Two days after 8th grade graduation, Moe said I could leave early because things were slow. Apparently, there was a huge sale on beets at Shop-Rite and Mrs. Belconti was visiting her son in Waterbury-apparently the best beer is beer you don’t have to pay for.
Talk about relief! I was getting tired-and not a little skeeved-of Sara’s tales of her dalliances with the Russian ballet in the early 50s. Plus, it spared me from trying to feign astonishment when she showed me how to make an eagle out of a dollar bill.
Making a last check of the bins and storeroom, I was satisfied everything was in order. I hung my apron on a hook next to the freezer and walked to the front to get paid.
As I stepped to the candy counter, I looked out the door. My heart froze. There, loitering in front of the store, were the Zowine brothers.
The Zowines, eighth-graders from Worcester Junior High School, were the town terrors. Not twins-one had been kept back in the 4th and 6th grades-they were still as indistinguishable as snakes at a garden hose convention. Nobody knew their first names, but that didn’t really matter. One was just as bad as the other.
Whenever there was a Zowine sighting, panicked children scattered like gazelles before lions. Whether in the park or on the street, the Zowines delighted in shaking down their prey for lunch money or hanging them from playground equipment just for fun.
As I stared at their malevolent presence on the other side of the door, a cold sweat broke out over my body. Even though my house was only half a block away, I was trapped.
Quickly turning, I fled to the back of the store. “Moe,” I pleaded, “I can’t use the front door. The Zowines are there.”
Even though the jean jacket jackals usually preferred much younger victims than I, Moe knew they’d terrorize anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. Even he was reluctant to shoo them away.
That said, even if he could escort me safely home, he realized that doing so would only hurt me in the long run.
“Can you use the back?” he suggested.
I considered that, but shook my head. “No, it just goes into an enclosed space.”
As Moe thought about what to do, I watched in horror as the two brothers stepped into the store.
Without a thought, I ducked into the freezer.
After what seemed like an eternity, the locker door opened. The freezer's only bulb revealed I was standing next to nearly a dozen frozen carcasses. Ewww, talk about Creature Features. I half expected Bela Lugosi to step out from behind one of the slabs of meat and greet me with a frosty "Goot evening."
Moe peeked in. “They’re gone, Al.”
My teeth clattering, I pulled myself away from what I hoped was just a frozen cow and not a mob hit gone bad. My shoulder brushed up against a rib which started the meat lazily twirling on its hook. Like a ghastly pendulum toy, it bumped into its neighbor, which bumped into its neighbor...
Even though it was creepy knowing where I was, I was grateful the light had gone out once I pulled the door shut. There was no way I would have enjoyed seeing this horror show in living color. It was like being in an Arctic Haiti.
Moe laughed, “I don’t like those two punks either but, I wouldn’t have hidden in here. You look like a meat-sicle!”
Well, if you’d had your underwear pulled over your head as many times as I had, you would have hidden in a port-a-potty, let alone a meat freezer.
Checking to make sure the front was clear, I said, “I guess I can go now.”
Disappointed I hadn’t laughed at his attempt at “butcher humor,” Moe said, “Yep, that’s right. Let’s get you paid. Sara!” He walked to the register.
Nudging Sara aside-far easier said than done-Moe pulled a few bills from the register’s tray. “Here ya go,” he said.
I looked down and saw only $3.50. What the hey...?
Seeing my puzzled look, Moe said, “Oh, that’s four dollars minus fifty cents for those two Milky Ways you and your friend ate last week.”
But, how in the world did Moe know I had helped myself to a couple candy bars while Sara airily prattled on about the time she had met Eleanor Roosevelt at the laundromat? She couldn’t see over the counter...
As if reading my mind, Moe pointed above the door. I looked up to see a brand new mirror mounted on the door frame. One of those convex ones people put at the ends of their driveways, it offered a full view of the candy counter. One that could be seen from the display case in the back, I’ll bet.
“How ‘bout that?” he preened. “It’s not just good, it’s good as Gold's!”
Laughing at his own joke, he returned to his chopping block.
Taking offense, Sara followed him, “What’re you so proud about? It’s not like I can’t handle it up here!”
Over his shoulder, Moe shot back, “It’s because of you I put it there in the first place. I need to keep an eye on things. I don’t want you eating all my profits!”
Like Godzilla in a floral dress and orthopedic shoes, the enraged Sara heaved herself off her stool and thundered towards the back.
Ladies and gentlemen, tickets, please.
The afternoon show was about to begin.