or even a rip. By the time I could get my Converse to brake and take a look, blood was spewing everywhere. My pinky, where it connects to the palm, was ripped nearly to the bone. There was a lot of blood, and the deep cut it gushed from scared me. Dean stood by Bill, who had dropped the Lemonhead box, most likely empty now anyway. I looked at Dean, who had stopped smiling. “Go get Mom,” I told him, and he took off toward the shoe store. A woman coming out of Ben Franklin’s with her little boy screamed. The kid, either from his mother’s scream or the sight of my hand, dropped his box of licorice. Scavenger Bill scooped it up and by the time the dim-witted lad figured out he’d dropped it, it was almost gone. Licorice wasn’t Bill’s favorite but he gobbled it up anyway.

The manager who had whisked me out of the store rushed out and over to me with a roll of paper towels. I looked down and saw perfect crimson circles on the hot concrete and on my Converse. He took my hand and began wiping the blood and squeezing the wound. He looked worried but something told me it wasn’t about my hand. He lifted the bloody paper from my finger and we could see better inside the cut, which looked even worse. “Well that’s a deep one,” he said. “Does it hurt much?”

“A little,” I answered. 

“Let’s go inside and get it taken care of,” he said. I guessed my ban had been lifted.

Mom caught up with us halfway to pharmacy. “Dear Lord,” was all she said. I looked over and spotted the fish tank; the big goldfish was looking back at me. 

He was smiling.

Jay Edwards is editor-in-chief of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist. Contact him at jedwards@dailydata.com.