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Short StoryJohn Culjak의 지식창고 2018.04.22. 14:18 (2018.04.21. 17:02)

The Popcorn Lady

 
A short story
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell
 
Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616
 

 
Mrs. Poplowski sat on her rickety wooden chair that was tilted against the wall outside her shop. She absorbed as much sun as could reach her covered body. The light of the sun reflected off her round face that converted into a sleepy full moon surrounded by the darkness of her attire.
 
As I walked past her, she appeared to be sleeping. Still I kept my distance.
 
“Heyyy!” I screamed, as her leg shot up and tip of her slippered-foot caught me on my right buttock. Her speed and agility caught me completely off guard. Her legs, wrapped in heavy gauze, were the size of fire hydrants.
 
“Why’d ya do that?” I blurted in surprise.
 
The somnolent moon awoke with a barely perceptible, knowing expression that declared, “You didn’t think I could do that, did you?”
 
I said nothing. It was during that silent moment that I promised myself that never again would I approach, nor pass the popcorn lady alone.
 
I crossed the street and went under the fence to the public school schoolyard. The gate, as usual was locked. A short time later the boys arrived. Frannie and I teamed up against Richie and Dumbo for a game of two on two. Although Dumbo was big for twelve, he was slow and thus unable to take advantage of his height. I was the fastest one on the court, so I covered Dumbo, even though I was shorter than he by half a foot. Frannie was slower than I was, but much tougher, so he took Richie who was a good shooter.
 
Richie and Dumbo took the ball out first. The blacktop court in the schoolyard was way shorter than regulation size. Frannie and I pressed them from the start. Besides being a good shooter, Richie usually hogged the ball, so Frannie played him tight all the time. Richie brought the ball down while shouting orders to Dumbo, telling him where to go. He tossed a high pass to Dumbo and then placed himself close to the foul line with his back to the basket. Frannie wisely guarded him from behind, placing himself between Richie and the basket. Richie called for the ball and Dumbo successfully bounced a pass to him. Frannie leaned on him as Richie faked to his right and Frannie’s superior strength gave way to a slick move as Richie swung to the left and made an easy layup.
 
The game followed the pattern of the first minute with the exception that we outscored them 20 to 16. Frannie, as always, wore Richie down by outmuscling him and I outran the lethargic Dumbo.
 
“That’s it for us. You guys win,” Richie said, giving in, conceding the game to us. “Let’s get something to drink,” he said as he pulled his sweat-drenched shirt away from his skin.
 
“Nah, not me,” Dumbo said somberly. “I’m going home.”
 
I looked at Dumbo and wondered if he wanted to be persuaded to come with us. “Aw c’mon, Danny. We’ll get a soda and then go pick some juniper berries later for our pea shooters.”
 
“Yeah, what else ya gotta do?”
 
The somber expression on Dumbo’s face prompted Frannie to step in. “That’s okay if ya need to go. We’ll see ya tonight?”
 
Absentmindedly, Dumbo asked, “What for?”
 
“We were supposed to go to your house tonight to watch wrestlin’ on TV. Did ya forget?” I asked.
 
“Oh, yeah. Right. Okay, I’ll see ya tonight.” He answered petulantly. The three climbed over the link fence and I threw Dumbo his basketball and then squeezed between the posts where the gate met the fence. I was the only one skinny enough to do it. Dumbo, preoccupied, started up the hill toward his house, dribbling the ball as he went.
 
“See ya, Leonardo,” Richie said, calling him by his last name.
 
Dumbo did not answer. Frannie, Richie and I ambled across the street to the popcorn shop.
 
“You don’t suppose Dumbo is mad because we beat him, do ya?” I asked Frannie
 
“You kidding?” Richie said.
 
Frannie, after giving it a thought, offered a definitive, “Who knows?” That was the end of it.
 
I told them about incident that had occurred with the popcorn lady. “I think she knows that we stole some stuff from her the other day.” I said.
 
Frannie shook his head and laughed.
 
“Then why did she try to kick me in the ass?” I asked defensively.
 
“She’s crazy, that’s why. Ya never know what she’s gonna do next. Ya know? I think she’s a Gypsy,” Frannie concluded.
 
“C’mon you guys. Let’s go in, I’m thirsty.” Richie Begged.
 
As we went in, I prayed to God that she would do me no harm. The aquarium-like popcorn machine on the counter, just inside the door, was half full, as always. Come to think of it, I never saw it at any other level, nor did I ever see anyone buy a bag except maybe on Thursdays, movie night. The only aisle in the shop was barely wide enough for two of us to stand shoulder to shoulder. There seemed to be more room behind the counter. The popcorn lady sat there on a stool in a unique position to be able to observe the entire shop as well as having a full view through the front window of the traffic coming down the hill. Frannie and I went to the shelves directly across from the counter. That’s where she kept the good stuff; the pink punch balls, the Chinese finger puzzles, balsa gliders peashooters and an assortment of other trinkets. Richie went straight for the candy.
 
