Deborah Gang

The Five & Dime 


        You hold your throbbing transistor radio at your ear, the ear phones long gone, and steel yourself to open one of the big double doors. The smell of popcorn is disgusting. The cheap, bad popcorn is made constantly and fills the farthest corner of the Murphy’s. Walk in the door and you’d walk right out if you could but you’re barely sixteen; you’re done– totally done– with babysitting and this is the only place that hires sixteen year-olds. They pay in cash every week and the thrill of the envelope hasn’t even begun to wear off. Soon you’ll apply at the nice department store and tell them you’re eighteen. No one checks. For now, condemned to the aging smelly Five & Dime and the manager who wears the same black nylon dress every day and who hates you. You’re not sure you’ve ever been hated before and you can’t imagine why, except maybe the Jewish thing. You have bigger problems anyway. Someone in the record department plays Englebert Humperdinck relentlessly. The sounds of “Please Release Me” come at you as often as Christmas carols in December. You wish it were December because carols would be awful but better. You’re too shy to go talk to her. Or him. You can’t even see who is doing this to you but you know you’re not going to confront anyone who’s crazy enough to like Englebert Humperdinck.

        You can’t tune out the song like you can the popcorn smell–once you’ve been at work for thirty minutes or so– the smell is almost gone. But the song grinds at you, abrades you and then the manager walks by looking sour and accusatory even though you haven’t done anything wrong yet. You are on time, you treat the occasional customer politely and you fold and arrange the baby clothes in enticing displays. Your friend Lena, the hippest girl in the large hip high school, is pregnant and is about to get married to another junior–with you at her side in a Rockville court house, not an adult in sight except the one doing the honors–in what will remain the most depressing wedding you ever witness. She will try to bolt and you, idiotically, will encourage her to stay, instead of grabbing her arm and running. You will steal baby clothes and mail them to her. Twice, a friend will come to your department and you’ll fill a bag for him to carry out. A teenage boy with baby clothes. Later, you will box up the clothes and send them to the northern state the newlyweds will move to–you can’t remember why, sent to a relative perhaps. They will split up before the baby is born. She will write a few times. In one letter, she describes the milestone of her newborn’s umbilical cord falling off. You have no idea what she’s talking about and hope she’s wrong.

 


Deborah Gang’s creative non-fiction and poetry have been published in LiteraryMama, and her poems have also been seen in JJournal/CUNY, New Verse News, The Michigan Poet, The Healing Muse/SUNY and the new anthology, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It.
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