Seven years old is the best age. You’re so full of importance. Kindergarten babies are a thing of the past. Your head is full of the pomp of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Everyone is so proud of your little accomplishments, and whatever moment you’re in is decidedly the most important moment of your whole life. I was seven the day I wandered into Zuckerman’s Candy Shoppe.
The waterfront was one of my favorite places, but I’d never been down to the end of it before, and so I’d never seen the store. My previous trips, I remember since I was a baby, were to take a picnic lunch to Waterfront Park and toss bread crumbs to the ducks.
Waterfront Park, at least in my head, is the most beautiful place ever. The river slides quietly by, shards of sunshine radiating from its unfettered surface. The willows adorning its bank droop gracefully over pretty white park benches of wrought iron and wooden slats. A well manicured lawn stretches up to the boardwalk. Across the street, long rows of red brick buildings contrast sharply the greens of the park. The excited quacking of the ducks, the wind whispering in the willows and laughter of children float through the air.
This day was different. There were no ducks to feed. Mama and I had taken a bus down to the far end of the waterfront by the piers. The red brick comes to an end, as does the park, and shabby warehouses and such replace the view. It was the very last brick building that caught my eye when we walked past. Great glass windows on two walls of the little corner shop revealed the most candy I had ever seen before in one place.
Mama dragged me away from the little corner of Heaven and into a parking lot full of cars across the street. It was late in the afternoon, and she began arguing with a man who came out of one of the warehouse buildings. She was mad because our car was supposed to be ready, but I didn’t really understand the details of it all and I didn’t really care.
“Annie, you can wait over in the park if you want,” she said. “But don’t go too close to the water, you hear?”
I heard. Well, sort of. I heard, “Annie, you can go back to that candy store if you want.”
Back across the street, looking carefully both ways for cars, I looked down into a big empty garage that filled the length of the first waterfront building next to those tantalizing windows. It seemed suddenly spooky inside walking past it by myself, as if there were monsters lurking now in the shadows. My heart started to beat with excitement, more because I knew Mama didn’t really tell me to go to the candy store. I tip-toed across the entrance of the garage, reached up with both hands to twist the handle down and struggled against the weight of the door.
Musical bells tinkled as the huge wood and glass door swung open. Instantly, the aromas of licorice and peppermint assaulted my seven-year-old nose. My eyes opened as wide as the lollipops perched in spectacular display above jars and jars of every candy imaginable in a beautiful antique display case. Mr. Zuckerman, an elderly man wearing a pink striped shirt under a dark vest, seemed to pay no attention to me at all, perhaps expecting my parents to follow, as he busied himself behind the counter.
My Mary Janes echoed loudly on the beautiful wooden floor and I looked down to scold them with my frown. My heart leaped from my chest in excitement. There in the middle of the floor was a folded-up $5 bill! I stood frozen for minutes in fear. Picking it up wouldn’t be stealing. Would it? There was no one else in the store. There had been no one else. And it couldn’t be Mr. Zuckerman’s if it was on my side of the counter.
I watched him nervously and when his back was turned, I snatched up the $5 bill and unfolded it. Yep. That was what it was alright. I stepped forward with my face against the glass. Suddenly I was dumbfounded. I looked at all the prices of the candies, 10c here, 15c there, 35c for the lollipops at the top. Some had prices by the pound and I had no idea how much candy a pound was.
How long I stood there calculating in my little second grade head, I don’t know. I couldn’t remember all my pluses and minuses for carrying and I kept trying to keep track of numbers and then forgetting them again when I tried to remember what Miss Murray’s rule was for that. The thought that Mama would get mad at me if I showed up with a whole bag full of candy never once crossed into any of that calculation. I was so mesmerized I didn’t even realize that the task Mr. Zuckerman busied himself at now was locking up his showcases.
Suddenly, Mr. Zuckerman stood up with a start, looking like he’d had a heart attack. I think he’d forgotten anyone came in. He leaned over the counter and peered across the tops of his glasses at me. His bushy white mustache and eyebrows didn’t look as friendly up close.
“I’m sorry, son,” he said. “We’re closing up shop now, no more sales.”
“I’m not a boy,” I said indignantly.
“I see,” he fidgeted uncomfortably. “Well, fact remains we’re closing now.”
I was mad, not that he called me a boy. It just wasn’t fair. He wasn’t closing when I came in. I had money and I was a paying customer. He should have warned me to hurry up or something. I started to cry.
“But I have money,” I sobbed holding up my treasure.
Mr. Zuckerman pointed to a sign on the wall. NO WHINING, it read. “That’s not going to change anything. You run along now.”
Just then the bells tinkled and Mama came into the store.
“Flower Anne!” she barked. “What is the matter with you?! I’ve been worried sick looking all over for you!”
I looked helplessly around the store for Flower Anne and guessed sorrowfully that she had deserted me to her punishment again.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, snatching the $5 bill from my hand.
“I just found it on the floor,” I answered, crying even harder now.
“It doesn’t belong to you then, does it?” I watched horrified as she handed the bill over the counter to Mr. Zuckerman. “I’m sorry for the trouble she’s caused.”
Mr. Zuckerman coughed. “No trouble. Can she can have a lollipop?” He picked out a peppermint one and handed it over the counter to me. It was enough to slow my tears.
Mama dragged me back out of the store. She must have won her argument with the man in the parking lot because she had our car. The second the door to Zuckerman’s Candy Shoppe closed behind us, she swiped my lollipop and shoved it in her purse. I probably wasn’t going to get it back. It was all that stupid Flower Anne’s fault.
© 2012 Anne Schilde