“Move out da way!” the popcorn lady barked as the front door opened. “Let da man give me da ice.”
 
The iceman carried two blocks of ice in tongs; one in each had, so evenly balanced that the ice appeared to be weightless. We pushed up against the counter to give him room, as he moved in slow motion between the shelves and us. His arms were long and the ice rested against the side of his calves. He had a slight build, but his shoulders were broad and powerful. He lifted each block of ice with ease and placed them into the container holding the pop. We stood mesmerized watching every move he made. Steam rose from his wet pant legs as he walked by smiling. He left without saying a word to the popcorn lady.
 
“See the shoulders on that guy?” Richie whispered as he helped himself to a cold soda and put the money on the counter. The popcorn lady had a strange way of watching you. Her eyes moved, but her head remained fixed, pointing straight ahead. It was as though she were hiding behind a painting with only the eyes animated.
 
Nudging Frannie, I said, “Ya ever notice how this place smells like Leonardo’s house?”
 
Frannie agreed and nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
 
“I can’t wait to go to Dumbo’s house tonight,” Richie said eagerly.
 
The popcorn lady hardly changed her expression, but her words were cold and brittle. “Dumbo, Dumbo! What cha mean Dumbo? His name is Danny! Can’t choo be nice? Danny a nice boy.” She remained sitting, sphinx-like, harboring secrets of all the mysteries of which we only dream and said not a word more.
 
We looked to Frannie for a response to the popcorn lady’s chastisement, but none came. Even he was silenced.
 
Mrs. Poplowski seldom spoke. When she did, it was only a single word or on a rare occasion, two words. What was it that we said or did that was so bad as to have provoked an outburst from her? We stood looking at each other in silence and embarrassment for a minute or so before we were able to move our petrified bodies in the direction of the door. Once outside, Richie and I shriveled up and fell to the pavement in a fit of laughter.
 
Frannie pondered the significance of the popcorn lady’s words. Why, after all this time, should this sphinx break her silence, just because of Dumbo? Frannie looked down at us as we laughed and squirmed on the sidewalk. He kicked at us playfully. “Git up off the sidewalk, ya fools, before someone confuses ya with a worm.”
 
Frannie and Richie headed for home, walking down the hill together. I went in the opposite direction. As I passed St. Mary’s church, I blessed myself and asked God to protect me from the popcorn lady.
 
It was early, just after dinner, when Frannie called. Dumbo cancelled his invitation to watch the wrestling matches on TV at his house. What a drag, I thought…so much for those great salami sandwiches and pop. “How come?” I asked.
 
“His mother died,” he answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
 
Dumbo wasn’t around for the next couple of days. I was dying to see him. I wanted to see what his face looked like to see if there were any changes since his mother died.
 
The day of the funeral, we decided to have a game of basketball at the schoolyard. I’m glad the priest didn’t ask me to serve the funeral Mass. It would have been difficult to watch Dumbo cry. Fortunately, there were two altar boys who were eager to serve the Mass.
 
We were nearly finished playing a game of around the world when Dumbo showed up. It was a bit awkward. It was the fist time we had seen him since his mother died. He was wearing a dark navy suit. Upon closer scrutiny, it seemed that the jacket was a sport coat matched with pants to look like a suit. Dumbo was grinning. No one was able to say anything. Aside from his hair being neater, the front was brushed and the back went in three directions, and his face was cleaner, Dumbo seemed unchanged. Not at all what I expected. I wondered if I would look unaffected if my mother died.
 
Richie burst out insensitively, “How’d the funeral go, Leonardo?”
 
“Okay,” he replied with a shrug.
 
“Ya sure look good, Danny.” I was quick to say.
 
Leonardo grinned. “At least I got a new suit out of it.” He looked at the three of us with a glint in his eyes and said, “Shall we have a game?”
 
We did and Dumbo played like a madman. He and Richie beat us 20 to 4. Dumbo took ten shots and made them all; he took every rebound and blocked half of our shots. He moved with ease on the court and not with his usual awkwardness. So that is how he had changed, I thought. I imagined that I’d be able to play like a professional after my mother died. Dumbo smiled broadly and said that he had to go home. Frannie told him that he was sorry about his mother’s death.
 
Dumbo said, “It doesn’t matter. I didn’t like her that much.”
 
Leonardo started up the schoolyard hill, and with his back to us, tears streamed down his face...unseen by us. I crossed the street to go home alone. Frannie and Richie walked in the opposite direction. The shade was drawn in the popcorn shop and a small sign hung in the window.
 
CLOSED BECAUSE OF A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
 
As I passed the church, I blessed myself and prayed that the popcorn shop would never open again.
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페이지 최종 수정일: 2017년 10월 25일