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The line to the cash register was colossal even before  the Cohens added into it; Estelle abhorred shopping on Friday night.

    Her son, George, hated it even more than she did. He wanted his blanket, he wanted his dinner, he wanted something other than this woman, this mother. He wanted, he wanted, he wanted. He thrashed and screamed and wailed in Estelle’s arms, earning well-deserved glares from all the other hot, tired, and angry men and women of New York City.

    Her other son, Thomas, placidly watched the grocery cart, bright-eyed and anticipating the moment when they reached the front of the line, oblivious to his younger brother’s base behavior. There was always candy and gum and sweet delights up front by the register waiting to be exploited by his grubby little hands; Mama always let him get whatever he wanted when she took him shopping with her.

    “Can’t somebody shut that baby up?” a woman raised her voice against the tiny tyrant to ask.

    The clamoring New Yorkers seemed to press up against Estelle, their criticisms diminishing to an intolerable buzzing sound. Estelle’s throat seemed to close up as George’s grew redder, wider, and louder.

    Everyone moved up in the line.

    Estelle continued to bounce George up and down, to no avail. But what else could she do? Nothing worked anymore. George was not the angel Thomas had been and Thomas had only been such an angel because Davis was still with them. But Davis had left, leaving Estelle all alone to raise two young boys. Two young, growing, needing boys.

    Estelle’s parents had offered to bribe the U. S. Army, or pull some strings to keep Davis out of the draft, out of Korea. But unfortunately or not, Davis was an honest man, a selfless man, and had enlisted himself into the army even before conscription had begun.

    But that was before they knew Estelle was pregnant again.

    The line had moved up again and now Thomas was within reach of his beloved sweets. Candy or chips? Cola? The fellow boys in his elementary class always had some type of candy to flaunt, but no one ever got soda pop. Would they even believe him if he said that he had had the coveted beverage? What level of proof was necessary for his classmates’ conviction? On the other hand, it was a Friday. He had the whole weekend ahead of him. Could he possibly demonstrate his enviable fortune before school resumed on Monday?

But wait, it was a Friday. He could merely show a friend or two his prized possession in the city blocks where his mother let him play and watch the rumors circulate throughout the school come Monday. Yes, that could be successful.

The miserable family finally reached the front of the line, the babe still yammering away.

“Mama?”

Thomas tugged on the side of his Mother’s colorless skirt, his eyes sending out a cunning plea.

“Can I please get a soda pop?”

Soda was five cents, and if Estelle had done her math correctly, there was enough for the groceries, the bus fare, and a little something extra.

Mother consented.

Thomas, his whole word consumed by the shiny, brown, and red bottle, left his encumbered mother to pass the eggs, flour, rice, and turkey slices to the wincing cashier. Juggling her second son, Estelle squeezed the wallet out from her purse.

The desolate man cowered under George’s bestial wail, shooting a look of pity to the haggard woman in front of him.

“Teething?”

Mrs. Cohen rushed what the cashier took for a nod and pulled out the precious greens her Davis was risking his neck for out on the Korean Peninsula. She set fifteen cents aside for the bus fare, and counted out the remainder of her money. Then she counted again.

Estelle blanched.

She called to her eldest, mind racing for a masterful inducement to placate her child.

His entire essence was still intoxicated by the shimmer and swish of the smooth bottle. He could imagine the cold bubbling of the sweet syrup as it gushed down his throat even now. Before the war, his father would come home from work and devote his time to his petite wife and his son. His only son. And on Fridays, the two would meet outside in the alley behind their apartment building. His father believed in educating his son in the finer ways of life, often neglected by schools. In that alley, Thomas Cohen was educated in the ways of five card draw and philosophy. On the finest of Fridays, the alley became a paradise, as his father would bring a bottle to share, to drink. A bottle kin to the one in Thomas’s gleeful grasp.

"Baby? We can't get the soda today. I'm sorry, but next time I go to the store, I'll grab something sweet for us to share."

Thomas’s bubble popped just like the bubbles in his soda pop would have if he had been allowed his heart’s desire. His one true want, although only of the past minute. He behaved night and day. He did what his mother said without question, without backtalk, but he was denied this? His right? The monster in his mother’s arms had eaten up all of her affection for him, skewing her perception of justice.

“NO!”

George stopped crying.

    “Thomas, I--”

    The rest of her clumsy attempt to snatch his deserved reward was drowned out by the resurgence of his younger brother’s zeal for the sound of his own selfish voice.

    “It’s MINE!”

    With two young children now in a shouting match, the entire store rose up and joined in, threatening to leave, and slandering the mother who was well beyond the age to be excused from such unwarranted parenting.

    Estelle snapped.

    She stooped down, and seized the soda bottle out of her son’s hands with a twist, skewing his balance, and causing him to crash to the floor. She handed the bottle to the shocked cashier, requesting it to be reduced from their total, paid for her bill, and marched out, toting two bulky paper sacks in one arm and George in the other, ushing her other son in front of them.

    The screeching and wailing reverberated throughout the store, leaving an angry, messy mob and an overworked, overwhelmed staff in its wake.

March 06, 2020 03:14

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1 comment

Tiffany Ogunsua
14:17 Mar 13, 2020

This was so interesting to read! And the devolve of the unheeded, respectable brother was perfect for the story. Something is so endearing and poignant about the family, you made me care for them in such little time 😪.

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